Monthly Archives: November 2003

Ch. 36 – On to Madrid I fell off on my journal…

Standard

Ch. 36 – On to Madrid

I fell off on my journal writing after we got to Madrid. Here is the only excerpt I have:

2/6/85

Got into Madrid at 9:30 AM. It took eleven hours to make the trip – and we had had to pay a supplemental price because this was considered a train rapide! I wonder how much longer a non-rapide train would have taken?!! We hailed a taxi to take us to the Alcazar Regis, another hotel recommended in our Let’s Go guide. It was just as they described it: high ceilings, chandeliers for lighting, and stained glass doors closing off the rooms. There was a central sitting room in the middle of all of the guest rooms, and separate bathroom facilities. Our room looked out over the Gran Via – one of the main streets of Madrid. The view was spectacular, but there was also a lot of street noise.

As soon as we arrived and unpacked, I took a nap – I was so wiped out. Of course, Sandy stayed in the room – she was not comfortable venturing out on her own. I had to be really assertive about wanting quiet time, as she had decided to send a postcard to Tim, her crush in Angers. She kept reading it over and over to me, asking me if it was “too much.” I would have just liked to say, “Sandy, he’s gay!” in order to get some peace, but I was trying to be nice.

We ventured out, of course, at noon – in search of food. We settled on an establishment called the restaurant Valencia, where I had more paella, and Sandy tried again in vain to order gazpacho – the traditional cold tomato soup of Spain. She was finally told that gazpacho was never served in February – it was more of a springtime and summertime dish. That was disappointing, but she too ordered paella.

At the restaurant, we ran into another fellow American. His name was Jeff, and he was an electrical engineering major from North Dakota. He was taking some time off from his studies to refine his languages. We had a nice conversation – it was obvious that he was happy to see fellow countrymen (women). As for us, I am sure that Sandy was getting as tired of my company as I was of hers. We welcomed a third person to break the monotony.

We arranged to meet at a little bar off of the Plaza Mejor. It was called a meson – what we would call a tapas bar. The tradition of tapas was said to begin when bars were competing for customers. In addition to drinks, they began offering little appetizers, which were served on plates. These plates were balanced on top of the drinks glasses – as a former waitress, I could see that this was a space and time saver. It also served to keep the flied out of the drinks. The word tapas came from the Spanish verb tapar, which means to cover.

The bar where we met was very rustic – it had low wooden tables surrounded by stools. Thre was an organ player who played requests. Jeff, who was experienced in these places – apparently this was the only way to get a meal at an “American” hour (The Spanish typically do not eat dinner until 9 or 10 at night!). It was also cheap – one could order a couple of small servings of tapas with a drink and make a meal out of it. We ordered sangria, and a tortilla espanol – which was nothing like a Mexican tortilla. It was actually a sort of potato omelette.

After our tapas, we moved on at the proper Spanish dinner hour to a restaurant advertised as a cerveceria – a beer joint that also served seafood dishes. We had plates of shrimp, clams pickled in brine, and potato chips. I declined the beer – I had never liked it – but was able to order wine instead. God forbid I should drink a soft drink or plain water! Since Jeff had paid for our tapas, Sandy and I insisted that we pay for the dinner. We arranged to meet again on the following Friday night, and he said that his sister might join us. Unfortunately, our wires got crossed, and we never made the connection. It was pleasant to spend time with him that night, however. That was one of the perks of travel – often, when you met another American, he or she instantly became a friend!

Ch. 37 – February and Valentines!

To the grandparents:

11 Feb 85

(Postcard from Toledo, Spain): Hola! Spain has been wonderful. I’ve seen Madrid, Barcelona, and Toledo. The weather has been wonderfully warm. I got to see two flamenco shows and they were really impressive. The food was okay – I found a Mexican restaurant in Madrid and pigged out!

Love,

Claudine

P.S.- I wrote you a letter before I left, but I couldn’t mail it in France. You’ll get it soon!

(Card with picture of a 100 peseta note on it):

Bon Anniversaire!

Feliz Cumpleanos!

Happy Birthday!

So sorry this is late but I searched and searched for a Spanish birthday card, and they were all tacky. By now, you will have gotten my postcard and letter. I will send another detailed one about my trip to Spain – it was great! I even spoke Spanish! Now, my French is all messed up. I say “aqui” instead of “ici” and “gracias” instead of “merci”!

I just started a new semester. I have moved up two levels – that is unbelievable! I like my new teacher much better than the one I had last semester. She is a small woman with dark hair cut in a page boy. She actually seems to have a sense of humor, too! My schedule is much more agreeable this time around – no more 8:30 AM classes!

Love,

Claudine

Valentines from Pablo:

(Valentine #1 – a picture of two pigs, with a bubble above one of them with a heart in it): Valentine… (open card) …this little piggy loves you.

Dear Claudine:

Following an American tradition of Valentine. I hope you have a wonderful day. Here, so far, so good. I will be sending you a response to your beautiful letters, okay?

Love you,

Pablo

(Valentine #2 – a drawing of a man covered with hearts): Everytime you look at me like that…. (open card, hearts have fallen off, and he is hiding his “naughty bits…”) … I come unglued. Please be my Valentine!

(note) 2 – I saw this card and I thought about you. Be good. I miss you. Pablo

(Valentine #3 – a computer print our on green and white striped paper):

CLAUDINE

I

MISS

YOU

LOVE

PABLO

(Letter accompanying the print out – also on computer paper):

Dear Claudine:

Hola amor. Como estas? Here I am writing you in this most unusual way, trying to impress you with this unique typewriting. I’m doing fine. School is real hard this semester. As you can read, I am taking a computer course. It’s not hard, thanks to my computer background (none). And, there is a math course that is driving me crazy. It is my last calculus and I think that I will be dropping it and taking it alone during the summer semester. My English course is fine – my professor is a crazy and different teacher that I have never had. We are learning not literature – on the contrary we are learning about philosophy. We have been talking mostly about the MEANING OF LIFE. According to him, we don’t have a purpose in life (lack of). Then there is my business class – it is going fine.

Now, let’s review the last two weeks in CAJUN LAND: A friend of mine, it was his birthday, so we went to have brunch at Cafe Vermillion. I am not sure if you met him? His name is Marty. We had a good time – our conversation was always on the subject of FEMALES. Thinking about the perfect girl in your life; that one day I might be able to find her (or, maybe I have found her?). I hope I get a response on that one!

My roommates are doing fine. I’m getting along just fine – it’s an excellent sign of responsibility and maturity. Chico is always in charge of cooking, Victor and I are in charge of doing the dishes and the rest of the kitchen. We all have duties with the rest of the house.

WORK: El Torito is getting better and I am satisfied with it. We have a new girl working in the bar. However, no one will ever take your place! Ricardo is still in love with the hostess, but he is losing the fight. Chico is back with the El Torito family.

Marcello’s is the wine bar and Italian restaurant where I also work. The experience of the job is great. You are going to think I am crazy for what I’m about to tell you: I JUST BOUGHT (past tense of BUY) a $125 bottle of wine. It is a 1961 vintage – a good year for that particular wine. The best part is that this wine can age for 20 more years! You know that, in the year 2000, I, Pablo, will be drinking a 1961 bottle of Barolo the same age that I am! How many people do you think will be doing what I will be doing? Celebrating the new century with something unique – so, it’s an excellent investment!

Claudine, mi amore, how is school coming along? I did enjoy your last letter. You are a wonderful person, and I’m so pleased with life to meet a person like you. Well, Claudine, I’m late for class, but I want to tell all your friends that I had the pleasure of meeting them by your letter. By the time your receive this, you will probably be back from Espana and I hope you had a beautiful time. And, something else: Happy Valentine’s Day!

I miss you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!much.

Love, Pablo

Ch. 38 – La Fleche – and Cupid’s Arrow Strikes!

Absence makes the heart grow fonder – Anonymous

Our group made our journey to La Fleche – this time, we took the train there, loaded down with the supplies to make the promised meal for our host families. The Association had rented out a reception hall, and we set to work to prepare red beans and rice, which was the easiest thing we could think of doing to serve a lot of people with supplies that would be easily obtainable in France. Trisha took charge, being the official Cajun among us, and we did her bidding. We also had a nice time with our families – it was more relaxed. Some of my compatriots had actually made a connection and had been back to visit more than once since our last group visit.

My family was very nice, but I always got the impression that they favored Keesha over me. I found out later that this had some grounds in truth. It seems that the wife of our veterinarian host was part black, so she was happy to host a person with whom she identified. Black people were not plentiful in our area of France. There were more of them in Paris, where they had immigrated from French-speaking Africa. Interestingly enough, I had tuned in to an underlying prejudice against people of color while at dinner with the affluent dentist from Angers. I believe that he or his wife made a suspicious remark about not trusting Spaniards, because their blood was tainted by African blood. I remember that reference to that day – to a person from the United States, who had been taught to accept all races, this was a shocking thing to hear.

Now, I was not defending Americans as a whole – I definitely had prejudices of my own, and those handed down from both sides of my family. My father was not stranger to the “N” word, and my mother’s parents held a pretty low opinion of Mexicans, being from West Texas. I learned that prejudice lives everywhere. Amusingly enough, it lived in a different form in La Fleche. Our hosts, and everyone in the Association were delighted to have two African-American students as a part of our group (I was more familiar with Keesha, but there was another guy in our group that was black, as well). They were so delighted that they would have exposure to a culture that they were unfamiliar with.

They, of course, did know something of the African-American experience in America – slavery, equal rights, music, dance. They were completely unaware that, even this knowledge was, in itself a preconcieved notion. Being twenty years old and under, we had missed a lot of the influenced that made that experience great. So, when our hosts prevailed upon Keesha to favor them with a Negro spiritual, we didn’t know what to do. There were many people in our group who were gifted with superior voices. Keesha – contrary to that stereotype about black people and singing – was not.

One thing Keesha was enthusiastic about was having a lot of attention attracted to her, so she set about practicing her rendition of “Amazing Grace.” to perform that night. A capella, it wasn’t too noticeable that she was off key – she, of course, embellished the song with the florishes of gospel music, rendering it even more unrecognizable. Still, even Chuck had to admire her chutzpah! It seemed that the people of La Fleche were so enthralled with our “musical troupe” that they encouraged all of us to sing the songs of our “homeland” – never mind that there were few native Louisianians in our group. The finale of the trip, as I recall, was our group singing “Jambalaya” as our train pulled away, and waving to our host families. You had to hand it to us, we did our best P.R. on that trip!

When I returned to Angers, there was a letter awaiting me. It seemed that a dark horse had appeared: it was a letter from Rusty, a disc jockey and fellow student that I dated before leaving for France. Apparently, he had not forgotten me:

Chere Claudine,

Comment vas-tu dans cette jolie pays? Well, that’s about the extent of what I learned in Madame Jones’ class! I don’t think that I’ll ever forget that lady or that class…or you, for that matter.

So, anyway, how’s everything? I spoke with your mother a few days ago. She tells me you’re doing fine…(but I always knew you were fine! )… I hear you speak French as if you were a native. I don’t know if I’ll be able to converse with you any more, if you’re that good.

Well, is France everything that you expected? I’ve never been to Angers. How is it? Have you been to Paris? How are your classes going? Am I going to fast for you? I think that’s about all the questions I wanted to ask you. Oh, yeah, when are you coming home?

It would really be nice to see you again. I’ve been thinking about you quite a bit since you left. I thoroughly enjoyed the times that we spent together. Something seemed to click when we were together; I think so, anyway. Although I did discern at the time how special you were, I really acted like an idiot! Many things were happening at that time and they were happening a little faster than I could keep up with. Does that make any sense?

What I’m trying to say is that, due to some conditional factors, I was acting wierd. If I did or said anything to you to make your upset, I am really sorry! Actually, what this all is leading up to is that last time we were together, before you left, I think we went to a movie. That whole evening, I couldn’t help thinking that there was something wrong. Maybe I have a wild imagination, but it seemed that things were not the same at all. To a large extent, I probably provoked it. Still, I really enjoyed being with you, as always. Well, I dont’ want to dwell on this. I just wanted you to know how I felt, that’s all, and how great of a feeling it was just being with you – almost euphoric! (I hope I’m not getting too carried away…)

But, to conclude this, if there is anything on your mind, feel free to tell me, okay? Bon! I’m still in exciting New Siberia – I mean, New Iberia. Things are going well. I auditioned for a movie that will be filmed in and around Lafayette. It is called Acadian Waltz and is being produced by Robert Duval. I should hear something from the director sometime in late March. It would be nice if I got a part, but you never know about those things.

Well, I really got to go now. Have fun and take care. I hope to hear from you. I also hope that I didn’t confuse you with this letter, but it was just something that I had to tell you. So, bye for now.

Love,

Rusty

P.S. – I’m really sorry that I didn’t write to you sooner – I have no excuse.

