The International Writers Magazine:Andorra
Do Andorrans Dream of Electric Cheap
John M. Edwards
No replicant hitchhiker chainsmoker in his right mind would risk his or her life again driving a “smuggled” car through the slipperyslidy Pyrenees passes of the mountain-madness indie kingdom of royal Andorra, Europe’s cheapest Duty Free shopping mall, except perhaps for Rutger Hauer—or, Rolf Potts?
If you will pardon my babytalk Franglais, on par with wunderkind cartoon babe “Caillou” or St. Exupery’s enfant terrible Le Petit Prince, we must all be staunch smokers to survive in this world. Yeah, right, oxygen is overrated.
As a hired housesitter in a 15th-century Gascon farmhouse (in the French département of Gers), with a backyard view of the gleaming snow-capped Pyrenees, I (really, really, really) believed I needed a “vacance.”
Old coots from the Vichy regime who believed in “terroir” and cold potato soup had somehow been convinced to accommodate whining Dristan victims in the provinces, ushering in the dreaded disease of the totalitarian “Worldwide Smoking Ban” movement in the least-expected place of all: FRANCE!
Now, we all know there is nothing more dangerous than a cause celebre, except for a replicant posing as a travel writer. Cancer is merely a misdiagnosis of the unknown (meaning: malpractitioners break their Hypocratic Oaths, where, paradoxically, “hypocracy” comes from).
Herewith, a dire warning: “PAS DE FUMEUR” (No Smoking) signs in French bistros just did not cut the proverbial Grey Poupon.
Je suis fumeur.
Alas, hunkered like a baseball umpire in the roadside restaurant bunker WC, while my Renault “craft” gas tank was being filled with “essence” and my “pneux” with air, I felt a bout of aphasia coming on. Forgetting the words for “toilet paper” (meaning: they had none), I faced the dire dilemma of resorting to a Third-World-style “southpaw swipe.”
With my voluminous pantaloons bunched down around my ankles, soiling in a petite puddle of pee, I nevertheless lit up, furtively, hungrily, noisily, ummm--!
When, with a Charles Martel-like hammersmash, there occurred all of a sudden an insistent p-p-p pounding on la porte.
Apparently, Messiers-Dames, some poor paresseux bravely holding it in was kind of going absolument berzerk!
I grinned like a jackrabbit and purposely avoided opening the door. “Hey, someone’s in here, hold on!!!” I secretly was laughing in my sleeve. I abruptly belted my chinos and dropped my magic wand into the sludge--which produced a neat sizzling pst sound.
Exiting the stall like Sartre, brushing past the maitre d’, horrified ember eyes clearly smarting from the mushroom cloud of smoke, I almost felt sorry for him, as I vociferously denied any wrong-doing whatsoever: “It wasn’t me, I swear it was the guy before me!”
Introductory digression finis, Messieurs-Dames, onward we go to the mountain kingdom of Andorra on a lark, as it were, to buy a cartoon carton of fire and brimstone.
I imagined Andorra to be the “Tibet” of the Duty Free Duchys, an emporium of the mind, where opposites attract and euros were a mere apparition of the mind. My infernal quest: to land the cheapest damned “cartouche” money can buy of none other than France’s finest: “GAULOISES BLONDES LEGERES”!
(NOTE: I secretly suspected Andorrans were an ancient race of wealthy and profligate “Normans,” whom Irish scholar Seamus Heaney is careful to remind us are indeed the progeny of William the Conqueror (“The Conquering Worm”)—it would be a little kindergarten not to know this, in this country of madcap dreams and darkling delusions. In fact, William was the grandson of “Hrolf,” the Norwegian King.)
I have always been a firm believer in the “divine right of kings,” and let’s face it, Messieurs-Dames, I secretly suspected all Andorrans to resemble noble pretenders with the faces of pharaohs carrying the first-aid kits of kaisers, all wondering which royal line we visitors from another demesne were from, with prayers placed towards the Popes of Avignon.
But hey, wait a second! Isn’t that the restless vagabond and drifter Rolf Potts, the replicant, the elegant essayist and wily wordmeister of Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, cutting in front us to ride his vehicle like he just didn’t care? I think not.
Messieurs-Dames, please read this carefully, not only for allusion and myth but for metaphor and illusion. Now, as my female friend fearfully navigated the winding mountain passes with no guard rails and sheer drops leading to near-death experiences and deja-vu oblivion, I scratched my chin like Rodin’s Le Penseur stewing in utter molten banality: “I smoke therefore I am.”
Messieurs-Dames? Even John Krakauer (Into Thin Air) would fear a breakdown up here in the slippery snow-covered passes leading to the Shangrila-like retreat of lost goods and numinous mountain kings. To think otherwise would perforce be fatal.
Runny de Car. Runny de Car. Runny de Car.
What would world-weary Frog philosophes John Paul Sartre (Nausea) and Albert Camus (L’Etranger) have thunk about two young Americans--obviously temporarily in love, risking their lives traveling around Europe like this--being so negligent with gravity and gravitas. This was serious!
With no pen in one hand and a cig dangling over the dashboard cendrier in the other, I said nervily under my bated breath, “Zounds, when is she going to let me take over the wheel?”
I thought idly of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (made into the film classic Blade Runner [of course, the “director’s cut” without the banal voiceover]), plus where in the hay were them thar “replicants” really from: Why, outer space, bien sure.
Messieurs-Dames, misinterpretation: the only reason Rutger Hauer’s doppelganger gouged out the eyes of his so-called creator, a Woodrow Wilson lookalike (maybe even a relative of travel writer Jason Wilson) in Blade Runner was that he actually was from another planet.
I dare you to defy me on this saliency!
Indeed, the legendary French crooner Serge Gainsbourg), who consumed more nicotine perhaps than anybody save Yul Bryner, Mephistopheles, and myself, might comment on my addiction: “Je t’aime non plus. . . .”
As the shadowy chiaroscuro of cloud-loud snow fell around us like the feathery arrowhead tears of askygod--(white light, the drowning out of night)--I turned on the dead radio which crackled like our auto’s windscreen turned pointillist dots of guano snow, er, I just don’t know, I just don’t know.
An awesome shadowfuck of dread and remorse cast its pall over me, like in that ancient Norse woodcutting of two blondes in a canoe stranding a brunette (with a suspicious resemblance to yours truly), Messieurs-Dames, in “Vineland.
Or the the final pneumonic chords of “I am the Walrus” or even the denouement of The Unbearable Lightness of Being: blitzkrieg, avalanche, asterixes, jumping jacks, snow angels, dead prayers.
Reincarnation Instant Breakfast for the frightened inner child within all of us.
There was no way out of this mountain pass but down.
Exclamation points fall out of the sky.
O God Almighty, we’re lost forever lost forever freezing freezing freezing to death.
Do Andorrans dream of electric cheap?
Some of us will live forever. . . .
© John M. Edwards November 2011
Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with stunts ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam to being stuck in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in such magazines as Amazon.com, CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation, Condé Nast Traveler, International Living, Adventure Journey, Emerging Markets. He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen”
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