Thursday, November 13, 2008

We'll Always Have Paris!

I don't have much today - heck, I even forgot it was Thursday, so sorry this is late getting out, faithful lunch hour reader. I mean, things are happening. I'm mailing Marrying the Emersons out for the Golden Heart contest this afternoon. I'm in the final tweaking stages of the other three, and I'm confident they'll all be out before the deadline on Dec. 2nd. I'm drafting a friendly, "Howdy! Remember Me?" letter to the editor, as it has officially passed six months since I initially mailed the partial. I'm already writing the next book in my head.

And I've got a son whose imagination has caught fire recently. He's discovered the Toy Story movies. The other night, we heard frantic screaming after he went to bed. So I went flying upstairs only to hear him say, "You okay there, buddy?" in a voice that sounded suspiciously like Buzz Lightyear. And then he answered in the voice he uses when he 'talks' for his Pooh Bear, with another frantic sounding scream, followed by another "You okay there, buddy?" And he's discovered his father's 15 inch Star Wars Darth Vadar and Luke Skywalker dolls (ahem, Action Figures). So he's running around with "Dark" Vader and "Skyler" creating scenes that sound like Toy Story 2 again - where Buzz finds out Zurg is his father - even though the kid has NEVER seen Star Wars!

So it's not like there's not stuff going on. But to pull together a cohesive blog out of that? I got nothing. So we're just going to go for a blast from the past today.

I've mentioned my Gram at various times in this blog. She's 93 (and a half) now, older every day. She's an interesting woman, my Gram. Whether it's remembering the noseless cowboy or over sharing about my grandfather (who died when I was two, God bless him), she's always got a story ready to tell. This is one of my favorites.

I was 18, Gram was 82. 82 - an age when a vast part of the population has already died, or faded past fun - but at 82, Gram decided it was time to go on vacation. This is something she's done almost her whole life. She's been a part of every travel revolution, from Route 66 to Howard Johnson to the incarnation of air travel, and 82 was no good reason to give it up. But she's not blind to the hard facts of aging. So, whilst she still could, she decided she wanted to go to Europe, just for one last time.

But she didn't want to go with her friends. They were too old, and wouldn't be able to keep up with her. Mom was busy, and we won't get started on my aunt.

That left me. And I had no money.

This did not deter Gram. She offered to pay my way - everything but the souvenirs, basically, on one condition: I had to carry all the luggage.

Now, that might not sound like a bad deal - and really, it wasn't - but you have to keep in mind that my Gram will pack four good-sized duffles for a two night visit to my mother's house. She had eight bags for ten days in Europe - with a few empty ones tucked in there. I had one bag, and no purse. I actually threw my back out in Rome hefting it all.

Undeterred, she signed us up for a tour group with her college, Hannibal LaGrange - where she'd graduated with her bachelor's degree about the time she turned 70ish (I remember the party, but I was pretty young). Did I mention that Gram is an interesting woman?

So we loaded up and headed out with the group. Her old English professor. The president of the college and his family. A rather large gathering of other retirees. One other mother/daughter pairing. We picked up some more tour members in England, where we started.

Oh, I loved England. I'd committed my soul to Victorian literature before the trip, but this just cemented that decision. And I loved the English tour guide we had - tall, blond, his Master's in History, and spoke six languages - yum. Again, just like with the noseless cowboy three years later, if only I hadn't been on vacation with my grandmother . . . . but that's another story for a novel.

We finished the tour in Italy, which was just an art history minor's dream come true. I actually saw the Pope at an outdoor mass - from half a mile away, but still, I saw him! Gram sat in a cathedral in Florence, reading - I am NOT making this up - a Reader's Digest so she wouldn't 'slow me down' as I ran around at top speed, going 'Oh, MY GOD! I studied THIS!" We saw the Nave in Assisi, later severely damaged by an earthquake. And I highly recommend the Isle of Capri for honeymooners.

But in between, we went to Paris. I had just finished four years of remedial French in high school and college, and I was pumped. I have two things that I remember as clear as day from Paris - the reason I'll always have a fond spot in my heart for the city.

First, we went to a restaurant for dinner, and there were only five water glasses for the six spots. I collared a waiter and said, "Un autra ver, si vous plait," which is, 'another glass, please.' My French teachers would have been so proud, because that waiter snapped to and promptly fetched another glass. The tour group was - and I'm not exaggerating - in awe, and my Gram was so proud she nearly burst. You'd have thought I'd won the presidency or something. But I spoke French, or something close to it.

That evening, we were getting back onto the Metro - the subway - but the train was about 15 minutes off. A grouping of the older ladies decided they would like a restroom break, and Gram decided to go with them. I was good, so I decided to stay and admire our tour guide from a distance some more.

13 minutes later, the group came back - sans Gram. "Where's my grandma?" I asked.

"She's not here? She decided she didn't want to pay for the toilet and headed back!"

Instantaneous panic. The Metro was about six layers deep of platforms, escalators, and French people - none of which Gram was all so equipped to handle on her own. As our train pulled in, I hollered for the tour guide, who spoke flawless French. Quickly, the president of the college took the rest of the group on to the hotel while the guide and I split up. After all, we were the only two who spoke French. Or, in my case, almost French. He went down, and I went up.

So, I'm running around the Paris Metro, accosting strange Parisians going, "Pardonne moi, ave vous voir une petite grand-mere?" Which is roughly, "excuse me, have you seen a little grandmother?" No one had. I went up and down about fifteen escalators when I caught sight of a helmet of little-old-lady hair headed down a different escalator - and the wrong direction from where we needed to be.

"Gram!" I hollered, flying down after her. She was fine, of course, but totally, completely, and thoroughly LOST. I have a much better sense of orientation and quickly got us back to our platform, where the tour guide shortly joined us.

It remains one of the few times in my life where I have ever seen my grandmother deeply, personally embarrassed. Even now, 11+ years later, if she's driving us batty about any number of things (Mulch is a good example. I mulch my flowerbeds with wood chips. She's convinced I might as well open up a termite bed and breakfast, and reminds me of this constantly.), that's when I'll say, "So, Gram, you remember Paris?" and she will blush, which is no mean feat for a woman her age, and start talking about traveling, and the next trip.

There will always be a next trip. That's the way she raised my mother, that's the way I was raised, and that's the way I'm raising my son. It's a huge world, after all. Sometimes, you just have to go out and get lost in it. But it helps to know French when you do.


peter said...

It's an interesting article.Recently, I went to visit Sunny Beach Hotels one of the hotels in Europe.

Caley Greene said...

Very cool. I failed high school French - grammar was not my strong suit. Your Gram sounds a bit like my Nana - always traveling. I was in Paris once, high school trip, it was a lot of fun, but you reminded me of why I'd like to go back. Great advice!!!!!!!