Holy Jesus, what was that all about? I didn’t remember a thing about that last date being weird. All I could think about was that we had been pretty hot and heavy, and I may have decided to control my hormones and chill out a bit – that’s it! I don’t remember what I wrote back to him – or if I wrote back to him. I do remember that I liked being with him…

Ch. 39 – To Recap…

4 mars 1985

Dear ________:

No, this is not a form letter. I have received so many letters that I need to answer, I decided to get it all over with in one fell swoop. I don’t think that I’m being lazy- I like to call it innovative! I wanted to write sooner, but I have been so busy with schoolwork (I heard those disbelieving snickers!). Really, I have! Actually, I haven’t much more work than I did last semester, and, in all truth, I have fewer hours. The big difference is that I’m doing my homework. You see, I have this demon that is driving me, spurring me on, watching my every movement for signs of weakness (such as my skipping class or not doing my homework). This demon is Alan, one of my beloved fellow Louisianans.

You see, Alan has it in his head to mould me into his image of a good student – you might call him a sort of academic Pygmalion. He just doesn’t understand that studying is not in my nature. So now I must resort to doing things behind his back and telling the most outrageous lies to cover up my lapses. Wow! It’s just like being at home under the watchful eyes of my parents!

I know that many of you haven’t heard from me since before Christmas, but I’m going to start this letter with my trip to Spain. The first week of February, during our between-semesters break; Sandy (another Louisianan) and I took a train to Barcelona. We stayed over-night on the way in this questionable hotel in Toulouse, and we got into Barcelona the next afternoon. We found a hotel immediately, and set off toward the Ramblas, Which is a big boulevard with lots of vendors and street entertainers set up on the grassy median between the thoroughfares. We were really hungry, but it was hard to find a restaurant open on a Sunday. Still, I was determined that our first meal in Spain would not be McDonald’s. Finally we found a self-proclaimed “restaurante tipico”. Now I don’t usually trust advertising that blatant, but it was pretty good. I had a bowl full of baby octopi cooked in butter – that seemed pretty tipico to me! Unfortunately, Sandy was to be thwarted in her search for gazpacho, that Spanish soup made with fresh tomatoes: it is only served in the summertime.

The second day, we set about doing some heavy sightseeing. We were staying in the old part of town, which is right by the port. The weather was beautiful, and I had said the day before that I couldn’t wait to get out and walk. Boy, did we ever walk! We saw the Gothic cathedral, the arch of triumph, and the bizarre Templo de la Sagrada Familia. The Templo was, never finished because the architect, Guell, died. It looks kind of like those dribble castles we used to do at the beach. After we saw that we set off in what we thought was the direction of-Montjuic (a cliff top natural park with amusements and attractions) and promptly got lost. After wandering around and becoming acquainted with the seedier side of Barcelona, we stopped and got something to eat. When we realized how far we had gone, we were overcome with exhaustion and forced to take a taxi back to our hotel.

. That night we went to see a tablao flamenco. Now, this is what I came to Spain to see! The costumes weren’t too elaborate, but I loved the dancers and the guitar players. I even got to speak to one of the guitarists, but all I could say to him was “muy bueno”. (Give me a break – I came here to study French. Spanish will have to come later…)

On our last day in Barcelona, we did even more walking. This time, we took the teleferico to Montjuic and got a good aerial view of the port and the city. Montjuic is an enormous park on a hill overlooking the sea. There’s an amusement park, riding paths, a palace (now a museum and a little village called the Poble Espanyol (Catalan for Pueblo Espanol). The Poble was built for some world exposition and has examples of all of the different architectural styles in Spain. These days, it’s full of cute little shops, and we spent the afternoon wandering around and buying things.

From there we went to another park, the Parque GueIl, which was designed by the same architect who did the Templo de la Sagrada Familia. It was the most wonderful park I have ever seen. It looked like a pine forest fairyland. The buildings were of sienna clay that was the same color as the soil, but the roofs and trim were intricate mosaics made of multi-colored pieces of tile. On a pavilion overlooking the playground, there was an extensive serpentine park bench, which followed the edges of the retaining wall, leaving the center area free for the children to play. This bench was entirely of tile mosaics, and was planned so that people could sit in the little curves and talk face to face. It was fabulous.

That night we took a train to Barcelona. Our idea was to sleep on the train and arrive in Madrid in the morning. This is because it takes 11 hours for a Spanish train to make a trip that would usually take 6 hours on a French train (more on the atrocities of the Spanish rail system later). We shared a compartment with a man from Barcelona and his son. He was kind enough to force food on us, and soon we were talking to them – in Spanish, mind you. He was Catalan, and we got to talking about Catalonia, which is one of the many autonomous regions in Spain. He explained to us that soon it would be all over for Madrid as the major city in Spain, and that Barcelona was going to take over. After all, he added with pride, they already had the best soccer team. I don’t know how much stock I should put on this man’s opinion, seeing that he was a waiter at a restaurant at a race track – but he was interesting!

We got into Madrid at about 9:30 the next morning, and checked into a hotel I had read about in my Let’s Go Europe guidebook. It was so nice – high ceilings, stained glass windows on the doors, and chandeliers in each room – and it was only $4.00 a night! After a 2-hour nap (we didn’t get that much sleep on the train), we went looking for food. At a restaurant, we met an American student. He was taking some time off from his Electrical Engineering curriculum to spend a year learning Spanish. His name was Jeff, and he offered to show us around some of the mesones (little bars that serve hors d’ oeuvres, called tapas). We had a good time that night, and had arranged to meet him and his sister before we left, but somehow our wires got crossed and it didn’t work out.

The next day was spent shopping, but we also took the time to check out this little restaurant I had found in my guidebook called Mexico Lindo. One of the things I really missed from back home was Mexican food so we had a ball pigging out on margaritas, nachos, tamales, and enchiladas. I even had Kahlua and cream, even though the waiter looked at me as if I were crazy when I explained to him what. I wanted. I do have to add that Mexican food must be pretty exotic in Europe, as the restaurants are hard to find, and the prices are double what we would pay in the United States.

That night we went to see Indiana Jones y el templo maldito (you know, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!). It was in Spanish, but I didn’t have much trouble following the action, because I had already seen the movie in English and in French. We then went to another tablao flamenco, but, although the costumes and the dancing were exceptional, I preferred the one I had seen in Barcelona.

The next morning we had planned to go to Toledo, which is not far from Madrid, but we had a little misunderstanding and ended up getting there that afternoon (our first real run-in with Spanish trains…). When we got there, we only had time to make the tremendous hike from the train station to the gates of the city (the guidebook said to take the bus, but I swear that we never saw one).

Toledo is a magnificent city, built on a hill surrounded by a natural moat. It was absolutely necessary to buy a map because the city is a maze of narrow streets. Even with the aid of a map we managed to get lost! We saw what was said to be E1 Greco’s house, and also his famous painting “The Burial of Count Orgaz”. The cathedral there is also awe-inspiring – very tall and pointy. That is all that we saw before we had to take a train back to Madrid.

On our last day in Spain we decided to get some culture, so we went to the Prado Museum and toured its collection for a while. We then went to Retiro Park. It was a beautiful formally designed park, but rather stark and bare. I am certain that it would be even more beautiful in spring, when the trees have leaves and the flowers are blooming. There is a large pond in the center and people were out on it in rowboats. Then we visited the campus at the Universidad de Madrid, which was huge and kind of depressing. For my last meal (in Madrid), I had paella, a concoction of saffron rice with crustaceans and clams (in their shells!), as well as chicken thighs and sausages – I wonder if this was one of the influences of Louisiana gumbo? I also had sangria with my meal, and, for dessert, I had flan- it was great!

We were again catching a night train – this time to return to Angers. We left Madrid at 10:00 PM, Saturday night and expected to get back home by 7:30 Sunday night. Instead, we got home at 6:30 on Monday morning – with only three hours to spare before we had to report to class. It was awful! First of’ all, we decided to book a sleeper car, so we could get a decent night’s sleep. Things were going fine until we were rousted out of bed at 6:00 in the morning (we were supposed to reach the border at 8:00 AM), and instructed to get on a bus that would take us to another station. Then, we would board another train that would take us to the border. We stumbled off the bus, dragging our luggage, and raced to get on the new train – which then remained in the same place for two and a half hours. I located the town where we were – called Valladolid – on the map and found that we were only 3 hours out of Madrid!!! We still had a 6 hour trip ahead of us just to get to the border! I ask you – could it get any worse? You bet! We had to share our compartment with two obnoxious, lecherous Moroccans and a Portuguese family of seven. If the train hadn’t been so crowded we would have moved to another compartment.

We got into Hendaye and were herded through customs along with thousands of Portuguese passengers – there must have been some kind of pilgrimage or convention or something! We were very relieved to be back in France, where we understood the language and where the trains are always on time! We got into Angers with just enough time to take a sorely needed shower and prepare ourselves for class that morning. I made sure that my teachers knew that, although I had spent a harrowing 32 hours without sleep, I had been dedicated enough to show up for class (even though I was a physical and emotional wreck). I hope that they were suitably impressed with me.

The weekend after our February break, the Louisiana group was once again invited to La Fleche, a town not far from Angers where there is a chapter of France-Louisiane. We had planned a soiree where we would make typical Louisiana dishes. We made red beans and rice and chicken jambalaya. It was great – someone brought out a record player and spun some Dixieland jazz and Cajun music for us to dance to. None of us knew the real dance steps, but we faked them – we figured that they wouldn’t know better!

Other than the weekend in La Fleche, things have been pretty calm. Apparently, Fat Tuesday is not a big celebration in France. We heard that there is a festival of flowers in Nice, which it far south, but we had classes to attend, so we could not make the trip down there. We did have a Mardi Gras celebration, but it was pretty feeble in comparison to the real thing. Most of us managed to have enough of a hangover to miss class, claiming that we had a right because Mardi Gras was part of our heritage (you wouldn’t expect a Jewish person to miss Hanukkah, would you?) Think about it.

Love,

Claudine.

Advertisements

Ch. 34 – Letters To and From Home Dear Claudine…

Standard

Ch. 34 – Letters To and From Home

Dear Claudine,

Sorry about my laxness in writing – I sort of got out of the habit, with you being gone for so long. Guess I should have continued writing, and you would have had a stack of mail when you got in.

I have finally had a few “turn arounds” plus I am working at my new business pretty hard. I may have a job for you when I get things together. There really are a lot of things I’m looking at. How does camouflage toilet paper sound? Don’t laugh!

I have made a “big lick” already this year and I have a chance to continue on this project. My boss and I have bought the royalty under two wells and I am trying to buy some more and the boss is over in Houston trying to get some more money. He is going to try to see your uncle and try to get his brother to come in on this and another deal (your uncle’s brother is rich!).

I am also hopeful that the book business is going to do something. I have talked to people who have one nice hardback cookbook – Louisiana Crayfish Recipes – and they have more than they can handle. They opened a restaurant in the new Catfish Town in Baton Rouge and are thinking of opening of opening another place in Tampa or on the West Coast. They are looking for someone to handle their cookbook business. I am looking at this book and my other goodie, Camouflage Cuisine, and am considering finding a way to buy them and resell them.

Your mom’s car died and she is facing one of the big decisions in life: buying a new one or getting the old one fixed, $350 a month notes, etc. The engine broke. I pray daily for mine and it seems better each day, even with 120,000 miles on the speedometer. I hope to get a new one by the middle of the year, but will drive this one until I have no other choice.

Guess you’ve heard enough about my happenings. I haven’t gotten by to pick up the gift from my daughter yet – not that I don’t think it’s worth the trip but I hope you understand – It’s still hard to go by.

I put $1033.23 in the bank for you yesterday so let me know what and how much you will need. I’ll stay loose and will have it ready when you get home if that’s what you want.

Well, I guess I will get this in the mail. I love you and miss you and am looking forward to working out living arrangements when you get home. My boss has a condo near the club – it is brick with a fireplace. I may be moving in there.

See you! Love,

Dad

Dear Tim and Rita –

I hope you are doing well. Mom said that Rita had an operation – is she feeling better? Is it as cold in Texas as it was in Louisiana? Someone told me that it snowed in West Texas. Well, it sure was cold here! – I fell twice on the ice that was covering the sidewalks and ground over here. Nothing hurt except for my pride, though.

I’m sure you’ve talked to Mom by now and heard about our trip. I has a really great time. I got to spend about ten days in London – it’s a lovely city. I may get to visit again for Easter because I am going to Birmingham to visit my roommate and her family.

I also went with Mom and William to Paris, which is always nice, even though I have been there twice before. Mom had a cold, which kind of put a damper on things – especially for her.

Mom and William seemed to really like Angers even if the snow kept us from renting a car and touring the chateaux. The did get to see the chateau in Angers, and the one in Saumur, though. We also went to Strasbourg and Baccarat. Mom and William bought some crystal and I’m having a catalogue and price list sent so I might choose some wedding gifts – a lot of people I know are getting married this year.

(cont.) Right now I’m on a train headed for Barcelona. I’ve finished my exams (I’m so glad they are over with!) and a friend of mine and I are going to spend this week off that we have experiencing Barcelona and Madrid (with maybe a day trip to Toledo). I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been boning up on my Spanish but it will not do me much good in Barcelona because they speak Catalan there. Maybe Madrid will be easier. We are planning on taking in everything – flamenco dancers, gazpacho, sangria – I hope it will be warm… The weather, that is – not the sangria.

