Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Favorite road sign

All too often, rural road signs make no attempt to be friendly. They order you to slow down, or turn in a certain direction, or stop… and that's all there is about it. They expect you to obey, but they offer absolutely nothing in return. On the contrary, a friendly stop sign might say: Dear driver, if you were to halt here for just a few seconds, there's a chance that you'll receive the visit of a charming hostess, who'll give you a bunch of flowers. Even those nasty radar cameras on main roads could be made vastly more friendly. For example: If you slow down to less than 90 km/hour, that will enable us to take a nice photo of your vehicle so that you can be enrolled in our next road-safety lottery, where you could win the privilege of a 24-hour speeding pass. But the authorities never have enough imagination to invent such friendly offers. So, it came as a pleasant surprise to discover this poetic sign:

It seems to be saying: Dear driver, you're in for a huge surprise, which lies just around the next corner. If you don't want to miss it, then maybe you should slow down a bit. As for the exact nature of this surprise, it's so amazing that words fail us. We simply don't know how to describe it!

As soon as I saw this sign, my mind started trying to guess what I was about to witness. Maybe the Mediterranean had finally gouged out a channel all the way up to the Vercors, and I was about to find myself alongside a beach, with Parisian tourists lounging on the warm golden sand, and a fellow riding around on a tricycle, selling ice cream. Maybe, on the contrary, I was being warned about the scene of a horrible accident in which a shepherd and his entire flock of sheep had been knocked over and flattened by a huge truck, leaving pieces of red meat and tufts of blood-soaked wool strewn all over the macadam. Could it be some kind of roadside nudist colony, with naked nymphs scrambling all over the roadway, pursued by Alpine beasts with horns? Was the road simply blocked by the fall of a high-speed train, which had strayed off the track between Lyon and Marseille? Within the space of a second or so, all these dramatic scenarios, and others, flowed through my mind.

When I parked my old Citroën by the roadside in order to get a closeup view of the exclamatory phenomenon, I was somewhat disappointed. It was a fizzer… as we Aussie kids used to say, designating double-bungers (a variety of fireworks) that hiss and smoke but fail to explode correctly. It was simply a bend in the road that was slightly too narrow for more than a single vehicle at a time.

In fact, this pair of warning signs, found on the site just after the exclamation mark, are largely sufficient to draw attention to the danger. They're considerably duller and less exciting, though, than the exclamation mark. So, all in all, I didn't mind about being swindled, as it were. For a few brief instants, I was invited to dream. And, in our mundane existence, opportunities like that are precious, and deserve to be appreciated in a state of joyous expectation, in an existentialist frame of mind.

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