Uncle Sam does his own plumbing - I fail to be Joy's toy-boy - CycleBlaze

October 1, 2007

Uncle Sam does his own plumbing

"And tell me, sir: what brings on this insanity?"

A bony-faced man who looked like he did his own plumbing adopted an expression that showed the remark was a joke. On the other hand, he wouldn't mind knowing anyway. I'd just told him I wanted to go to America to make a second attempt at riding its width. He looked dubious.

"It's fun," I said, "riding a bike."

"Across the States?"


"All the way across the States?"



The American embassy in Paris is at the end of the avénue Gabriel, where it meets the Place de la Concorde and the rue de Rivoli. It's on line 1 of the métro, the posh line that runs through the most glamorous of the capital's arrondissements. It tells of French history. It starts in the royal fields of Vincennes, passes beneath the the Bastille which became the symbol of the Revolution, then reverts to a royal flavour at the Palais Royal and Tuileries before plunging into republicanism at the Étoile Charles de Gaulle and the modernism of the terminus at La Défense. Around the corner from the American embassy is where the US proposed the treaty which provided Europe with Marshall Aid - in return, among other things, for the right to sell Coca-Cola - and across the road from that is the Hôtel de Crillon. A "junior suite" at the Crillon costs €1,030 a night, the sort of price that makes it hardhearted to bump up the price to €1,060 if you expect breakfast. That's in March, before Paris becomes tolerable. I dread to think what the really good rooms cost.

Anyway, that's the sort of luxury, if you're an American, that your tax dollars are being spent on, although Paris costs you less in security than your London embassy. Last year, when I went to Britain for my visa, I found the eagle of liberty and freedom ringed with barbed wire, tank traps and men with machine guns. The irony wasn't hard to spot. Paris, on the other hand, is relaxed, more elegant. The only protection outside that part of the embassy dealing with visas is the sort of portable barrier you might use to restrain crowds at winter sales. There are policemen, yes, but their concern seems to be helping pedestrians through the short queues of people waiting to be directed into the embassy.

So, I handed over my application and my passport, and my receipt to show that I had paid for my visa at a post office (I know you want to know why a post office but life's too short to explain). I surrendered my security-threatening banana and slice of home-made cake, both of which were subsequently stolen from their shelf, and I strolled into an enclave of American soil. After which, and about an hour and a half, Mr Plumber cast doubts on my mental balance and hoped I had "a good time in the States" and, after taking my finger prints, said I was free to go.

He was such a pleasant man that I confided in him. For the good of the American nation.

"If you'd done a better job of looking me up on your computer," I said, "you'd see that I never left America."

A look of concern spread on his face. Or maybe hysteria and a deep wish that I'd see it was time to go away.

"According to your records," I said with unwelcome perseverance, "I'm still there. I have overstayed my visa time. They registered me in but nobody so much as looked at my passport on the way out."

He smiled. A worrying sort of smile.

"Oh sir," he said with gravitas. "They're not interested in who gets out. They only care who gets in."

And among those getting in, with so little trouble this time, was me. I felt so happy that I strolled through the fashion area of the rue faubourg Honoré. And there I bought an outrageously expensive coffee and spent half an hour watching the model girls debate whether to buy half a lettuce or skip lunch completely.

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