The weekend after we return from vacation, we (the whole Louisiana group) are going back to La Fleche to spend the weekend with our adopted families there. We have volunteered to make a “typical” Louisiana meal, so I think that we are going to fix red beans and rice, and maybe pralines for dessert.

I also need to find time in my busy schedule to call up a woman in Angers with whom I had dinner a month or so ago. We met through the Family Welcome. I just put my name down and people who want to meet American students are given my name. Anyway, this lady was really nice – she’s a widow with a fourteen year old daughter. When I noticed she had a lot of pictures of trotting horses around her apartment, I asked her about them. She explained that her brother raises and trains trotters and he has a farm not far from La Fleche. She invited me to go spend the weekend there in March or April – after the racing season in Paris is over. I would really like this because I would like to learn more about French trotters (anything to do with horses…).

Two weeks ago, the France-Etats-Unis Association threw a big galette des rois party – complete with a huge cold buffet, a disco, and – of course – Kings Cakes. We all had a really good time.

I’ve also been ice skating twice – I may make a habit of it. It was nowhere near as difficult as I thought it would be. Mind you – I’m not good, but those years and years of roller skating didn’t hurt at all. I can skate both forward and backward with no trouble at all – that is, unless the occasional small child gets in my way. I sustained a rather nasty tailbone bruise last week. It still hurts a little now, but it will be healed by the time I skate again.

I got to talk to Elaine and Chad both for Christmas and when I called for Chad’s birthday (it wasn’t really for his birthday – I was calling to leave a message for Dad on the day that just happened to be Chad’s birthday.). I’m really looking forward to coming home and being in the wedding. I hope that the bridesmaids’ dresses are nice. Mostly, I hope that the reception will be fun. I certainly am looking forward to seeing you there and all the cousins that will be able to make it. After being away for so long, I will be ready for a family reunion.

I hope that you will write me and tell what’s going on in the big town of Fort Stockton. Things are doing well here in France and I’ll send you a postcard from Spain.

Hasta la vista!

Con todo carino,

Claudine

P.S. – Thanks again for the Christmas gift. I bought the neatest kilt and matching scarf in the family dress tartan pattern. Now I can wear the family colors with pride!

P.P.S. – Enclosed is a photo taken of me in September at St. Malo – a resort town we visited on the way back from Mont St. Michel.

And another one from Pablo: (another sentimental card)

A smile is a light in the window of a face that signifies the heart is at home and waiting. – Henry Ward Beecher

Sending you a smile today, until you’re back to get one in person!

Hope it’s soon.

Dear Claudine,

Here I am, back on the track one more time. This is a different card. I’m reading the first card I was planning to send and cannot understand my own handwriting. Like I mentioned to you, I live now with Chico and Victor (his younger brother). So far, so good.

I was glad we had a chance to talk. It was a while since the last time. I like to give my sincere thanks for my presents Today I saw Elaine and Chad, it is his birthday and your sister is going to take him to dinner and something else – a surprise gift.

It must be exciting to be able to go to Spain and all of those other places. Try to have a wonderful time and enjoy yourself while you are there.

This weekend, I will be working and studying. I have so many things to do. Well, my special friend, I will be receiving your letters soon and I will be answering immediately, okay? In the meantime, be good, study hard, and have a good time.

Love you,

Pablo

Ch. 35 – Lovely Barcelona

2/3/85

Gosh! Here I am in Barcelona – what a gas! I’m lying on my bed at the Casa de Huespedes Marie Luz – an address straight out of my Let’s Go guide to Spain and Morocco! – and it’s just 6:30 PM. I have had, at most, 10 hours of real sleep in the past two days.

We had a party the last day of classes, and I got up and ready bright and early the next morning at 7:00 AM (despite not getting to bed until 2:00…). Sandy and I got to the train station at 8:15, only to find out that the train that usually leaves at 8:31 for Nantes doesn’t run on the weekends. We went out and had a croque monsieur and headed back to the dorm, because the next train did not leave until 10:45.

As it happened, I was lucky that we took a later train. I got a chance to check my mail. Joy of joys, I had a letter from Pablo, and Dad sent me a 500 franc bill with his letter. Pablo’s card was brief, but it was warm and he signed it “Love you” this time. I once read in an astrology article on Geminis that they fall in love with their minds first, then with their bodies, and finally, they give their hearts. I’m working as hard as I can to capture his mind right now – I’ll worry about the rest later.

It was a long day of train travel. It only took an hour to get from Angers to Nantes, but then we had a two hour wait for our next leg. We went to a Chinese food restaurant for lunch, and I sat and listened to Sandy prattle on about Tim, this guy she has a crush on. Many of us think that he is gay, but I haven’t told her that. I am not complaining (yet) – I shared a little bit about Pablo, too.

Our next train took us from Nantes to Toulouse, and it was a seven hour trip. It was 9:00 PM by the time we got off the train, so we decided to spend the night there. We found a hotel across from the gare (train station). While the hotel looked pretty clean, our bed was supported on one side by a stack of bibles (talk about having faith!), and the room reeked of new paint.

We spent quite a while searching for a place to eat at that late hour. Not much was open, and at one place, we sat down for a while and were ignored – so we left. We finally ate and got to bed at 11:30. Our train was to leave at 5:00 AM. Sandy got sick twice during the night – probably because of the paint fumes and the rich food. We got up early, however, and made our train.

We found a compartment, which a kind lady evacuated so that we could each lie down on a bench and close the blinds and sleep some more. We managed to sleep a little bit, although the benches were not very comfortable, and there were loud, drunk men in the compartment next door, laughing and carrying on.

After the sun rose, we got up and opened the blinds on the windows so that we could watch the scenery. The sun shining on the snow-capped foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains was spectacular. I wish that I had had film in my camera! When we got near the ocean, we kept walking from one side of the train to the other to catch glimpses of each spectacle: the majestic peaks, and the vast Mediterranean Sea. The sky was clear, and it was a gorgeous day.

We finally made it across the border to Spain, where we had a two hour wait at Port Bou. We made our pass through customs, and then decided to go outside for a while. We bought a wedge of cheese, and sat on a bench near the beach. I would not have called it hot outside, but it was warm. Compared to the frigid weather in Angers, it felt fantastic – I actually was down to only two layers of clothing!

A final three hour trip brought us to Barcelona. We didn’t have much trouble finding a room, because we took a taxi, and there was space available at our first choice from the guidebook. The price was right: $9.00 for a room with two twin beds. The showers and bathrooms were down the hall, but, for $4.50 a night, I wasn’t going to complain.

After we got settled, and I took a shower, we set out to find something to eat. It was like trying to find our way through a maze – the streets are narrow and the walls are high. However, we managed to find our way out, and walked along the portside waterfront to the statue of Christopher Columbus. He is high atop a column, looking out to sea. The weather was so mild that I was able to take off my sweater. We saw a copy of the Santa Maria, as well as an old German battleship that was anchored in the harbor. There was a teleferique (one of those cable cars that glides from one high point to another) that crosses the harbor, but Sandy didn’t feel like riding it just then.

We walked down the Ramblas – the famous boulevard that begins at the Plaza de Catalunya. Sown the center of the Ramblas is a promenade with a flea market atmosphere – there are all sorts of vendors and musicians. Some little boys were drawing pictures on the sidewalks in colored chalk (just like that guy in Mary Poppins!) – for a price, you could take a picture. They were quite talented. One little girl was dancing in Spanish costume to flamenco music. There were sleazy parts of the street, but I loved the things I saw so far!

We ate at a restaurant off of the Ramblas. It was hard to find something that was open on a Sunday, but I was determined that we wouldn’t eat a McDonald’s meal as our first one in Spain! Sandy had paella – saffron rice with seafood in their shells, chicken, and sausage – but she didn’t eat much of it because she said it was too rich. I had the Ensalada Catalunya – lettuce, onions, and tomatoes with an assortment of cold cuts. It was delicious, and would have been a meal on its own, but I also ordered pulpitos – baby octopi. They were boiled in a bowl of butter and served with crusty bread. They were so good, and I had the added pleasure of shocking Sandy by piercing them in their heads and eating them whole! I soaked up the butter with the bread. I was absolutely stuffed when I was done. There was a television in the restaurant, and we watched Inspector Gadget and Fame in Spanish while we ate.

Then we went back to the hotel and hit the sack. I can’t wait until tomorrow! If the weather is as nice as it was today, then I’ll walk outside all day!

2/5/85

Well, we walked and walked and walked – I’m tired of walking! Yesterday morning, we woke up at about 9:00 and set out at about 10:00. We stopped at a pastisseria and got these big round pastries that looked like pizza, except that they were topped with apricot jam, raisins, walnuts, and almonds. We saw the Catalonian version of the Arch de Triomphe and headed for the Templo de la Sagrada Familia – Guell’s unfinished masterpiece.

After that, I decided that we could make it to Montjuic on foot and then take the funicular (teleferique) back down to the port. After several wrong turns, and a couple of hours of wandering, we found ourselves at the foot of the Montana Pelada, which was not a good looking part of town. I don’t know how we got there. We ended up taking a taxi back to the hotel. We bought a bottle of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and ran cool water over it while we rested.

We asked Marie Luz, the proprietress, to recommend a good restaurant nearby, and she told us to go to Casa Jose. She also recommended Los Tarantos, a club nearby that had a great flamenco show. I put on my red dress, ready for a night on the town. Casa Jose was down a dimly lit alley, and we were a tad nervous, but Marie Luz had been careful to draw us a map, and even warned us about certain streets to avoid. I had the paella that time, and it was good and very filling. This time, we watched an episode of Get Smart in the television.

Los Tarantos, the flamenco club, was nearby on the Plaza Real. The show started at 10:00 PM. We got there on time, only to attract two Japanese guys. I supposed that they recognized us as fellow foreigners, and they followed us inside and sat down at the table beside ours. We made polite conversation, and they went so far as to ask us if we wanted to go with them the next day to the Picasso museum. We made non-committal answers and turned to concentrate on the show.

The night was wonderful and the dancers were marvelous. There were three women dancing, and the took turns performing. While one of them danced, the others sang and clapped. The show lasted four hours, and I got up and went to the bathroom frequently to stretch a bit. I was able to talk to our waiter a bit in Spanish – he, of course, could tell that we were Americans. Sandy, the Spanish major, actually was timid to speak. I had been counting on her to do the talking for us, but it looked like that wasn’t happening. Besides, the more wine I drank, the better my Spanish became!

The next morning, we rose at 10:00 and walked to the port to finally take the funicular to Montjuic – it seemed the only way not to get lost! We had a wonderful view of the city, and it made us aware of just how huge Barcelona was. This time, we landed in the right place, but it still took us a long time to locate the Poble Espanol. This was a group of buildings erected for a world exposition some years before. The buildings were in all different styles, meant to represent the diversity of architecture in Spain. I really enjoyed the walk. The weather was great, and Montjuic was like a big park – covered with trees and trails. Sandy showed signs of tiring, though.

We passed by the Castello and the amusement park and even a riding school before we finally found the Poble (Pueblo in Catalan – it’s a very interesting language. It is sort of a mix between French and Spanish and maybe Gypsy dialect). It reminded me of La Villita in San Antonio, but it was larger and more extravagant. There were a lot of shops selling artisans wares and souvenirs, so we had a great time shopping there. I think that Sandy finally admitted it was worth the walk.

We took a taxi to our next destination – the Parque Guell. Antonio Guell was a famous architect from Catalunya, and he designed many of the buildings in town – as well as the church of the Sagrada Familia. His designs were very organic, with lots of curves and natural shapes, and he seemed fond of tile mosaics and intricate ironwork. The park was lovely. As Sandy said, it looked “just like gingerbread houses” – with all of the red clay walls and the “icing” of tiled mosaic roofs. The park was on a mountain, as well, and the integration of architecture with nature – there were many trees –was astounding. I decided that Montjuic and the Parque Guell were the most beautiful parks I had ever seen.

I loved Barcelona so much, and was sad to leave it. I bought a red University of Barcelona sweatshirt with the bold red and yellow coat of arms of the city on the front, as well as many stickers with coats of arms on them. We decided to take a night train to Madrid, with the hopes that we could sleep on the train and arrive in the morning. We went back to our hotel, and packed up, and I had to ask Marie Luz how to get there, since Sandy took too long to compose sentences in Spanish. I didn’t care about being perfect, so I would just blurt something out, then have to explain that I didn’t speak Spanish when the inevitable torrent of answers came back. I asked her to call a taxi to take us to the train station.

Suddenly, a distinctly American (male) voice called out from a side room, “Why don’t you take the Metro, you guys. It’s easier.” We had actually avoided taking the Metro because of some irrational fear that it would be difficult to make out the signs in Catalonian. We also were taking advantage of the lovely weather, and staying above ground. Still, I didn’t think that this was the time to take our first ride on an unknown system. I called back in a deliberately whiney voice, “Because we are afraid…” As it happened, the guy – a law student from Maryland – was on his way to the train station himself, and offered to accompany us there.

