I recently got back from a trip to Europe on business, visiting parts of Germany, Belgium, and France. It was a pretty amazing little adventure as I had never been to Europe as an adult. The streets were cramped and full of the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting something historic. There even seemed to be a good bit of humor mixed in. In Brussels, for instance, the Manneken Pis is a world-renowned statue of a little boy, well, pissing. It was put in place in 1618 or 1619. The city dresses the boy up in different clothes for different holidays and you can buy reproductions of him EVERYWHERE.
But if that isn’t enough, Brussels also has Jeanneke Pis which (I don’t know how good your French is) is a girl pissing just to show everyone that girls pee too.
When was this statue put in place? 1987.
That is hilarious when you think about it. The city was aware of its culture, respected it, but was not so entrenched in blind love of it that they were unable to jab it in the ribs a bit and put something up as a counter.
The food was amazing, as well. A lady at a Parisian bakery balked at the idea of selling me one miniature chocolate croissant, but I just wanted to taste it – not buy a bag for a family at home. It was pretty delicious, though. As I walked away eating it, I gave serious thought to going back and buying at least one more.
Another thing I saw was an absolute wealth of motorcycles of various shapes, sizes, and powers. Yes, the scooter was represented well, but all sorts of other motorcycles were there, too. Not doing any sort of counting, I would say that out of all the vehicles I saw, about a third were of the two-wheeled variety.
Paris, beautiful as it is, was monochromatic when I was there. The sky was grey, the buildings were grey, and a lot of the people were dressed in winter clothes that were usually dark as well (you have to wonder why darker colors are popular in a season where it’s darker than normal). In some ways this wasn’t a pleasant thing, but it did make the colors that were there – the gold on the bridges, for instance – really pop.
My favorite color instance, though, was when a Vespa that was surely a standard “rosso passione” (bright red), but in all the overcast funk of the day, it stood out like it was lit up with neon. She pulled the Vespa up onto the sidewalk with me, presumably to make room for the cars behind her to get out of the one-lane road, but it turned out she was waiting for her traveling parter who turned up on what looked like a Yamaha FZ-07.
She had beaten him to the intersection. They killed their engines, talked, and made gestures, obviously debating the direction that they would go to get to their destination. Then the Vespa rider started her engine, waved the universal “come on!” arm sweep, and took off into the busy Paris road. The guy followed and they were both quickly out of view among all the commuters.
The whole scene lasted only a couple of minutes while I waited for a friend to figure out the directions to the river where we would be able to navigate ourselves to the Eiffel Tower. I still thought it was cool to see two bikes of wildly different segments together on a trip, the Vespa leading the way, and it driven by a woman.
While this would be uncommon in America, it does give me hope for America’s motorcycling future. If it can be done anywhere, it can be done here as well. It will just take some tweaks to our system and culture to make it happen and we will have to decide if that juice is worth the squeeze.
I think it is.