this space intentionally left blank

October 30, 2005

Filed under: culture»europe»france

Un amour de fromage

West-to-east jetlag is one of my favorite travel bonuses, because I am not a morning person. Now after traveling from, say, France back to Virginia, all of a sudden I'm waking up at five a.m. and feeling great. Everyone comments on how refreshed I am! How productive! Of course, since I don't sleep much, this takes only about a day to wear off. But that one day is a glorious, golden moment for all mankind, particularly those portions at -5GMT.

It's surprising that I still managed to be so cheerful, since my flight was delayed and luggage didn't arrive until 1:30 in the morning. The luggage was shipped to my apartment, which was convenient (although disorienting), but I still spent more time than usual hanging around JFK airport. I occupied myself trying to figure out the reasoning behind the generous pornography section of the magazine racks. In Paris I could attribute the high proportion of skin mags at the airport to the general sexual atmosphere of France, but in the more prim and prudish USA it took me by surprise. It seems like a fundamentally stupid place to buy porn (as if there's an intelligent, insightful place), much less have a whole section devoted to it. Do people actually buy explicit material just before climbing onto a cramped plane where they'll be in close company with all ages, genders, and creeds?

Well, maybe they do. Like the redneck standing in the Men's Health section of the newstand, surreptitiously grabbing Barely Legal when he thinks no-one's looking and folding it inside a copy of Outside Magazine. I'm willing to give him the benefit of a doubt, but I can't imagine he's reading that for the articles.

Enough about domestic disparities, man! what about France itself? Well, it's a very nice country--beautiful and varied and not too big--but probably not my kind of place. The food is unbelievable, and the desserts are mind-boggling. I had an ice cream cone in Paris that I may never forget, and a pseudo-Mexican caramel dessert in Lyon that should be illegal. The traditional French food was excellent, as were some of its dodgier outliers--like steak frites. Those are long hamburger sandwiches available from street vendors with french fries and ketchup on top. It's like a whole combo meal in an easily portable package.

France is also a country on a schedule that's alien to Americans. Shops close early, or late, seemingly at random, and Mondays are for some reason oddly quiet. There is probably an excellent cultural reason for this, but I'll admit my ignorance right up front. It gave me trouble.

There is probably also an excellent cultural reason for the massive proliferation of real estate and analysis laboratories, and I'd love for someone to explain it to me, especially the latter. Every few blocks in the larger cities, there's an office marked "Medical Analysis Laboratory," which lends the country a clinical flavor not unlike an episode of CSI. One is forced to wonder if the French are, in fact, a nation of criminal pathologists, solving crimes left and right when they're not playing the real estate market for massive profit. Sorry: when you don't really know anything about a country, you tend to make up these little stories to keep yourself amused. I'm not really so much of a gringo.

Anyway, the major spoils of the trip are: a number of photographs, the highlights of which may be posted; some sketches, which may also be displayed if I can find a handy scanner; and a pair of the Big Ben DS headsets, already under dissection for use with Electroplankton. A good time was had by all, and it's great to be back. Thanks, France!

Future - Present - Past