As I passed through Orly airport on Saturday (about to fly home to Berlin), the woman running the x-ray machine frowned. She signaled to the man beside her. He frowned, and signaled to the second woman, further along the conveyer belt.
The second woman grabbed my rucksack as it came out of the X-ray machine.
"Is this your bag?" she said in French.
Oui, I said.
She frowned, perhaps at my pronunciation, and began to pull on her black gloves. I tried to think what the heck I was carrying, that could look so suspicious on an X-ray. The woman plunged her gloved hands deep into my rucksack, and rummaged. I remembered what she was going to find just before she found it...
Let us pause a moment, while I give you a little backstory.
I had spent the previous few days just outside Paris, working on the stage version of Jude: Level 1. I had wished to bring my noble co-workers a gift from Berlin, to give them strength for the coming ordeal, but there is no point bringing wine to France, chocolate is a problematic present, and what else is there? In duty-free I had almost despaired when I saw the discreet pile of cans marked in big letters Get One!, and in little letters, 1 große echte Spreewälder Gewürzgurke.
The perfect gift from Berlin! A huge local gherkin, in a can. "The gherkin snack from the homelandplace for gherkinfans" as the can said. ("Der Gurken-Snack vom Heimathof für Gurkenfans.")
So I loaded up with enormous gherkins, one to a can, and brought them to France. We had one each. However, I was so busy I forgot to eat mine, and thus it was that on my way back through Orly airport this refined French lady now found herself holding my enormous gherkin, canned, in her black-gloved hand. "What," she said in elegant French, "is THIS?"
I was distracted from her question by the dawning realisation that I was living through a postmodern, canned version of the great moment in the rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, when bass player Derek Smalls sets off the metal detector at an American airport by walking through it with a cucumber, wrapped in tinfoil, stuffed down his pants.
Blinded by this vision, I couldn't remember the French for gherkin. Our conversation got increasingly surreal as she tried to guess what the lurid, warty, green thing, pictured on the can, might be. "Get One!" didn't really help, and she couldn't read German. At one point you could see her thinking "Glow-in-the-dark vibrator? Dildo?" In French. ("Vibrateur phosphorescent ? Dildo?")
Seconds from disaster, we finally communicated. "Cornichon!" I cried. "Ein große, er sorry, c'est un grand cornichon." "Ah!" she cried, enormously relieved. "Un cornichon!" All smiles, she handed it back to me, and I was able to bring meine große Essiggurke home to the banks of the Spree.
(An aside: I am shocked to discover that, according to Google, nobody in the long, rich, and well-documented history of the world has ever, before this glorious day, used the phrase "My Enormous Gherkin" on the internet. This seems to me extraordinary. Hardly a day goes by when I don't say it at least twice.)