Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Smokey is FREE!

After a 12 hour jaunt to Barcelona and back, our victorious return to Leran was cheered by the Brits at the Leran Bar with cries of “There’s Doug and Nancy driving their big American gas guzzler!” Later, we had a hard time convincing them that our petite camionette would be way down on the list of gas guzzlers in the good old USA.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now, the rest of the story!” Smokey is FREE! The 577.76 Euro ransom has been paid, the proper documentation has materialized, and the hostage has been released. Doug commented last night that everything actually does seem to be going falling into place---not without obstacles, however. We headed out from Leran at 7 am, imagining a leisurely four hour drive for the 350 km to Barcelona. I thought about returning the rental car in Barcelona, but it gets doubly expensive to drop off in another country. We have already blown the budget sky-high, so we’d be convoying back with two vehicles.

Our internet directions left a lot to be desired, so purchasing a Michelin map of Barcelona along the way was in order. About 100 km into the journey, Doug discovered he had left his wallet at home. He was without driver’s license and most of the cash to bail out Smokey. We could replenish the cash at an ATM, but what if Customs or----worse yet, a gendarme---asked for the document. It was too late to turn around, we both decided. Forty-five minutes later the cash fund was replenished, we picked up a map, and we were back on track…for a bit.

When you have been living in towns with populations of 5,000 mild-mannered souls, Barcelona comes on pretty strong. Neither of us realized just how significant a port city it is. I guess we were imagining a few docks like Seattle. Now picture a dock area about the size of Seattle, called Zona Franca. We were looking for Carrer Numero 4, then Carrer de la Iletra C, but nothing followed logic. Go figure. We drove around Zona Franca endlessly, dodging tractor-trailers with containers, forklifts with forks ominously extended, occasionally stopping to ask people for directions that were answered in rapid-fire Barcelona Spanish with arms and hands waving in all directions. We knew we were getting warmer when the arms and hands were waving less, and finally we stumbled into an office and I was greeted with “Hola, Nancy” by Carlos Oto himself. I looked at my watch and it was nearly 12:30. Perhaps Carlos didn’t take the requisite 2 hour lunch break. Aaaaah!

Over a series of phone calls the past several days, and Carlos’ excellent English, we were finally able to secure customs clearance. All the additional passport stamp documentation that I had just been required to mail was now unnecessary. For me, though, the big question still loomed. Was all the ‘stuff’ I packed still there? Carlos couldn’t say, but he showed me the bill of lading that mysteriously did not indicate any personal possessions. After we paid up and recouped the original title, we followed Carlos’ colleague Senor Suarez a few km to the warehouse where Smokey was waiting. The layer of dust on Smokey moreorless confirmed that it really hadn’t been kept in the locked building since its arrival a week ago. The back of the camper shell was unlocked and I feared the worst when I opened it up. As of this writing, we can think of nothing missing that we will miss.

A gallon of gas to prime the pump, and Smokey was up and running. A few roundabouts later we bid adios to Barcelona, promising to return someday under different circumstances. Skies were brilliant blue and traffic had thinned out near the French border. Customs just waved old Smokey right on through as if they saw Delicate Arch on a license plate every day. We just kept handing out Euros at the peage (tollgates) along the way. By the time we reached Bram and left the motorway for the backroads to Leran, the low light on the green, undulating fields was a photographer’s dream. I finally started to relax, remembering why I was here, and began to take in all the countryside surrounding me. It occurred to Doug and myself, independently, in our separate vehicles, that we had not seen such a beautiful landscape since we had left Leran that morning.

We unloaded a few bags, looked at each other and trotted the one block to the bar. They all wanted to come look at the American gas guzzler. Unlike us, Smokey will remain in France, a French citizen with Utah plates. So we ask all you Francophiles out there to help us baptize Smokey with a new French name, one to last its life in this new home. Suggestions please?????

I apologize for the obvious lack of PHOTOGRAPHS lately. We are eagerly awaiting internet hookup which will occur at a time not necessarily known to us. Maybe tomorrow, maybe not. We hope to stand lookout for the France Telecom person who must first connect the phone line before we can then proceed to Step 2. Thanks to John and Lee-anne for their gracious use of their wireless patio. Sorry, Alan and Eileen, your system just didn’t like us this time round---bummer.


Michelle said...

Wonder how many comments you get from the French on the Delicate Arch tag. Wonder if it will stay on your vehicle...I'm recalling the group of French students that went on a souvenier spree, stripping visitor vehicles of license plates that summer in Yellowstone.
Your descriptions of the arrival back to Leran made it clear you felt you were coming home. How wonderful. Michelle

Anonymous said...

I congratulate you on the return of the kidnapped "Old Smokey"...after paying the ransom! Now you can get things started with the new home...lot's of work to be done!

I tried to think of a new French appellation for our "smokey, gas-guzzling" friend...and my first thought was to stay with a literal meaning that had a pretty sound when spoken in I translated "gas lover" into "Amoureux de Gaz". I think Amoureux makes a lovely sounding first "French and friendly"! Makes me think of Edgar Degas (whose original name was de Gas)! As you see, fine art is always infiltrating Luke's feeble brain!

I hope you get your phone, internet, TV and music set up soon. Having a little entertainment...especially music...makes it more pleasurable to work on projects...and it keeps you feeling more "connected" to the rest of the world. And when the furniture starts to arrive, you'll feel so much more "at home"!

Now that you have survived the worst of the "bureaucratic" hassles I think you will really begin to enjoy yourselves...and I'm glad to see from your blog that you have friends and a nearby pub to "enhance" those joyous experiences! Hurrah for friends and French wine!

d said...

i love the random "waiting periods" for desired items...maybe you need to pretend like you don't really need the stuff that you really need...e.g. oh, sorry, were you speaking to me ME?? oh, that old truck, i guess i'll take it...i mean, i really haven't anywhere to go or anything to do...specifically, i mean...oh, internet service...sigh, i suppose i would use it if it were available but, hey, if not, who cares?? now what was your name again? i am a writer for People Magazine (international edition) and i want to be sure and spell it correctly in my article about how helpful you all have been...