We managed to find a train that was leaving at 10:30 PM. Jay, the law student, had been very helpful and friendly, and we gave him the phone number of our dorm in Angers. We told him that he was welcome anytime, and then we parted so as not to take up more of his time. I really hoped that he would come to visit – he was extremely cute. In fact, I knew that he was out of my league. Interestingly enough, we met again as he was going to his train, and he called out to us one more time and he actually gave me a kiss goodbye! Sandy was pretty impressed, because he did not kiss her – I say, I was pretty impressed, myself!

We shared a compartment with a Catalan gentleman and his son, and they took a fancy to us, too. They offered us soft drinks and some of their food. Even thought I wasn’t hungry, he practically forced bread and sausages on us, so I accepted. We actually managed to talk to them for two and a half hours – in Spanish! I got him to write something in Catalan on my postcard to Pablo. It was fun, but we got very little sleep, and we were exhausted the next morning when we arrived in Madrid.

One of my postings on the other computer was out o…

Standard

One of my postings on the other computer was out of sequence, so I am posting last night’s writings now. If you want to read Ch. 31, see the previous entry:

Ch. 32 – A New Year

Card from Pablo: (Picture of chimpanzee) Even though I can’t be there at midnight this New Year’s Eve…

(Picture of chimpanzee, puckering up) …Consider yourself kissed! Happy New Year!

How about that? Kiss me now!

Love,

Pablo

Postcard to Tim and Rita (Picture of the Houses of Parliament in London): Hi! Thanks for the phone call on Christmas – it really made my day! I loved London. We even had tickets to a play (Cats), and we were right close to the stage. It was great. Right now, we are in Paris and I’m playing translator for Mom and William. Mostly, we’ve been eating a lot – and sightseeing. I’ll write a longer letter when we get back to Angers.

Love,

Claudine

Mother and William returned with me to Angers, and I was able to retire to my own room – they shared one at a little hotel between the dorm and my school. They had a great time walking down to the boulangerie, charcuterie, and small grocers to buy little picnic meals to eat in the hotel room. I believe that they even took pictures of their food – they like doing stuff like that.

The downside was that it was still frigidly cold outside, and had even snowed. Our side trips, for the most part, had to be cancelled. We didn’t rent a car, because we were unsure about driving in those conditions. Even the French were having trouble – there were a lot of fender benders happening on the streets of Angers. We managed to bundle up and visit the chateau – I finally got to see the famous tapestries. We also took a train to Saumur and visited the chateau there.

I had a good time introducing my mother to my friends – she was feeling better, and was actually a pretty cool mom to introduce to people. I believe that Andrew’s note of regret was referring to overzealous inquiries he had made as to the exact nature of the relationship between my mother and William. He was such a nerd – when Elaine’s parents visited, he followed them around, trying to get their views on the coal miner’s strike in England.

We even managed to have a little King’s Cake party in our room – it was during the day, so we didn’t get in trouble with the neighbors. We had a great time – it was just the guys and us – and maybe Keesha and Trisha and Carol. Elaine was not yet back from vacation, so she didn’t get to meet my mother. On January 12th, Mom and Williams returned to Paris to board a plane to take them back to Louisiana. I had already begun classes, and had nothing to look forward to except for exams and my report card.

And there was still snow on the ground. This was a new thing to me – walking to school in the snow. Running errands in the snow. I had only experienced snow for short periods of time, and was always able to go immediately inside and warm up. Now, I was being forced to walk on cold, icy streets, where the danger of slipping and breaking my tailbone was always a danger. Let me just say that, the first time you fall on your ass, it’s funny. After that, it’s just a nuisance.

Another card from Pablo (Smaltzy Hallmark card with poem):

Dear Claudine:

Before I write something else, I want to tell you I’m sorry for not answering your letter quickly enough. I had started, but I do not like it and start all over again. But, the reality of everything is that I think about you all the time – even when I’m sleeping.

Good news: starting the first of February I will be moving to a new place. I’m moving in with one of the assistant managers of El Torito. His name is Jim. He is a super guy. I like where we are going to live – a townhouse with a fireplace, nice bedroom. However, during the coolest weather of the winter, I will be alone (me and my fireplace). Perhaps when you come back – even though it will be summer – I will make a fire in the fireplace!

I’m in the best of moods – I feel great. School starts next week. I will probably take not many courses. I need to buy many of my things for my bedroom.

Well, I’m so impolite! How is my favorite lady doing? Are you speaking French like a Parisian? (French speaker) I do not know if I spelled that right!

I saw this card and thought that it was perfect for us. Do not you agree with this? Circle your answer: Yes or No. If it is “yes” you get a trip to Nicaragua. If it is “no” you still get a trip to Nicaragua. (cont. inside)

I’m writing you sitting in my bed – that is why it’s so sloppy. Claudine, I like to ask you for a big favor. Please, por favor, do not show this and any other letters of mine to anyone but yourself. It is such bad spelling that I feel bad enough having you read it. Okay? It’s a deal. Let’s secure this deal with a kiss (drawing of lips) mmmm, hum hum that was good. May I kiss you again?

This weekend I will be going to New Orleans. I will be picking up Chico. I may go to Pat O’Brien’s and have a beer (cerveza) around 4:00 AM, just like we did once. How did your mother enjoy her trip? I’m sure it was wonderful.

Well, Claudine, amore, I do not want you coming back speaking English to me. I don’t care if we have problems communicating. However, I will do my best understanding your French. Okay, so study hard, practice a lot and think that the countdown is less than six months.

Be good, girl, look our for the French guys – they work fast. Your always friend, and, more than that.

Your bartender,

Pablo

P.S. – I miss you. Pablo

Invitation from France-Etats-Unis: Soiree Galette des Rois

After the success of the Thanksgiving Day soiree, held at the Centre de Congres, The Angers Committee of the Association France-Etats-Unis will bring together again the friends, members, sympathizers (American or French) dedicated to developing ties between the United States and France, to a friendly party.

This soiree is organized around the holiday of Epiphany, which commorates the arrival of the three kings at the birthplace of Jesus. This is a typically French celebration – we will begin with a cold buffet accompanied by the wine of Anjou, and we will finish with a galette des Rois. After dinner, guests will be able to dance to music from America and from France.

The celebration will be held at the Salons Welcome-Curnonsky, on Friday, January 18 at 19h30. The cost will be 35 francs for children and student members, 50 francs for association members and students, and 70 francs for friends.

The tradition of the King’s Cake was not unknown to people from Louisiana, who celebrate from Epiphany to Lent, but the cake is very different. In Louisiana, the cake was really just a glorified brioche dough, iced and sprinkled with the colors of Mardi Gras: purple, yellow, and green. It was sort of like a big cinnamon roll. They also made versions with fruit filling, that were sort of like coffee cakes. Inside the braided dough was a plastic baby. Whoever got the slice with the baby was the king (or queen) for the night, and got to wear the crown that came with the cake.

In France, the cake was made of two layers of puff pastry, with a layer of almond paste (called frangipani) inside. It was really good! It also had a much nice token to secrete inside the cake – it was a ceramic figure called a santon – I believe that they were figures that could be added to a creche – or manger scene. The game was played wherein someone was positioned out of sight (we made them sit under the table.) and, as the cake was sliced, that person would name who would get each slice. This was actually quite wise, because it was often possible to see a part of the santon if it was on the edge of the slice.

We had a great time at the party, and even managed to dance the night away. The people of France-Etats-Unis were very good to us. We drank and ate a lot, and managed to get back to the dorm on the icy roads without hurting ourselves.

Ch. 33 – Back to the Grind

While I was living in Angers, I tried my best to keep a diary. I was more faithful at some times than others. I had so many letters to write that I had to choose to do that at times. I became re-inspired by reading a quirky book from England, called The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 1/2. It was so funny, and I became really attracted to that style of writing. I had been sporadically writing in a journal since I was in elementary school. I got off track, with my travels with Mother, and then the focus on exams.

Starting off again on yet another foot at the end of January, I decided to write about everyday life, and to just let the big topics flow – whatever that meant. I think that it meant that i was going to try and write, even when I didn’t think anything exciting was happening in my life. School was still awful – I think that most of the members of my Louisiana group would have backed me up on that opinion. I had missed a couple of classes, and had to take make up tests. I took a make up test in Expression Ecrite (that would be Written Expression), and managed to make a 21 1/2 out of 25 in Business French. And final exams for the semester had not even started.

The French have a very different system of grading than we do in the United States. I had even heard that grades were not even given in secondary school, but I was pretty sure that there had to be some system that let students know how they were doing before end of the year exams. Many grades were given on a scale of 20 or 25, but you could not simply multiply by 5 or 4 to get an average. It was more complicated than that. That is why they were required to add an American grade – off to the side. I made mainly B’s and C’s.

We had all returned from our various destinations. It seemed like things were cooling off a bit between Chuck and Carol. He was being a bit of a jerk to Carol, and I didn’t know how much more she was going to put up with. That was the thing about making the decision to do something as drastic as traveling to a foreign country together.

In the meantime, Alan still was infatuated with Elaine. Elaine, however, had been back home, and had a chance to reconnect with James, her boyfriend from the University of Wales. Nora was getting on Elaine’s nerves – they were spending too much time together. Nora also did not like Alan because he was too opinionated. Trisha was still catering to Didier, even though they had decided to cool it – he obviously was feeling some pangs of guilt about his other Louisiana girlfriend. Nathalie was sick with the stomach flu, so we were avoiding her. The health craze was going strong, and we were spending more time in the gym to work off our holiday pounds.

At the end of January, I had another call from Pablo. We must have talked for 40 to 50 minutes – I didn’t know how he was going to pay that phone bill! We talked about a lot of things, but there were times that I felt like he wanted me to say something, and I wasn’t saying what he wanted to hear. I didn’t think it was fair of me to encourage him by long distance because I didn’t really know what our relationship would be when I got back home.

He said that he hadn’t dated anyone since I left for France, but he did own up to taking Kris, the Bennigan’s waitress, out for drinks. I acted casual, and said that I hoped that he had a nice time with her. He assured me that they could be nothing but friends. I felt a lot better – at least I had someone, even if he wasn’t in the region. From what I could see from my friends’ present relationships and those complications, I felt like I was the lucky one.

Maybe we were suffering from some form of cabin fever – there was still snow on the ground. Our teachers, who had lived in Angers for years, assured us that this was atypical weather. Generally, it didn’t snow for more than 2 or 3 days in that area of France, and the snow rarely stuck. Ice on the streets for such a long time was unheard of, and the city had long run out of their alotment of sand and de-icing agents for the roadways. It was a state of emergency, and yet we were expected to attend classes – which were a 30 minute walk away. I actually went on strike for a while – if I looked out of my dorm room window and saw ice and snow on the street below, I just rolled over and went back to sleep.

We did attempt to make the best of things – we had the necessary snowball fights (I forgot to wear mittens, and almost got frostbite), and we even made a snowman or two. We found an ice-skating rink and tried our hand at that. I had never been ice-skating before, but found it simpler than I expected. I suppose that it was due to all of those years of roller skating. I was surprised that I could balance on those thin blades as easily as I could on four corners of wheels (there were no roller blades then). I laughed and pointed at Alan and Chuck as they became too ambitious and floundered about the rink, yelling and cursing and sliding into each other. They finally got fed up with my upright, dignified state and chased me around until they could make me fall. I should have known this would happen – they had already tried to push me off the short flight of stairs on their floor when I had been roller skating in their hall. They were such boys.

The thing that was keeping me going was the promise of yet another vacation – we had another week off at the beginning of February. We had to hand it to the French, they sure had a lot of holidays. I was determined to go to Spain. At that time, I was not very confident with traveling solo, so I had to try and find travel companions. Sandy was the first to step up – and she was actually a Spanish major. I was so excited – for one whole week, I wouldn’t have to think of what to say in another language. I was going to leave it up to her.

At first, Chuck expressed interest. I was very excited – I really didn’t know Sandy very well, and I didn’t know what it was going to be like to travel with her. Then, Chuck invited Carol along – apparently their off-again, on-again relationship was on, again. Then, Carol told us that Chuck was thinking of going to Amsterdam with two other girls from our group. I focused my attention on Carol, then, trying to get her to commit. In the end, Carol’s dad was going to visit Brussels on business, so she and Trisha were going there to meet him. Sandy and I were on our own.

I made a phone call to my sister and Chad, and talked with them for a while. I had bought Chad a wool cap made with the family plaid, and Elaine said that he wore it all the time. Mom misplaced the tie that she bought for him, and gave him a scarf instead that matched the cap. That meant that Elaine was short one gift. I vowed to get them a really nice wedding gift – the dollar was very strong and I had my eyes on a bottle of Dom Perignon for them to toast the wedding.

I got a “care package” from Emily that month – it was such a surprise! She sent a daily zodiac calendar. I was a great fan of astrology, and had already devoured the Cosmopolitan magazine Yearly Bedside Astrologer that I had purchased in London (it was worth the $7.00). Now, I had a personalized horoscope for each day! She sent two Harlequin romances, which I devoured in a week and passed along to the other girls in our group. She even taped the yearly top 40 with Casey Kasem and sent it to me on a cassette. It had all of my favorite songs, and even some new songs by this singer named Madonna that Emily was wild about. I was so happy to have new music – Chuck had threatened to throw my Big Chill soundtrack out of the window if I played it again.

