It always amazes me how the bold, the exciting or the unadventured territory loses its sense of mundane everydayness, how places so far away can make words like “sanitation services” seem highbrow, intriguing or even exotic in a foreign language.
In a way it makes perfect sense, for when visiting Rome, who thinks of shopping for plungers, nail clippers or painter’s tape? A traveler to Amsterdam won’t think twice about the price of teaspoons or gutter repair. Day trippers to London wouldn’t deign to think of the cheapest and most economical petrol change or where to get their breaks fixed, or even to whom one should take their car to exchange the circa 1997 tape deck for an I-pod or I-phone adapter. These are all nasty, boorish and mundane things we think of when in our own country; why would anyone waste a moment’s thought on fixing the gas needle in a Citroën while vacationing in Paris?
First of all, who rents a car in Paris? Are you mad?!
Aside from the obvious, “my car broke down en rout to my Spanish villa while transporting my new gutters – by new I mean recycled – ” no one thinks of these habitual musings as sexy, exotic or even vacation worthy.
Perhaps it’s some sick and twisted perversion – researching the price of feather dusters in a French hyper-marché – what a way to spend our first day in Paris! But, I find these acts wildly more titillating and entertaining than walks across the Pont Neuf, gazing into a soot-ridden sunset on the chilliest of days. There’s always time to do that, hell…that’s not even a memory you have to have. Steal one and claim it as your own. But, feather dusters…really! Imagine the conversations you could have with the petite young clerk – a college student who in perfect English tells you he enjoys air travel, cats and water without bubbles (tap water). Not impressed? Think of the vocabulary you may glean and conversational practice you might obtain by a single conversation about le plumeau.
We’re all human after all, and we ‘need’ this stuff to survive. Well, perhaps ‘survive’ is a strong word – function really. At the moment, I’m admonishing myself for my lack of a certain plumeau. More simplistically, I find these experiences wildly entertaining and fascinating because of their foreign everydayness.
Traveling like a tourist is marvelous – a great way to explore a city or region if you want (or are only interested in) the basic understandings of what a place and its monuments are about. However, traveling at this pace, the pressure of experiencing everything as fast as possible with all senses on hyper drive can only take you so far. Either the locale down the street or sleeping like the dead…not to be confused with ‘sleeping like a baby’ because babies don’t actually sleep.
Venture out of the guidebook a step or two and you may experience what the people and places really are about. Perhaps the conversation about your adored plumeau will lead you to that little known café just down the street where you glimpse Gerard Depardieu – or someone equally as famous – spreading confiture across their morning croissant. Then again, you may find yourself entertaining an existential debate over the merits of les stores vénitiens (Venetian blinds) among the 17th century Danish aristocracy with two Ukrainian expats. Either outcome is invariably more satisfying than a prescribed and predictable stroll down the Pont Neuf.