Here's the brand new Citroen which we picked up just off the peripherique at the western edge of Paris where the Europecar agent spent at least three minutes explaining the brilliant all-new features of this baffling vehicle.
"Make it ALL NEW" is obviously the instruction the Citroen designers were given. John's been driving cars since 1936 (it was legal to drive in Texas at age 13) and he thought he'd encountered about every model since. This one, though, has him stumped.
We did find a user-guide the size of a New York City phone book in the glove compartment, filled with exciting views of the engine's interior, and written in technical language that even your native-French speaker can't comprehend. I wish I could have taken pictures of the glorious French shrugs we've been treated to by every single man we've shown the guide to: shoulders and hands lifted in despair.
Among the clever ALL NEW features is a stalling mechanism activated at every stop sign, red light, or slight rise in the road. While the drivers behind you help by honking, you can restart the engine in remarkably few minutes.
We have a theory, since filling the tank at just under $100: perhaps the car stalls to save a sou or so when not actually moving?
We wanted to go east, but John wasn't about to drive through Paris -- or around it on the Indianapolis 500 -- before he'd deciphered the mysterious lights and buttons on the dashboard. So we headed west through a tangle of small towns with streets a few centimeters wider than the car. The ALL NEW GPS is a perfect cat's cradle of arrows pointing in six directions, and mysterious, alarmist icons with exclamation points, and we had no map. (When I asked the impatient Europecar man if they sold maps, he said, "You don't need a map, you have a GPS.")
With the indicator we assumed to be the fuel gauge plunging to the red zone, we covered 10 kilometers following directions to the nearest diesel station from a series of friendly but misinformed citizens. When at last we spotted an Esso station, John tackled the challenge of opening the cap to the fuel tank. (You unlock it with your ignition key, it turns out.) Then we followed several paragraphs of instructions on the pump for paying by credit card -- it was an unmanned station.
Another would-be motorist arrived, tried his card, also without success. At last a local man wandered over and told us that the tanks were en panne, broken. He had no theories as to where another station might be.
Eventually, we did track down a BP station, and triumphantly drove up to it just as M. le proprietare placed a row of orange cones across the entrance: closed for the day.
It was at a Total station several townships farther on that we finally encountered a knowledgeable fellow customer (it was another serviceless service station) who helped us through the intricacies of obtaining fuel and paying for it. We guessed that he was Polish -- his English was actually a little better than his French. He and John communicated in a mix of the two languages with much smiling and handshaking. John was so grateful for his help, and so shaken by his first couple of hours as the not-so-proud owner of this car, that, meaning to say "merci beaucoup," he said, "Merry Christmas." Our Polish benefactor hurried away, doubtless rushing to get out his English dictionary . . .