So, we whiled away the days, waiting for vacation time. Sandy and I purchased tickets, and I read up on Spain in my trusty Let’s Go guide. I spent time with Alan, and he annoyed my next-door neighbor with his loud laughter. He was trying to get over his crush on Elaine, who had received a letter and mix tape from James, her other love interest. In the meantime, Carol found out that she got the job she applied for to be a nanny in the Vosges mountains for the summer time. There was never a dull moment in our group.

On the day before we were supposed to leave for Spain, I took my last final exams, and Sandy and I went to the CLOUS office to purchase our tickets for Spain. I had to borrow about 3000 francs from Sandy, since my latest check from home had not arrived yet. Friday night, we had a little party in our suite. It was on the level, because “Jeanne Emarre,” my upstairs neighbor, had gone home. We had a pretty good number of people there. The usuals were there, plus two students from Northern Arizona joined us because they came looking for Keesha, who AWOL. Keesha was supposed to go with them to Italy, if she could raise the money.

Chuck was indeed going to Amsterdam – with Mindy, Marla, and Miranda. They were going to try their hand at hitchhiking. Carol and Trisha were headed to Brussels – I think that Chuck had plans to join them later, after experiencing Amsterdam. Alan and Elaine were staying in Angers, but were planning a trip to Saumur on the weekend.

The party broke up fairly early, but Alan stayed around to talk. He was actually quite drunk, and he sat on my bed and we talked until 2:00 AM. Elaine stayed, but she mostly listened. As usual, Alan tried to turn the conversation to sex, so she had little to add on that subject. Alan got really deep in his insights, the drunker he got – he was so funny. With his new haircut, sitting at the foot of my bed, he looked like a little boy. I just sat there and joked around with him, wishing that he would realize that Elaine was not right for him – I was. (Of course, I was also right for Pablo… I was supposed to play the field that year!)

Okay – we have had DSL problems at home – but I ha…

Standard

Okay – we have had DSL problems at home – but I have managed to write some chapters still. I posted my word count from my mother’s computer yesterday after Thanksgiving dinner, and wrote a whopping 3,300 words last night! My count is at 43,227 right now! I am going to try and write a little more this morning, then go shopping with the family. Here are some chapters that I haven’t posted yet. The other chapters from last night are on my laptop, and I will post them tonight!

Ch. 31 – The Ugly Americans

Dear Student,

I hope that you have had a good vacation and that you are ready to face your semester final exams with renewed energy.

I would like to tell you three things:

1. Some of your schools (in the United States) have received a “transcript” of your grades. This is not correct. We had to send a grade on December 1st that corresponded to the quality of work that you had completed up to that date, which is only one-third of our semester here. This was to accommodate semester system, and to assure that you would remain registered there. This note is not definitive – your final grades will be sent in mid-February.

2. The France-Louisiane organization of La Fleche is planning another weekend for you on February 16th and 17th. Please save these dates. You will receive more details later.

3. This last item is not pleasant for me to write about. I have to warn you that the director of CLOUS and the director of the Cite Universitaire Pavot have received from the other non-Louisianan students that you are disturbing by your noise at the dormitory. You need to know that, in France, students study much more in their private rooms and not in the public library. Dorm rooms must not therefore be places where parties and social gatherings are organized – even on the weekends. And, I must add that, after 10:00 at night, silence is the rule. The sad thing is that, if there is no change in this behavior from this moment on, the director – who is doing you a favor in allowing foreign students to reside in the dorms – will no longer allow Louisianans to lodge there in future years. Mr. Broussard has been told this. It is important that, by your attitude, you will affect the future of next year’s students. I hope that I will not have to mention this subject again.

So that I don’t end this letter on a negative note, I will remind you of the

invitation issued by the Angers chapter of France-Etats-Unis to partake in a Kings Cake with a country buffet next week. Please respond enthusiastically to this invitation.

Yours truly,

Mlle. Cochin

There you have it. According to the grapevine (Nathalie), the Louisiana students living in the residence universitaire were more hated than the Moroccans – and the Moroccans could be pretty vicious. One of them had actually backed Nathalie up against the wall of the common room when she asked her if she could hurry up so that she could use the ironing board. To be place below the Moroccan students was a low blow.

This also illustrates the fundamental difference between the French university student and the American university student. Apparently, the only thing that young French people do until they reach the age of twenty-one (or higher, if pursuing advanced degrees) is go to school and study. We had heard about the infamous baccalaureate exam that sealed the fate of all French high school students, but we didn’t know that they didn’t relax after that. University study was serious business there.

The Americans, on the other hand, had (to our mind) an appropriate sense of balance. We could study hard when necessary – but even the most dedicated student would be considered a complete nerd or social misfit if he or she didn’t take a break. The weekends were for forgetting about school. We didn’t have a problem – the French did.

It all started innocently enough. After spending so much time downstairs at Chuck and Alan’s rooms – where most of our meals and gatherings were executed, I thought it only polite to welcome the guys to my room. I must say that Chuck – even if he couldn’t carry a tune – had a resonant deep voice that an operatic baritone would have envied. It had the effect of a foghorn and could be heard down the hall upon entering our floor. Alan, on the other hand, had a manic, whooping laugh – and we all laughed a lot. Hey, we were in France – we were not only there to learn French, we were there to have fun!

There was a young French student who came to our door one night, and politely asked us to keep it down. We apologized, and did our best, but we didn’t realize that this request would extend to the weekend nights as well. Who the hell studied on the weekends? The French, that’s who. This girl – that’s who. As I said before, I had made an attempt to introduce myself to our neighbors, but they made no effort to reciprocate. I actually thought that this girl was that neighbor (I had barely seen her) – it seems, from the cryptic note left on my door by Nathalie that this was actually the girl in 311 – the room above me.

In our defense, the French students had not been very friendly. Nathalie and Jean-Noel were the exception to the rule. The French students had not been friendly, even before we became “a nuisance,” so we didn’t particularly feel inclined to be nice back. We had already been jostled and bruised in the French cafeteria “line” and had been defeated countless times by the French at “sidewalk chicken.” We were forced to communicate on their terms and suffer through the absence of Mexican food. We would be damned if we would not make ourselves at home in our own dorm rooms.

After a while, the resident of room 311 began to come down on a regular basis, and she was no longer polite. She began to his French invective at us – yelling that she had had enough! “J’en ai marre!” she would shout. “J’en ai marre” means, “I’ve had it up to here!” in French. We knew that. But, after she made her exit, leaving us speechless, Chuck said, “Johnny marre!” “Johnny’s back in town!” Get it? It is pronounced “Johnny mar.”

That became our name for her. I personally would not have called her that, but we never saw her when we were alone, quietly hanging out in our room. It was always when Chuck and Alan were visiting. Soon, we would anticipate it. She would come storming down, and Chuck would greet her with a “Here’s Johnny!” worthy of Ed McMahon – or Jack Nicholson in The Shining, for that matter. No wonder she hated us. We – they – were meanies.

I really don’t know if the director was good for his threat to not let Louisiana students room in the Residence Pavot in the future. I visited the dorms in 1992, and am pretty sure that Americans were living there – I don’t know if they were from Louisiana.

Ch. 30 – More from the Door Joyeux Noel! Room …

Standard

Ch. 30 – More from the Door

Joyeux Noel! Room 211

Bye y’all. Loads of hugs – Tone XXX

Have a nice day! and don’t let your shades fall off your nose! (Chinese proverb)

Merry Christmas, love, Steve

At 18h59, Catherine Fontonnier called you, she wanted to know if the fete Noel is still on. You must call her this evening.

Nadine, 220 – ton choufleur

At Nora’s, having tea. – E

At Elaine’s – having SEX! – Alan

Chere Celeste,

Desole a propos de mon attitude envers ta mere. Autrement, il neige. Chic, alors!

Andrew

Choucroute,

The girl who is above you, 311, has just said that you are too noisy, too much.

Then you must sleep more than ever…

Nadine

How are you choucroute? Did you sleep, drink, eat well during your trip to Paris? See you, Baby Love! – Nadine

Christmas Cards:

From Marilyn: (picture of cows, ice-skating) There’s something about the holidays that brings steers to my ice. Merry Christmas!

Love,

Marilyn

P.S. – Wee Fish Ewe A Mare Egrets Moose Panda Hippo Gnu Deer!!! (We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!) Fer sure!!!

From Alan (former boyfriend): (Santa and his elves – with parenthetical comments)

At Christmas, Happiness is…

-Living it up without gaining weight, (not a chance!)

-Getting the cards out without being late… (I hope this one’s on time!)

-Finding the presents you have on your list, (all I need is money)

-Hearing from friends you really have missed…

-Trimming the tree when all the bulbs light,

-Wrapping the gifts when the ribbons tie right…

-Folks dropping by when you’re not “up to here” (I’m always “up to here”)

-Toasting good friends with a cup of good cheer (Sounds like fun. Drink some real French wine for me!)

But one of the happiest things to do is sending warm wishes to wonderful YOU!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! – Alan

From Pablo: (picture of little girl feeding the birds in the snow):

For the sweet things you say, and the kind deeds you do…

For all that and more, May God bless you!

Merry, Merry Christmas!

To Someone Special:

With love to a friend in a special time of the year; wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a happy 364 days. I’m sure the presence of your mother is going to be the best Christmas present you can receive. Claudine, I will be thinking of you.

With love,

Pablo

From Dad: (Xeroxed copy of picture of Muffin, our Brittany Spaniel):

High “Sugar,”

Merry Christmas. Just a quick note – Be careful of the pickpockets in Paris if you’re there on New Year’s Eve.

Would have sent money but didn’t have any – am going to ship yo a box of some other stuff this week. Let me know if you need anything for gifts – I can get K-Paul cookbooks, Steen’s cane syrup, etc.

I love you,

Dad

From (Barbara): (Ziggy greeting card, with Ziggy holding out a hand to catch something falling from the sky – it’s bird poop!): I think we’re going to have a white Christmas this year, because I just caught the first snowflake!)

– At least I hope it’s snow… Merry Christmas!

Actually, here it is – five days before Christmas, and I’ll probably be able to go over to the club and get a tan in this 70 degree weather!

Santa (Barbara)

Postcard from (Nadine): (Boardwalk at Bognor Regis, Sussex, England):

Hello you my choucroute!

How are you? As far as I am concerned, I am fine. All my best wishes for the New Year. I hope you had a good time with your mother. Here the weather is cold, but the sun shines all the time. The journey has been long and difficult with the storm. I will come back the 31st December. Well, I will see you later. Bye, my dearest choucroute. I am looking forward to your answer!

Bye!

Nadine

So, tonight I spend two hours looking for quotes t…

Standard

So, tonight I spend two hours looking for quotes to match all of my chapters so far. I don’t know if it was a wise thing to do, but it is done. Here they are, by chapter – total of 907 words… I am behind.

(1) I find [the French] a most amiable nation to live with. – Benjamin Franklin

(2) You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden. – Allen Ginsberg

(3) Quarrels in France strengthen a love affair – in America they end it. -“The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem”

(4) The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older—intelligence and good manners.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

(5) The Frenchman, by nature, is sensuous and sensitive. He has intelligence, which makes him tired of life sooner than other kinds of men. He is not athletic: he sees the futility of the pursuit of fame; the climate at times depresses him… -Anais Nin

(6) A French traveler with a sore throat is a wonderful thing to behold, but it takes more than tonsillitis to prevent a Frenchman from boasting. – Paul Theroux

(7) Other countries drink to get drunk, and this is accepted by everyone; in France, drunkenness is a consequence, never an intention. A drink is felt as the spinning out of a pleasure, not as the necessary cause of an effect which is sought: wine is not only a philtre, it is also the leisurely act of drinking. -Roland Barthes

(8) From Nice to Boulogne I was deeply struck with the magnificent order and method and decency and prosperity of France–with the felicity of ‘manner’ in all things–the completeness of form. – Henry James

(9) Boy, those French – they have a different word for everything. – Steve Martin

(10) The French probably invented the very notion of discretion. It’s not that they feel that what you don’t know won’t hurt you, they feel that what you don’t know won’t hurt them. To the French lying is simply talking. – Fran Lebowitz

(11) France is not an enemy whom I despise, nor does it deserve I should. – Duke of Wellington

(12) Paris is always a good idea -The movie “Sabrina”

(13) France is the most civilized country in the world and doesn’t care who knows it. – John Gunther

An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one. – George Mikes (How To Be An Alien, 1946)

(14) The French want no-one to be their superior. The English want inferiors. The Frenchman constantly raises his eyes above him with anxiety. The Englishman lowers his beneath him with satisfaction. On either side it is pride, but understood in a different way. – Tocqueville

(15) Everything ends this way in France – everything. Weddings, christenings, duels, burials, swindlings, diplomatic affairs -everything is a pretext for a good dinner. -Jean Anouilh

(16) In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language. – Mark Twain

(17) I like Frenchmen very much, because even when they insult you they do it so nicely. – Josephine Baker

(18) An American is a man with two arms and four wheels. -A Chinese child

(19) Frenchmen are like gunpowder, each by itself smutty and contemptible, but mass them together and they are terrible indeed! -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

(20) There is neither rhythm nor melody in French music… French singing is endless squawking, unbearable to the unbiased ear… And so I deduce that the French have no music and cannot have any music – and if they ever have, more’s the pity for them. – Rousseau

(21) I sometimes think that the saving grace of America lies in the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are possessed of two great qualities – a sense of humor and a sense of proportion. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

(22) Even if you do learn to speak correct English, whom are you going to speak it to? – Clarence Darrow

(22) February Door – The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously. – Hubert H. Humphrey

(23) The three most beautiful words in the English language are not “I love you.” They are: “It is benign.” – Woody Allen

(24) Paris is the city in which one loves to live. Sometimes I think this is because it is the only city in the world where you can step out of a railway station—the Gare D’Orsay—and see, simultaneously, the chief enchantments: the Seine with its bridges and bookstalls, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Tuileries Gardens, the Place de la Concorde, the beginning of the Champs Elysees—nearly everything except the Luxembourg Gardens and the Palais Royal. But what other city offers as much as you leave a train? -Margaret Anderson

(25) “France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country. France has usually been governed by prostitutes.” —Mark Twain

(26) The French language tends to rhetoric, as the English to imagery thereby marking a profound difference between the two peoples… – W. Somerset Maugham

(27) There’s no place like home – Dorothy (Wizard of Oz)

(28) England and America are two countries separated by a common language.

