PARIS -- Hundreds of Western journalists have embedded themselves with Coalition troops. Others stayed behind Iraqi lines in Baghdad to report from the Palestine Hotel. But to my knowledge, not one single American journalist had the guts to go into the deepest depths behind the enemy lines, into the enemy's bowels, once the war started. Since we at the eXile are known for our daring, for going where others fear, I had no choice to assign myself the story, and accept it.
Right after the last issue, I cashed in my Delta SkyMiles points and took the first flight I could catch into enemy territory. Since Delta doesn't fly Moscow to Paris, I had to fly on Delta's SkyTeam Alliance partner, the enemy's national flagship carrier, Air Freedom.
The danger and hatred was evident upon boarding. Just before you pass from the gateway into the fuselage, there's a rack of free newspapers. But the rack was a ruse: there were no English-language newspapers available, only Freedom-language newspapers.
When I boarded, a stewardess smiled and said something unintelligible to me, then pointed towards the back of the plane.
"Do you have any English-language newspapers?" I asked loudly.
"Zere are none left?" she asked in a stupid accent.
"I want an American newspaper. USA Today. Don't you carry that?"
"Yes we do, but it seems zey are all taken. I am sorry."
"You see what I mean?" I said. But she didn't see what I meant. She apologized and repeated that they had all been taken. I couldn't tell if she was being rude or if I'd annoyed her. In any event, flight attendants are highly-trained to deal with obnoxious American passengers, so I figured I should rest up for the assignment in Paris. The goal was this: once in Paris, speak loud American, never try to speak Freedom, flush out the enemy, and record the conversations. I brought a white New York Yankees baseball cap, my mirrored surfer sunglasses, white Nikes and an imitation Northface Gore-Tex parka for added annoying-effect. I planned to do my best to cheese the hell out of shopkeepers and ticket salesmen, then have someone take photos of me doing a dirty chicken dance in front of the Eiffel Tower, a funky Egyptian walk on Champs Elysees, and a Schwartzenegger muscle flex in front of the Arc de Triomphe.
The eXile's Paris Bureau chief, Pepe Le Pew, put me up in his office near the Luxembourg Gardens. A perfect locale for the story, a fanatical enemy stronghold, the Tikrit of Paris. Nothing but little boulangeries and charcuteries and cafes on every block, a nest of militant fanatics whom I was sure would take the bait.
But something unexpected happened. Either I had received faulty intelligence reports, or else the Parisians were tipped off about my arrival. Whatever the sinister reason, the enemy proved its inscrutable ways by denying me my story: the Parisians were incredibly hospitable and accommodating. Not like I didn't do everything to provoke them. I'd barge into shops speaking loudly in American, demanding service. If I was forced to use a Freedom word like "croissant" I'd pronounce it "kroice-ant" or cafe was "kaw-fee." They didn't take the bait. The minute they heard me speak English, they'd smile, practice their own English, and help as best they could. Not one Freedom eye rolled back even five degrees during my entire four-day stay.
I switched tactics. I'd barge into another shop, this time speaking atrocious Freedom with a heavy American accent. They're notorious for getting even angrier with foreigners - especially Coalition partners - who mangle the beloved French tongue. But instead of trying to humiliate me by answering me in some kind of Freedom diatribe full of cutting double-entendres, they'd answer in halting, polite English, trying to offer as much assistance as they could. It wasn't just one or two places. It was literally EVERY SINGLE PLACE.