Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Serial Part Quatre



Previously on The Grand Caper: When the U.S. decides to go metric, two men go a little mental. Dave, the leader of a grassroots effort to stop the conversion meets Ray, who's "crazy, but only 3/5ths so" and together they created a bestselling book parodying the effect metric conversion would have on popular culture. The book lands them an appearance on the David Letterman show, and afterwards, Ray shares  some secrets about his past while walking through his old hometown in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. It is there that he also unveils his plan to use the profits from the book to travel to France and steal Le Grand K.

"How much further is it?" Dave whined, his hands tensely gripping the wheel in anticipation of entering another traffic circle. It seemed like the French roads had a roundabout every other mile, and Dave was flustered by the way drivers buzzed through them in their tiny little cars like caffeinated bees. But at least they drove on the right side of the road, he consoled himself.
            "I'm not sure exactly," said Ray, "we're looking for a place called Parc de Saint-Cloud. It may be just over this hill..."  
            They had arrived in Paris the day before.  Since neither spoke French, it had taken most of the day just to rent a car and secure a room.  Ray did most of the "talking" - which involved pecking away at a calculator-sized translator before phonetically reciting the words that popped up on the screen. Only Ray kept reverting back to the Spanish accent learned from his high school days, making him sound like something born of an unlawful union between Speedy Gonzalez and Pepe le Peu.   

Even so, they quickly learned that asking was the easy part, it was the listening and understanding that was tricky. 
           
After renting the car, a Peugot that made those little Shriner cars look roomy, they set off to find their hotel. When the map proved useless, they took to pulling over and pestering pedestrians.

 "Ou...est...la...la...la hotel Mondial?" Ray would yell out the side window.
  (Where is the Mondial Hotel?)           

 "L'hôtel Mondial?" they'd repeat.  "Il est situeé à guache de la rue Sommet."
 (The Mondial Hotel?)                      (It is located to the left of Summit Street)
             
Or, as Dave and Ray heard it:

"Lotelmondeeal?  Illay sittuayagoshederoosummay." 

Ray would then valiantly input the rush of words into his device, usually coming up with something useful, like "Island soldiers making merry on leave"           
"Merci," he'd say, thanking the man for his help, before turning to Dave. "I think it's just over this next hill." 
            It was in this manner that they managed to find their hotel, order dinner at a restaurant (actually a McDonald's, but even so, still stressful), and pay for enough gas to get them to Sevres, a small town on the western outskirts of Paris. They were looking for the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM), the organization responsible for the creation and provision of all standard measures.  The BIPM was housed in the Pavillon de Breteuil, which according to Ray, was a "Large mansion commissioned by Louis XIV in 1672 to be built as a gift for his brother,  but is now home to the current director of the BIPM."
          
 "There!" Ray shouted. "Up on the right. See the sign?"
Dave did, but there was no way to get over in time.
"Damn. Hang on," he said, resigning himself to another lap in the roundabout. "And if you make one more Chevy Chase joke, I swear I'll open your door, shove you out, and run you over next time I come around." 
It took two more trips around the circle before he could finally exit, but Ray wisely refrained from calling out "Big Ben" or "Parliment."

The building was right off the main road, and not knowing what else to do, Dave simply pulled into the driveway and parked the car in a large lot to the right of the main building.  He had expected some sort of guard house or sentry station, but the only sign of security was a tall iron gate, similar to those surrounding cemeteries.  The large gate door was wide open and unmanned, so Dave just drove right through it.  To Dave, the Pavillon looked pretty much like the back view of the White House, as pictured on the reverse of the new twenty dollar bills, only without the columns. 

            Ray was busy snapping off pictures for later study, for this was to be just a fact-finding mission, or reconnaissance, as Ray called it  - which Dave couldn't help but point out was the first French word he had pronounced correctly in nearly 48 hours. He also pointed out that taking the free tour that the BIPM offered to the public hardly qualified as espionage.  

"We'll see about that," Ray responded cryptically.  

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