George Bernard Shaw

(29) America is my country and Paris is my hometown. – Gertrude Stein

Ch. 28 – Boxing Day Christmas went by in a blu…

Standard

Ch. 28 – Boxing Day

Christmas went by in a blur. It was quite cold, and there was little to do except to lounge around the hotel room. We went out at around noontime, only to find very little open for lunch. That was not a big surprise, and when we passed by a Wimpy’s hamburger shop, we went in. We did not mind that we were eating fast food for our Christmas meal. We were just happy to find something familiar to eat. Most of the restaurants that were open were quite exotic to Jillian’s folks, even though I had no problem eating Indian or Asian foods.

That night, in Louisiana, Mom and William were starting their journey toward England. They were taking an evening flight, which I believed connected through New York City. I called the Pan Am counter to try and figure out just what time they left the United States, thinking that I could then calculate the time that they would arrive at Heathrow. I got four or five different answers to that question, ranging from 7:30 to 10:00 PM. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I ended up getting up at 3:00 AM and reading for two hours.

The first thing that morning (around 5 or 6AM), I bade farewell to Jillian, her mother, and her grandmother, and headed to the Kenilworth to drop off my bags. Then, I set off for the nearest Underground station, only to find it closed! The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, and it is a holiday in Great Britain. Evidently, this meant that some of the stations would not be open that day – or it may have simply meant that they were not open yet. Either way, this was inconvenient.

I walked down the road to the next stop, and it was closed as well. I didn’t quite know what to do. I considered calling the Pan Am counter at Heathrow, and leaving a message for Mom, but then I couldn’t find a red phone box. Great!

Eventually, I found a major station that was actually open, and navigated the series of stops necessary to arrive at Heathrow. I managed to get there before the flight, and was very happy to see Mom and William get off the plane from New York. They were both rather tired, and jet-lagged, and were happy to let me call the shots necessary to get them back to the Kenilworth. We were very pleased with the hotel, and did a little bit of sightseeing in the area. We ate at a pub – again, the pickings were very slim, as it was a national holiday.

I didn’t even know what Boxing Day was for – I thought vaguely that it might be a day to get rid of all of the boxes left over from gift giving. I was pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with fighting – not during the Christmas season. The holiday’s roots can be traced to Britain, where Boxing Day is also known as St. Stephen’s Day. Reduced to the simplest essence, its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes. Gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but beneficences to those less fortunate were bestowed the day after.

Now, that was interesting. Apparently, I fell into the second category, because I was finally allowed to open my gifts when we arrived at the hotel. From my sister and Chad, there was a photo album and a pair of long underwear. I would be using those right away, because the weather had turned rather frigid. Dad sent along some of his famous pralines and various other gifts – he was fond of picking up things at garage sales and swap meets. Mom brought me a sort of vest or short-sleeved “sweater” woven of leather. She was also going to pay for my ticket to a London musical or play. I was very thrilled to see a small box from Pablo – it was a pair of garnet earrings! I put them on immediately!

That night, we turned in early. I believe that we had two double beds, and Mom and I shared one of them, while William slept in the other. William was an old family friend. He had been the protégé of my parents’ friends, the Vermilions, and he ran a tennis and social club in Lafayette. He was the perfect choice of a traveling companion for my mother and myself – he was easygoing and up for anything.

It was a good thing, too, because we were “up” for something that night. At around 3:00 or 4:00 AM, we were awakened by a siren, and by knocks on our door. It was the fire alarm for the hotel, going off. We hurriedly got into coats and slippers or shoes, and joined the rest of the guests in a group outside and across the street from the hotel. It turned out to be a false alarm, and everyone was in high spirits and jolly, but it was a while before we were able to regain our sleep.

We had a wonderful time together in London. We visited all of the sights – the London Bridge, the Tower of London, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament. We tried to wake up early enough to get to the changing of the guard, but we were unsuccessful. William and I did head toward Downing Street – Mother was in need of rest that morning – to look at where the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, lived. William tried to make his way down the street, but I called him back, as I was afraid that the cops would warn us away. Maggie was pretty unpopular at the moment; with the coal miners’ strike receiving much attention in the press.

We enjoyed visiting the museums of London –we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. Mom and William particularly loved the Victoria and Albert, since it focused on interiors and clothing. I liked the British Museum – it was full of mummies and sarcophagi. I also loved seeing the crown jewels, which were housed in the Tower of London. We went shopping at Selfridges and Harrods and Boot’s and we had tea at cute little teashops.

Through their travel agent, Mother and William were able to secure tickets to see Cats, which was a very popular Andrew Lloyd Weber musical based on T. S. Eliot’s collection of poems, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Nowadays, Cats has been placed on the back burner of old theatre standards that are only for the tourists to go and see. Back then, it was the hottest show in the theatre district, and we were very lucky to have seats. I was entranced by the songs, and by the stage and production design, which had the actors in cat costumes emerging from secret entries in the audience. I loved it! The very next day, I went out and bought the T. S. Eliot book. I also bought the album and a black sweatshirt with big green cat eyes on it.

On December 31st, we left London to cross the channel for Paris. We planned on staying in Paris for 4 days, and then moving on to Strasbourg. From Strasbourg, we were going to take a day trip to Baccarat, to go shopping for crystal. Finally, we would end up in Angers, where Mom and William would get to see where I was living. We had tentative plans to make side trips to Saumur and to visit the Chateaux. My classes would be starting on January the 10th, and they would head back to Louisiana on the 12th.

Ch. 29 – Cabin Fever

Most of the records of my trip with my Mother and William are in photographs. I didn’t take the time to write in my journal beyond the 27th of December, so my memories are not as clear. I do remember the cold – it was frigidly cold in Paris by the time we arrived there on New Years’ Eve. We got into Paris at around 2:00 PM, and went directly our hotel. The travel agent had booked rooms in the Hotel California, a little tourist class hotel not far off of the Champs-Elysees. It was comfortable, and there were quite a lot of other Americans there. We didn’t do much on New Years’ Eve – I took them down the Champs-Elysees to see the lighted trees and the Printemps department store windows and we retired after we had made it to midnight.

We had a pretty full agenda in Paris. I took them to see the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre with Sacre-Coeur. We went to the Orangerie museum to see the Impressionist works, and even to a small museum called the Cluny, to see all manner of sculpture and tapestries. I am ashamed to say that, the morning that Mom and William set off for a full day at the Louvre, I decided to stay in bed. I figured that it was only January, and surely I would get to see the Louvre later on that year. To tell the truth, I lived in France in 1987 and visited again in the 1990’s without going to the Louvre. I finally went with my future husband in 2000 and he insisted that we go.

To tell the truth, I was exhausted. Just as I had with my jet lag, my mother and William had both come down with colds. They were miserable, and relied heavily on me to be the guide and to do all of the translation for them. Both of them had taken French in high school (and my mother had even won medals in French!), but that was a long time ago, and they could not speak a word of French. I got more and more irritable as I was constantly asked to communicate for them. I came to dread the question, “Claudine, would you ask…”

The weather was very cold. I was grateful for not being able to make the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit, for this kept me blissfully ignorant of the actual temperature. This, I found out later, was the coldest winter snap that France had experienced in 20 years, and people were actually dying of exposure. Of course, most of those people were homeless, but it was still impressive. We just layered our clothing – I felt and looked like a sausage, with my long underwear, and shirts and sweaters and pants and socks and furry boots and coat and scarf and hat.

As their condition worsened, Mother and William entreated me to inquire for them at a pharmacy as to suitable medication. As I have explained before, we could not just go around the corner and pick up some Nyquil or other cold medicine. I had to go into the pharmacie – signaled by a large green cross – and talk to the pharmacist. I actually think that this was on New Years Eve! We got a wiseass for a pharmacist, and he was actually having fun making me repeat things to him – and correcting my French. Excuse me if I had not taking a class in French medical terminology!

When he had finally gotten a clear picture of their situation, he handed over a foil packet of bullet-shaped pills. They looked a little larger than regular cold medicine, and the bullet shape confounded me. That is when our friend, the pharmacist, explained that they were suppositoires (suppositories…) and then proceeded to try to explain just where they were “applied.” I got the idea quite quickly and relayed this to Mom and William. They both looked appalled. I did not know at the time that suppositories are commonly used in French prescriptions – it seemed odd to me, too. So, when they said that they were not “comfortable” with that solution, I had to turn to the wiseass again and lobby for alternative therapy. He finally handed over some fizzy pills and vitamin C. I believe that William actually opted for the suppositories, and when he seemed to get better sooner than my mother did, she sent me back to eat crow with our friend, the pharmacist and to extract some more of them for her.

I don’t think that we were given any cough medicine, because my mother’s coughing became a cause for concern. I would like to say that I was concerned for my mother – and I was – but, mostly, I was concerned about the quality of my sleep. The three of us shared a room, and she could be heard, coughing through the night. When she would wake me up after I had managed to finally get to sleep, I would sigh a longsuffering and exasperated sigh, whereupon she would pathetically come back with, “I’m sorry.” I kept suppressing the impulse to smother her with a pillow. It’s amazing what close quarters with a loved one and lack of sleep can do to you.

When we packed up and headed for Strasbourg, we were feeling the stress. I was familiar with London and Paris, having scouted them out before they arrived, but Strasbourg was a complete mystery to me. I would have to rely completely on my ability to speak French and to actually listen for answers. We arrived at the train station in the evening, and if it was possible, it was even colder there than it was in Paris. It had even snowed. Mother sat there, waiting for me to take charge, and I had a little tantrum. That’s when she burst out with a lament about being sick and cold and just wanting to go to a hotel. William just stood there, trying to be helpful, but also trying to stay out of the mother-daughter scene. I think we hit bottom there.

We were able to find a room at the Hotel Ibis, a common budget hotel – very modern and stark. In this room, Mom and I shared a double bed, and we requested a single foldaway bed for William. Weary from our travels, we went out and found a lovely Alsatian restaurant that served the local specialty of choucroute garni – a hearty serving of sauerkraut with ham and sausages. William and I had some wine with our meal, and that seemed to mellow me out a bit. When we got back to our room, we fell into bed. William must have literally done so, for when he sat down on his foldaway bed, both sides shot up and he hit the floor. We called and had another bed brought up, but not until we had taken a picture.

Strasbourg was beautiful, with its buildings and cathedral of rose granite. We scurried from place to place, trying as hard as possible to keep warm. I recall standing in the middle of the mighty cathedral – which was as cold as a meat locker. To keep warm, I started stamping my feet and clapping my mittens together. I tried to rally William, saying, “Look! This works – I am actually getting warmer!” He retorted with the only cross words I heard him say the whole trip, “I don’t give a shit – I want to go somewhere warm!” We went to a nearby restaurant for coffee and drinks to thaw out.

Baccarat was a lovely side trip. The town was small and quaint and covered with snow. It was Williams’ idea to go there – he dreamed of visiting the factory and paying discount priced for the crystal there. We spent half a day there, and he bought a lot of crystal. Mom bought a couple of pieces – an oak leaf shaped dish and a couple of animal figurines. I didn’t buy anything – I had spent a lot of money already, and was now trying to put a check on my spending. We made it back to Strasbourg without incident, and packed to leave for Anger, via Paris, the next day. I couldn’t wait to get back and show them where I was living.

International Thanksgiving (Part One) – Last y…

Standard

International Thanksgiving (Part One)

Last year, as a writing project for my students of ESOL, I had them bring in a dish from their home country. We had an international tasting, and invited our principals, the superintendent, the neighboring classes, and the other ESOL class. There was so much food – but I was prepared! I brought loads of plastic storage containers, and meticulously transferred the food to those, then washed my students’ containers. Then, my husband and I ate that food over the entire Thanksgiving holiday.

