Monday, October 22, 2007


The rental car company came and took away the Oldsmobile-Citroen the other day and left me with a Peugeot minivan, a Picasso. The name comes to us, I imagine, courtesy of the Peugeot linguists. I would like to have been at that meeting. What else, I wonder, was on the list of possible names? Other Spanish artists--could I be driving a Dali? (What would the clock in a Dali-mobile have looked like?) Or other ex-patriate artists who lived in France--Hemingway, maybe? (Probably not a name for a minivan; Hemingway was probably an SUV kind of guy.)

If Picasso had designed this car, it would be one of his late, intensely abstract works, when he had turned away from all those quaint art-school concepts like perspective. The control panel--odometer, tachometer, all those sorts of things--rests in all its digital glory in the center of the dashboard, a solid 2 or 3 second glance away from oncoming delivery trucks. A second glove box occupies the space between the steering wheel and the windshield. The heating and air conditioning controls are all to the left of the steering wheel, just above where the engine release lever often is, another 2 or 3 second glance away. The steering wheel has all sorts of controls on it--I am sure that one is about the radio, and I think that I could use another to make a phone call.

The car has no parking gear; instead, there is a parking brake lever in the center of the dash, centered under the control panel. To park the car, you put it in neutral and engage the parking brake. The gear shift is on the steering wheel shaft, just slightly above the controls for the windshield wipers (five settings, so that when you accidentally brush the wiper wand on your way to the gear shift there are five different ways you can startle your passengers).

And then there's the shifting itself: I require an automatic transmission. Our friends at Peugeot made the car automatic, and I do not wish to take anything away from their efforts. However, let me just say that on a good day I can shift from first to second to third gear as smoothly as does our friend Pablo. When we start up a hill and the moment arrives for a change of gears, there is a lurch and a bump and if you listen closely you can sometimes hear the engine curse softly. (The difference here is that I would swear audibly, and in English.)

The rental car company left me a key ring with the Picasso's vital statistics: registration number, type of transmission, and color. And there, in the color, is where, so far as I am concerned, the Peugeot linguists really earned their coffee break. My car is not brown: it is noisette.

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