Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour

The Loose End of a Long Red Tape

Upon awakening from a late sleep, I was pleased to find that my voice had returned. Not a bit too soon, for I was to need it seriously in the later afternoon.

But for now, it's food I have on my mind, and for brunch I am directed to a cafe (of the sidewalk variety, of course) called the Babylon, just down the street, on the corner. Although it is not raining at the moment, it is cold and gray with a solid low overcast. I choose to sit inside by a window. I am a voyeur of the street scenes unfolding in front of me. Across the street is a tree filled park. On another corner is Le Bon Marche, a large upscale department store.

I ask the waiter if there is a no-smoking section. He turns to say a few words (in French) to the bartender and they both have a good laugh. I think that the joke is that there are probably no no-smoking sections in all of France, and that I must be some veggie eating environmentalist bleeding heart American who needs a no-smoking section. I join them in their fun, and say "OK, I'll sit here and eat, but I won't inhale!"

The "mixed" (ham and cheese) omelette is absolutely superb. And yet it was prepared very quickly and deliverd without fanfare on a simple plate with a crude piece of lettuce as the only garnish. The French must have some unique "food chromosome" which gives them this special gift in the kitchen.

Another gastronomic miracle has occurred. I thought originally that I would sorely miss my cherished cup of Starbucks Gold Coast each morning. But the French coffee has grown on me. It is outstanding. Startlingly strong and thick, but with whipped milk and sugar it becomes quite civilized, and very tasty.

The Bon Marche department store is extremely well done. Squeaky clean and stocked with very high end fashions for men and women. My destination was their bookstore in the basement. I was looking for an English/French dictionary, and finally wandered randomly long enough that I bumped into the proper section. What I found, however, were dictionaries for people who speak French but who want to know English. Which is understandable, of course, but no good for me. A true Catch 22! I bought one any way, figuring I could stumble through it.

By the way, my initial reading indicates that the French have two different words for "lover": maitresse (for a sexual partner), and amoureuse (if she is enthusiastic about it). Just wanted to share that with you. I have no idea why. Possibly on the same topic, I have heard that the Eskimos have 14 different words for snow.

Now sufficiently armed to deal with almost any linguistic situation which occurs to me in this country, I wander the streets to see just exactly what kind of trouble I can get into. After an hour of random walking, I turn a corner and am stunned by what I see before me. It is a statue of a figure, half man and half horse, but this is no ordinary Centaur. This one is only partly covered with flesh, and the rest reveals a skeleton made entirely of machine parts (long screws, rods, angle-iron, etc). His entire body is composed of such stuff, and most incredible of all is the very impressive array of TOOLS which seem to be exploding from his butt! There is a shovel, a very large screwdriver, a rake, a pick, and who knows what all. I thought of climbing up on this 25' high statue to get a better look, but then scrapped the idea. Were these tools really exploding from his butt, or was he just keeping them in a convenient place for when he needed them later? Or had he suffered some nasty industrial accident? It was tough to say. The brass plate on the pedestal indicated it was put there by the Ministry of Culture, so I guess only the artist knows for sure. Nobody in the immediate area seemed at all curious about it, and they didn't seem to mind at all that I was curious about it. I know that my camera was not capable of getting the detail that I would like to share with you, but herewith is something that you will not see every day in the US:

Not your everyday Centaur

I was attracted by a small clothing shop called Ireland Way, and thought to myself that here indeed would be a little island of the 'auld sod', and that they might know the weather in Ireland at the moment, was it good for flying. At the least I expected to hear the English language with a lovely Irish accent. NOT! No one spoke English at all. I found a cashmere scarf I liked, and thought it would be just the thing for some biplane flying, but found that it was made in Scotland! All of a sudden it seemed too expensive, and I left it there.

Stopping back at the hotel for a break from the streets, I received a call which brought me back to reality. The shipping agent who arranged for the clearance of my biplane through customs wanted me to go to some official at the LeBourget airport and sign some document, but no details are available as to what this document is all about. The only thing they know is that since the plane was imported for the Paris Air Show, on a temporary basis, they want to be sure that the plane is removed immediately after the show. They have been told that if I do not return the plane to America with the same shipping agent, then the shipping agent will have to pay 1,000,000 Francs (divide by 5 for dollars) and all kinds of hell will break loose.

I remind the shipping agent that it was discussed ahead of time that the plane was coming here for 3 months for a tour of Europe, and the Paris Air Show was just the first stop, but somehow it seems to have gotten all turned around. They are suggesting that I could not possibly expect to fly my plane all over Europe without dealing with all the Customs people in each country and that I should call each of them ahead of time and find out what arrangements need to be made. They are suggesting that I should contact some (unknown to them!) special kind of person who would be able to help me with all this.

Well, this is where the telephone marathon starts, and for the rest of the day I am dealing with shipping people, the Waco factory people, our contact in France, Bernard Chabbert, and on and on. This is not my happiest news of the day, of course, and I can imagine myself being engulfed in endless red tape, huge customs duties, penalties, having my plane confiscated, personally locked in leg irons and thrown into the dungeons of some rat infested French prison with deviants who may have seen, and gotten a few ideas from, that statue of the Centaur.

But hey! It's Friday afternoon. Payday the world over. I refuse to wallow on the horrible things that COULD happen, when I can go out and make them happen!!! The last time I was in Paris, about 8 years ago, I spent a few hours in a place called Rosie O'Grady's, an Irish pub to be sure, and downed more than my share of pints of Guinness in celebration of my whirlwind visits to London and Paris to sell the foreign rights to TeleMagic software. It was thus that I had found myself in Rosie's with checks in my pocket for $186,000, just enough to pay my aging list of accounts payable and survive in business for another month or so. And buy a couple of pints of Guinness while waiting for the plane home. I woke up the next morning with one of those pint glasses, empty, in my raincoat pocket. I still have that glass, and it's one of my favorite souvenirs.

Tonight I'm going to get another!

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