The second part of the exercise was a little less successful. The students were supposed to stand attentively by their parents and take notes on the preparation, or help prepare the dishes themselves, and then we were going to write the recipes down. I even had plans to publish a little cookbook with the recipes in them. Of course, many of my students didn’t do this – I am sure that most of the boys did nothing while their mothers slaved away at the cooking! I went to the internet in search of “model” recipes, so that they would know how to write them. Here are some of the recipes I found.

My favorite dishes were the ones from Iran – and my two students made a LOT of food. My very favorite was the Gormeh Sabzi, but the dish that my student would only call “Makaroni” was also good!

Ghormeh Sabzi (6 servings)

Ingredients:

750 grams boneless stewing lamb or beef

1 large onion, finely chopped

1/3 cup of cooking oil

1 teaspoon turmeric

1.5 cups water

1/2 cup dried limes (or fresh lime juice)

3/4 cup black-eye beans or kidney beans

1 large potato, diced (optional)

salt

black pepper

1 cup spring onions, finely chopped

1.5 cups spinach, finely chopped

1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped

1/4 cup coriander, finely chopped (optional)

1/4 cup tareh (garlic chives), finely chopped

1/4 cup shanbelileh (fenugreek), finely chopped (optional)

Directions:

Trim meat and cut into 2 cm (3/4 inch) cubes. Fry onion over medium heat in half of the oil until golden. Add turmeric and fry for 2 more minutes.

Increase heat, add meat cubes and stir over high heat until meat changes color and begins to turn brown. Reduce heat.

Add water, black-eye or kidney beans, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer gently for 1-1.5 hours hours until meat is tender. Time depends on type of meat used.

Fry potatoes over high heat in the remaining oil until lightly browned. Add to sauce, leaving oil in the pan. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add prepared vegetables to frying pan and fry over medium heat until wilted. Add to sauce, then add dried limes (or lime juice), cover and simmer for further 10-15 minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve with white rice. An exquisite Iranian dish.

Baked Macaroni With Mixed Vegetables (closest thing to Makaroni I could find)

Ingredients:

Macaroni 1 cup

Cabbage 1 cup

Capsicum 1/2 cup

Carrot 1/2 cup

Beans 1/4 cup

Onion 1/2 cup

Maida 1 table spoon

Milk 2 cups

Butter 2 table spoons

Oil 1 table spoon

Processed cheese 2 table spoon(grated)

Tomato ketchup 2 table spoons

Green chilli sauce 1 table spoon (optional)

Salt and white pepper as per taste

Directions:

Boil the macaroni till tender, drain, run cold water through it add few drops of oil and keep aside.

Finely chop all the vegetables and wash.

Add oil in a pan and put it on fire. Now starting with onions, beans, carrot, capsicum and cabbage, saute all the vegetables.

Add some salt and pepper to vegetables and keep aside.

Now in another pan, add 1 tablespoon butter and put it on a slow stove. Add maida to it, fry for a while then add chilled milk, stir till the mixture becomes little thick.

Remove it from stove and add macaroni, also add all the cheese and some salt and white pepper for seasoning. Now take an appropriate baking dish, grease it and spread half the macaroni mixture in it making the first layer. On top of this, spread all the sauted vegetables, covering them with tomato ketchup and chilli sauce. Now cover it with remaining mixture of macaroni. Dot the mixture with remaining butter and bake it in a very hot oven for about 15-20 minutes or till the top layer becomes golden brown. Your tasty baked macaroni with mixed vegetables is ready to be served.

I also had students from Brazil. They made desserts! I couldn’t get one of them to make a feijoada!

Cocada (coconut candy)

3 cups Sugar

3/4 cup Milk

1/2 cup Corn Syrup

1/4 tsp. Salt

1 TBSP. Lemon Juice

2 cups Grated Coconut

3 TBSP. Butter

Mix the sugar, milk, corn syrup, salt, and lemon juice in a saucepan. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 3 minutes until steam dissolves any crystals which may have formed on sides of the pan. Uncover and cook without stirring until it reaches a soft ball stage (238° F.). Remove from the heat. Stir in coconut and butter. Pour into buttered dish. When cool, cut into squares or other shapes and allow to harden.

Brigadeiros (Brigadiers) – they were named after Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, a very famous Air Force commander from the forties.

Ingredients:

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 stick of butter or margarine (you can use only 1 Tbsp and it will still work out)

2 heaping Tbsp of Nestlé Quick or 1 Tbsp of Quick and 1 of Hershey’s Cocoa

In a heavy saucepan mix chocolate with condensed milk and add the margarine. Cook in low heat stirring constantly until you can see the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir for another two minutes. Pour onto a plate and let cool completely before you form the little balls (I usually leave it in the cupboard until next day). Butter your hands slightly to form the little balls. Roll the balls in chocolate powder or jimmies and put them in small paper cups.

BEIJINHO DE COCO (Coconut fudge candy)

INGREDIENTS:

1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk

1 cup of grated coconut

½ cup of coconut milk

3 egg yokes

40 cloves to decorate.

COOK:

Over medium-low heat, stir vigorously the

sweetened condensed milk, grated coconut and egg yokes.

Cook the mixture until it thickens enough to show the pan bottom during stirring.

Pour the mixture in a greased dish and let it cool to room temperature. Take small amounts of the mixture with a teaspoon and make 1 ½ inch balls.

Roll the balls over granulated sugar to decorate and stick a clove on the ball.

Hint: Grease your hands with margarine to make the balls easily.

SERVE: Place the balls in candy cups to serve.

They are great for birthday parties.

SERVING SIZE: 40 candies.

Maracuja Mousse (Passion Fruit Mousse)

Great Summer Dessert!

1 can sweetened condensed milk

same measure of passion fruit juice

3 egg whites

1 envelope of unflavored gelatin

Creme de leite-

2 cups milk

4 egg yolks (the three left from the mousse plus one)

1 cup sugar

6 whole cloves

Blend condensed milk and passion fruit juice. Dissolve gelatin in a cup of water (sprinkle it on water, stir, and let it stand for a minute). Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into mixture. Add gelatin. Wet a ring mold and pour the mousse into it. Refrigerate for 6 hours. Unmold and serve with a creme anglaise, Creme de leite. Its a perfect combination of colors and flavors because the mousse will be on the tart side.

Creme de leite-

Dissolve sugar well in milk. Beat egg yolks slightly with a whisk -or in a pinch with a fork- and add to milk and sugar mixture. Strain the mixture and cook over low heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it starts to simmer. DO NOT let it boil, it will curdle on you! Refrigerate. To serve, put a slice of mousse on a plate and spoon creme on top. Use the cloves to decorate the plates. Make sure your guests don’t eat them!

I also had a student from India – He finally brought me a dish! It was Pav Bhaji. You can buy ready-made packages of the spice, but here is the recipe:

Pav Bhaji – Makes 4 servings

” This is a very popular recipe in India, liked by almost everyone. You may have to go to a nearby Asian Indian store to get the ‘Pav Bhaji Masala’ that is the special spice to bring the flavor (Masala means spice). Pav is actually the buns. Bhaji is the vegetables cooked with spice. ”

Ingredients:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1 teaspoon finely chopped green chile peppers

1 cup chopped onions

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 cup chopped roma (plum) tomatoes

2 cups cauliflower, finely chopped

1 cup chopped cabbage

1 cup green peas

1 cup grated carrots

4 potatoes, boiled and mashed

3 tablespoons pav bhaji masala

salt to taste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

8 (2 inch square) dinner rolls

1/2 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped green chile peppers

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions:

1. Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Saute garlic and green chile for 30 seconds, then stir in onions and ginger. Cook until onions are brown. Add tomatoes, and cook until pasty. Stir in cauliflower, cabbage, peas, carrots and potatoes. Season with pav bhaji masala. Cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt, and stir in lemon juice.

2. Toast the dinner rolls, and spread lightly with butter. Serve garnished with chopped onion, green chile and cilantro.

Spices (pav bhaji masala):

Red chili powder, 1.5 tsp

Coriander powder, 2 tsp

Turmeric powder, 1/4 tsp

Garam masala, 1 tsp

Cumin (jeera)seeds, 1/2 tsp

Amchur (mango powder) 1 tsp

Cloves, 5, cut into fine pieces

Hing (Asafoateda), 1 small grain or powder

Salt to taste

I am going to share the Mexican recipes in my next entry, but I had one Peruvian student who brought this unusual chicken soup with whole boiled eggs and pasta in it. I couldn’t find the exact recipe – he brought chopped scallions and toasted corn (corn nuts?) to garnish the soup with. Here is a recipe for a chicken soup:

Peruvian Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

2 ½ lbs. chicken quartered

2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 6 pieces

6 tablespoons rice, rinsed and drained

1 stalk celery

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon salt

8 1/2 cup of water

1/2 cup of frozen mixed vegetables (diced carrots, cut green beans, whole corn kernels)

1/2 bunch cilantro

Pepper and Lime juice, optional

Steps: Bring chicken, potatoes, rice, celery, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 8 cups of water to boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chicken is tender, stirring every 15 minutes. Add frozen mixed vegetables. Process cilantro and remaining 1/2 cup water in blender. Stir into soup mixture. Remove soup from heat. Remove chicken and celery stalk. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones. Discard skin, bones and celery stalk. Return chicken meat to soup. Bring soup to simmer over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 teaspoons salt and pepper to taste

Ch. 26 – Christmas in London

Standard

Ch. 26 – Christmas in London

After we got our room, we went in and took showers. The Russell Hotel was rather posh. I was invited to spend the next couple of nights with Jillian and her mother – that was nice of them. We took showers and set out to see London Bridge. We also spied a McDonald’s and went in and pigged out on Yankee food! It was so good.

We then took the Underground, or the Tube, to Picadilly Circus and went shopping at a mall called the Trocadero. There were lights and Christmas decorations everywhere. I bought an Oxford University t-shirt and a postcard of a monkey in a Beefeater’s uniform for Pablo (he had a thing about chimps…).

After shopping, we retired to a pub called Maxwell’s. It was more of a Bennigan’s type of place – brassy and cute. We were happy to find out that it was Happy Hour – a custom that I didn’t think existed outside of the United States (I came to find out later in life that it is not something practiced everywhere in the United States – leave it to being raised in South Louisiana to spoil your for other places!).

Having worked at a bar, I loved playing Stump the Bartender. I asked for a Burnt Toasted Almond, and then had to explain to the bartender how to make one. It was made with Amaretto, Kahlua, vodka and cream or half and half. It was another variation on the Kahlua and cream concoctions I had become fond of over the summer. I had always had unusual tastes in drinks – I was always coming up with requests for drinks like a Melon Margarita (a margarita with Midori melon liqueur), or a White Spider (white crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and vodka on the rocks). Later on, I would be wild for kir – that French concoction of white wine and cassis (a kir royale – made with sparkling wine – or a kir aux mures – made with blackberry liqueur – was even better!).

The bartenders were equal to the task – and were very offbeat. We had a good time flirting with them. We attracted more attention from our bar companions. I stacked my coat, my shopping bag, and my umbrella on a bar stool and said, “Stay.” The guy sitting one barstool over cracked, “Do you usually talk to your clothing?” His name was Skip and it turned out he was a fellow Louisianan – from New Orleans, no less. We had a conversation with him. Sarah and Jillian seemed to find him a bit stuffy and pretentious, but they still gave him our phone number at the hotel. He was going with some friends to the theatre, and invited us out with them afterward. He was going to call at 11:00.

Unfortunately, those plans fell through. When we got back to the hotel, we decided to take a little nap. When we next awakened, it was 1:00 AM. Jillian woke us up to say that she awoke to see me lying in bed, clutching the telephone receiver in my hands, still fast asleep. I don’t remember a thing (too many Burnt Toasted Almonds?), but we reasoned that the phone must have rung and I mistook it for the alarm. Adding proof to this theory was the fact that the alarm clock was also in bed with me – I had set it wrong. I wondered if Skip called, and, if he did, if I actually said anything into the phone (and if it was anything coherent!). Or, I could have just grabbed the phone and gone back to sleep.

The next morning, we had to wake up at 4:00 AM, as Jillian’s mother and grandmother were arriving at Heathrow at 6:30 that morning. Sarah had returned home, and we had retired early the night before. We were very tired, and were glad that we did not go out again, because we needed to catch up on out sleep. We got to the airport without incident (I took notes, because I was going to have to do the same thing in two days to meet Mom and William), but the plane didn’t land until 7:04, and our passengers did not come out of the gate for over a half an hour later.

Jillian’s mother and grandmother were truly from New Orleans – accent and everything! They were very sweet, and it was so kind of them to let me stay in their room. After we got back to the hotel, and they rested a bit, Jillian got to open all of the Christmas gifts that they brought from home. After that, we went out separate ways for the day – I didn’t want to butt in on Jillian’s family time. As it was, they were going to go and see touristy sites, and I was waiting to do that with Mom and William.

