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LISTENING TO Gershwin’s wonderful American in Paris, complete with its taxi horns, brought back memories of my stint as a Parisian taxicab driver.
It was in the 1980s. Auto journalist Jim McCraw and I were in town for a Paris Auto Show and I had already accomplished one of my life’s wishes: Following the advice of Lieut. Col. Newman-Davis in The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe, 1908, I had already rapped my walking stick on the center of the Place de l’Opera, “the center of the universe.” Well, actually, it was my knuckles.
Parisian taxicabs in the scrum around the Place de l’Opera complicated my rapping adventure. But later, on our way to the airport, Jim and I encountered a taxi driver who was rather more cordial.
Traveling in France, I’ve always found taxicab drivers amenable to chatting about their profession. Above the typical clatter of compression ignition and amidst the redolence of gas-oil, I’d say, “C’est un diesel, n’est pas?”
Not all Parisian taxis were diesel, but following a “Oui,” I’d ask “Est-ce que vous aimez les diesels?” If a “non,” I’d ask, “Pourquoi pas?”
Either way, I confess I didn’t always ken all the intricacies that followed, but they were sure to involve spirited opinions of fuel costs, taxation and those cochons [pigs] of the Cinquième République.
An occasional “D’accord” would suffice on my part. And I heard a lot about the economics of Parisian taxicabbing.
Quite by coincidence, on this particular Parisian visit, I added an R&T experience to my repartee. Back home in Newport Beach, not long before, I had driven a Citroën DS, the upmarket sibling of a popular Parisian taxicab, the Citroën ID19.
Hence, if conversation flagged, I could say, “J’ai conduit un Citroën en Californie.” Full disclosure: I first had to prepare the past tense rendering of “to drive.”
Maybe this information elicited a Gallic shrug; maybe a “Vraiment…?.”
But on our airport trip in this particular Citroën, its driver was a real player. He eased the car to the curb and said, “Eh bien, vous conduisez maintenant!”
This sounded suspiciously like “Now you drive.” Jim and I were baffled until the driver laughed, slid over into the passenger side and planted his cap on my head.
Well, what else could I do? I drove the rest of the way to the airport, amid much laughter and more fractured French/English camaraderie.
There were Gallic hugs at the airport dropoff. I was tempted to kiss the driver on both cheeks, but wasn’t sure of the protocol. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016