Due to the appearance of a wedding on the very, very distant horizon, the womenfolk of my office have been bitten hard by the rose-tinted bug of romance. It is an uncommon hour that now passes by without a conversation springing up that centres around dresses, rings or idiotic parents of the future husband who want to clog the horribly expensive reception up with their hitherto unknown friends from church.
But the one aspect of the whole shindig guaranteed to instigate the greatest outbreak of oestrogen-fuelled gushing is the honeymoon. And while I have no problems getting enthused about the prospect of a fortnight lying on a beach somewhere very tropical, with a ready supply of bikini clad ladies and cold beer, I cannot grasp the obsessive link that has been made between romance and Paris in the brains of those with a second ‘X’ chromosome.
Thanks, I suspect, to the influence of too many girly movies with impossible happy endings, the merest mention of the capital of the gastropod guzzlers is enough to send ladies into an amorous rapture. The style, the grace, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Élysées, the champagne; what could possibly be more conducive to creating the ultimate atmosphere of ardour?
Well, I can tell you – pretty much anything. On my own particular list of romance Paris falls somewhere between flatulence and gastric bypass surgery. To start with any city that once deemed it necessary to employ special motorcycle units equipped with giant vacuum cleaners for dealing with the horrific amounts of merde produced by the canine population is not somewhere I’d choose for a liaison of love. Then there is the prolific graffiti, ludicrous prices, fog of Gauloises smoke outside every café and some of the most unpleasant ghetto suburbs to be found in Europe.
Despite what the movies may tell you, choosing Paris as a destination for a honeymoon is less appropriate than showing up for an All Blacks match in an Australia shirt. With Quade Cooper’s name on the back. But that still makes it a million times more suitable than New Zealand is for a camper van holiday.
Back in the day when New Zealand was genuinely a strange little backwater, stuck out at the arse end of the world, setting out from the relative civilisation of Auckland could have been a daunting prospect. Given the general lack of infrastructure, having your own bed, stash of food and basic sanitary facilities would have been a necessity if travel plans weren’t set in stone. Bygone New Zealand could have been considered a genuine frontier adventure and the fact your dilapidated hippy wagon couldn’t do more than 45kph uphill was neither here nor there, as you would only encounter a handful of cars a day.
Now, thanks to the myriad of well equipped camp sites and the general evolution of small-town New Zealand, every gap year student undertaking the venture will probably only break new ground when they have to wash clothing for the first time without the assistance of their parents. And only the most slow-witted could fail to notice how quickly a train of furious drivers now forms when a Ford Econovan with an engine from a sewing machine is trying to pull its way up to the Desert Road.
We have a proliferation of amazing bed and breakfasts, farm stays and home stays where legendary Kiwi hospitality can be enjoyed in conjunction with such luxuries as reticulated electricity and plumbing. Given the fact that you can travel between these places at the legal speed limit in a car that would allow you to enjoy every twist and turn of the road, the conclusion has to be drawn that camper vans really only look like a good idea in the publicity photos.
And yet still they come. Droves of future bank managers and accountants, all determined to spend some time being alternative and edgy through compromising their personal hygiene and irritating the road users of Godzone as they trundle around in their wheezing misery boxes. New Zealand has taken hook, line and sinker those with an inexorable desire to forsake civilisation for six months in favour of travelling everywhere at 70kph and crapping in a bucket.
Although at least when they come around to getting married, it should make the honeymoon in Paris feel like luxury.