First, I found out that the Kenilworth, where we would be staying, was not far from the Russell Hotel. I went to check it out. It was nice, but not as nice as the Russell. I then headed to Hyde Park. I had this idea that I would go horseback riding. Never mind that I hadn’t ridden a horse in 4 month – let alone a strange horse in unfamiliar territory. I was feeling daring. I searched for the stables for over two hours. The park was beautiful, but no stables. I finally waylaid a group of riders and they informed me that the place to look was at the Mews at Hyde Park Corner. That was where I had stared out! How was I to know that Mews meant Stables? Those British! It’s like they have a different word for everything!

It had begun to drizzle, anyway, so I decided to try again the next day (I never did!) and wandered aimlessly off into a nearby neighborhood. I just figured – why not get even more lost! I must have looked like a wide-eyed innocent (tourist!), wandering around and gaping at all of the beautiful gardens and houses. I have learned that this behavior is a magnet for oddballs and molesters. Sure enough, a man stopped and began talking to me, on the pretext of sharing my umbrella while we crossed the street. He offered that he had just flown in from Geneva and was supposed to be meeting some friends at a nearby restaurant, but, unfortunately, it was closed. I wished him luck, and left him. A few minutes later, he caught up with me in his car and asked me if I needed a ride – did I have any plans? I thanked him politely and said no, so he finally gave up and left.

I looked at my map of London, which I had purchased after getting lost trying to find the Kenilworth Hotel. It looked like I was not far from the Baker Street of Sherlock Holmes fame. Unfortunately – map be damned – I took off in the wrong direction. While I was puzzling again over my map, trying to figure out why the street I had come upon wasn’t the right one, an elderly gentleman stopped and asked me if I was lost. I answered, “Terminally.” He showed me the right way, and seemed obliged to walk me there. He came along until we came to his apartment building, whereupon he looked conflicted. He actually looked like he was resigned to walking me the rest of the way. I said with confidence that I was okay (actually, I had figured out where I went wrong just before he came to my aid), and he looked relieved and left me.

When I got back to civilization, I went into a Boots, the Chemist (this was a drugstore). I came out with a British Glamour magazine and a Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut bar. I could have gotten used to living in London, I thought. I decided to go to Leicester Square, where all of the movie theatres were, and check out the offerings. I made one miscalculation on the Underground and had to retrace my stops. By the time I got to the theatre, I found that the features were after 5:00 PM. I didn’t want to get back to the hotel too late, so I decided against a movie and headed back. As I was making my way through the shops to Piccadilly Circus, a voice behind me said, “Give me all your money.”

It was Jillian. She was just leaving Maxwell’s where she took her mother and grandmother for drinks. I was hungry, so we decided to have our first “tea.” Sarah and Jillian and I had stopped by this cute place called Cupid’s the day before, but wanted alcohol, which they weren’t serving, so we left. We decided to try their tea that day. It was a charming place, with chrome chairs and tables and pink and red hearts everywhere. With our tea, we had scones. I had never had them before – to me, they were big biscuits with raisins. They were delicious, and served with strawberry jam and clotted cream. We were also given chocolate éclairs. That was supper for us!

We walked down the street to Oxford Circus, even though Jillian’s grandmother was fading. The street was decorated with lights and Disney characters. We paused to take pictures of two “bobbies” – policemen – one of them was wearing a plastic ball nose. We walked around for a while, then descended into the Tube (I didn’t think that many British people call it that… The next day was Christmas Eve, and I was counting the days until my mother was in London.

Ch. 27 – My First Christmas Alone

It was Christmas Eve, but it didn’t feel like it. Jillian and her family left for more shopping and sightseeing, and I slept in. Instead of going horseback riding (it was cold and rainy), I stayed in the hotel room and took advantage of having a television for the first time in 4 months. It was true that there was a television in one of the common rooms of the dorm, but I never watched it. I laid in bed at the Russell Hotel and watched the very end of Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, some woman telling the story of Cinderella (the one where she is helped by birds, not a fairy godmother), and then, when I didn’t think it could get any better, The Benji Movie came on! I didn’t leave the room until noon.

I was headed back to Leicester Square to see when the movie version of Dune was showing. I managed to get sidetracked (lost), and decided to stop at a restaurant on Old Compton Street and check my map. While I was there, I had some fish and chips. They were sooooo good – I stuffed myself. I found out that the movie was at 3:00, so I had an hour or so to kill.

I walked into a shop that sold posters and greeting cards. I was very entertained by the selection of cards. The British seemed to have a thing for frog jokes – I wondered if that was a dig on the French? Anyway, there were some neat cards with jokes about frog legs and frogs in a blender – I knew that someone I knew would appreciate them. I also bought a card with a hippo on it for Pablo. It said “I’m having second thoughts about you…” and, when you open it, it says, “I had to, the first ones were so good!” I hoped it would not subliminally say, “I am turning into a hippo here in France.” Ha! I bought cards for Dad and Robert – their birthdays were coming up. I also bought some cute checkered stationary and Mae West postcards for myself, and Ferrari postcards for Marilyn.

I loved the Dune movie – but I doubt that anyone who had not read the book would have gotten it. I had read the book about 3 times, so I was not lost! What I did not love was the rude surprise that I received just before the movie. I searched my purse for my glasses, only to realize that I had left them in the fish and chips restaurant. I had already paid about $8.00 for my movie ticket, so I decided to go back and get them after the movie. When I got there, it had already closed, and I would have to wait not one, but two days to get them back – since they would be closed for Christmas.

I also realized that all of the stores were closed. I hadn’t gotten gifts for Mom or William yet – that would have to wait, too. Luckily, I had purchased small things for Jillian and her family at a souvenir shop earlier, so I wouldn’t be empty-handed. On my way back to the hotel, I walked down Oxford Street, and past Selfridge’s, a department store. They had an animated display in 10 windows of the story of 101 Dalmations. I stopped and looked at each one – then, it felt like Christmas!

I only was accosted twice while on my own. The first time was by a black guy – what is it with black guys and me? It must be my big behind… I am afraid that I was rude to him. The second guy was a hippie-type. He stopped and asked me if anyone had ever told me I looked like Barbra Streisand? I said, “Yes,” meaning, “Big deal!” but I was thinking, “Do I have a big nose, too?” I walked on, in no mood to be nice. I just wanted to be left alone to enjoy London.

Back at the hotel, I shared a light meal and a drink in the bar with Mary and company. The bar manager, Carlos, was working, and I gave him the recipe for a melon margarita. He was very obliging, and it was very good – even though he had salted the rim of the glass. I just brushed some off and drank it. Feliz Navidad!

Ch. 25 – Getting to London

Standard

Ch. 25 – Getting to London

Finally, we were granted leave for our December break. There was a party at the CIDEF, which was unmemorable, and we had a celebration as a group. Robert and Mindy were going with Carol and Chuck to the Pyrenees, where they had rented a cabin, or gite. Others were off to Paris, or Amsterdam, or had secured invitations with one of the families that had hosted us over the past couple of months. I didn’t fancy making the trip to London alone, so I joined forces with Jillian, another New Orleans girl from our group. She was also meeting her mother in London, so she offered to give me a ride – her boyfriend, Jacques, was driving her to Paris to catch a bus for London.

As with everything about travel in Europe – well, cheap travel, that is… – it was a time-consuming voyage. We left at around noon on a Friday, and the voyage to Paris took about six hours. This was at break-neck speed, but with a detour in Laval to pick up Pascal, a friend of Jacques. From the beginning of the trip, Jillian and Jacques weren’t speaking to each other. Apparently, they had had a quarrel the night before. She kept telling me – in English – that he was an asshole, but “wasn’t he cute?” I think that the fight had something to do with favors withheld, but I didn’t pry.

Jacques drove like a maniac, but I concentrated on watching the scenery. It was a gorgeous, clear day – albeit cold outside – and I didn’t talk much as I watched the quaint villages with their church steeple whiz by. As it was, Jacques and Jillian were deep in battle, and his friend, Pascal, didn’t have too much to say.

When we arrived in Paris, we stopped off at a café to use the bathroom. Since our bus did not depart for four more hours, Jacques and Pascal decided to show us the sites by car. First, we drove to the Champs-Elysees, where the trees lining the streets were strung with white lights. It looked like a fairyland! At the rond-point, there was a tableau of Christmas trees, flocked with fake snow, and hung with big gold balls. It looked so beautiful. The only thing I lacked to complete the romantic mood was a special person to marvel at the sight with me – Pablo, perhaps?

We drove down the Boulevard Haussman, where a fancy lighting system had been installed. Overhead, spanning the street, were bars of neon light in red, yellow, orange and pink. As we passed underneath them, the lights turned off and back on in a wave, following us down the street – or leading us up the street! Jillian pronounced it, “cool.” The department store, Printemps, was covered with a shiny black vinyl façade, twinkling with multicolored glitter – it looked like a giant Christmas gift. We slowed the car to admire the animated scenes in the store windows. In one window was a large white ape, wearing a Santa Claus cap and swinging from a chimney.

It was really nice to finally see something that put me in the holiday spirit – despite the parties, we had been lacking the necessary Christmas mood in Angers. The French don’t usually go all out and decorate their stores and windows and houses with all manner of tinsel and flashy lights. The exception was the windows of the confiseries, or candy shops – they go all out for the holidays, with brightly colored boxes and tempting chocolates. We did not attempt to do much decorating at the dorm, since most of us were going to be away for vacation.

The guys, in order to try and shock us, took us down a dim street called the Rue St. Denis. During the day, this is close to Les Halles shopping center, and is a major business thoroughfare. At night, however, it is the red light district. The lights were on in sex shops, and prostitutes stood about, waiting for clients. Prostitution is legal in France, so they were just standing out in their hooker clothes – like an “open for business” sign. Most of the women wore a sweater, cupped around their hips – just barely covering their buttocks. Some wore a leotard over stockings; some wore just black hose attached to a garter, with nothing but a bra under their sweaters. There were a lot of black girls – Africans, I suppose. It was a bit wild, but Jillian and I tried to act blasé about it – as if we encountered hookers on the streets all the time!

We got out to walk when we approached the more respectable shopping area of Les Halles, when we were assailed by something in the air near the pedestrian walk. Suddenly, we couldn’t breathe, and our eyes began to sting. Apparently, someone had recently sprayed mace in the area – it was awful. I draped my wool scarf over my mouth and nose, and that helped a little bit, but the only thing to do was to keep walking until we were out of range of the gas.

Jacques drove us to the bus station by 10PM – he and Jillian had made up by then, and spent a lot of time kissing goodbye. Pascal had loosened up a little bit, but not really enough to warrant more than the basic bises – polite air kisses above each cheek. Then, they were gone. The bus was full, and very crowded. I stowed my large bag under the bus, and put my receipt in a safe place. There was no overhead storage room, so I had to put my backpack under my feet. I was very uncomfortable and cramped, and there was a draft that kept my right side and both feet constantly cold. It was a five-hour trip, and I can’t say I slept a wink – although I might have lapsed into a fitful delirium for a while.

We arrived at Calais at about 4:40 AM and found out that the ferry had just departed. We would have to wait for the next ferry, which would leave at 6:00 AM. We sat around and watched people greeting and saying farewell to each other. We go on the boat at around 5:45 and walked around and stretched our legs. Jillian bought some things at the duty-free shop. The Bailey’s Irish Cream tempted me, but I resisted. I decided to wait and buy liquor on the way back home. We changed our francs into pounds, then Jillian planted herself in a lounge chair to rest, while I began writing a letter to Dad.

The crossing was shorter than I expected, and soon the sun was shining on the white cliffs of Dover. We boarded another bus, and I tried to look out at the scenery – this being my first sight of England – but I was exhausted, so I dozed until we got to the outskirts of London. A slight problem arose as it became obvious that our bus driver was lost. He was French, and this was his “maiden voyage,” so he didn’t know the way to Victoria Station. He was finally able to locate someone to help him, but we were late getting to the station. It was 10:00AM, London time (we had gained an hour, so for us, it was really 11:00AM).

Before going to the hotel, we had to go to Waterloo station to meet a friend of Jillian’s named Sarah who was arriving from the Isle of Wight. She was going to spend the night with us. After we met Sarah, we decided to splurge on a taxi – we were too tired to lug our bags through the subway and to try and find the Russell Hotel on our own. We flagged down a large black cab, driven by an old genteel cabbie. Before we got in, we inquired if the Russell Hotel was, indeed, within walking distance. He told us that it wasn’t far, but, with our luggage, it would be a difficult walk. He assured us several times that the price he quoted was fare, and said – at least three times – “I’ve never been on to take advantage of another’s misfortunes…” We girls were dying in the back seat as we stifled laughter. The lack of sleep was making us giddy.

The Russell Hotel had a magnificent lobby with dark green and rust red marble floors, walls, and banisters leading up to the rooms. We checked in, but had to wait a half hour for our rooms. We headed to the lovely oak bar, with its gleaming mirrors and bottles, and the bartender immediately said “Good Morning!” We admonished him, saying that he could not say it was morning, because then we couldn’t have a drink yet. It immediately became afternoon, while he prepared us each a drink called “A Perfect Love Affair.” Hello London!