One Bullet was Not Enough

As promised – the Prologue of  the GRADUATION PRESENT

For some reason I thought shooting a bullet through the rear window of a car would make a precise, little hole. Wrong. It shatters the glass. Avoid doing so in hurricane-force winds unless someone is trying to ram your cheaply built Renault off a cliff with his Mercedes.

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Cliffs near Pointe du Hoc France on a stormy day.

One bullet was not enough. The Mercedes recoiled to strike again, its engine growling. Francoise was out cold. The first blow knocked her headfirst into the dashboard as she reached for the emergency brake, and now she was draped like a rag doll over the steering wheel. It wasn’t fair. She’d survived the war, soldiered through a passionless marriage, and then fallen in love with—of all the people in the world!—my Uncle Bob. I couldn’t let her die.

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Small fishing village on the coast of Normandy

I peered over the seat and aimed the tiny pistol at the Mercedes’ headlights. Bang, bang, bang. I fired blindly until all the bullets were gone. The rain pelted the roof like machine-gun fire, the steep road now a river of slime washing towards us. If he rammed us again it would be the end.

And to think six months earlier I was at an anti-war rally, protesting all violence and chanting “Give Peace a Chance” with a couple of stupid daisies in my hair.

Dear Readers – I’m pleased to announce that my first novel FLIPKA made the Literary Fiction Recommended Reading list on Wattpad ( http://w.tt/1gYlfYY ) along with  Colm Herron’s book THE WAKE and Duke Miller’s LIVING AND DYING WITH DOGS.

Wacky Travel Tales

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For the last couple of months I’ve been blogging about the wild time I had on my first trip to Europe, which would have lived on only in a cardboard box had it not been for a writing contest back in the 1990s. The challenge was to write about “our wackiest travel adventure.”  I immediately riveted back to my ignorant youth when I traveled the world naively believing that the universe would take care of me.  Twenty years later that challenge evolved into THE GRADUATION PRESENT (on Amazon now). Of course it’s impossible to remember everything that happened 40 years ago so this book is primarily fiction. However, there are a few real life incidents that I just couldn’t help adding.

My Uncle Bob (who I stayed with in Europe) read the first drafts of the book and said:

“I don’t remember any of these things happening, Jan.”

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To which I  said “That’s because it’s a work of fiction!”

He looked at me oddly.  “But Gunthersblum is real and Worms is real and I’m real!”

“Okay, there’s a little real even in fantasies.”

Still dissatisfied  he went on to ferret out the real.  He couldn’t.  Forty years is a long time.  This particular scene which he vehemently denies ever happening actually did:

“Did you see all those young lieutenants at the bar?” Uncle Bob asked as we waited for our meal.

“Yeah,” I lied. I couldn’t tell a lieutenant from a general.

“Well, I figure that they’d all love to take a pretty American girl out to dinner.”

“What?”

“I was thinking, why should I be the one who has to feed you when there are all those young studs who’d gladly …”

“Uncle Bob!”

“You know, you’ve gotta learn to use what you have while you still have it. Think of it as the law of supply and demand. You’ve got the supply and they’ve got the demand,” he said, taking a chomp out of a breadstick.

Whereas the following scene is complete fiction, although the character of Lou was loosely based on Uncle Bob’s boss at the time:

Outside it was dark. The rain had stopped. “She sleeps!” The Moroccan shouted again. Lou appeared a few minutes later in the door. I could only see him in silhouette but I could tell he was livid. His aura was bright red.

“Where have you guys been?” I asked innocently.

“I was investigating your kidnapping!” he snorted.

“My what?”

“YOUR KIDNAPPING!” he yelled, stomping his foot like an enraged Rumpelstiltskin.

The following bit of musing was inspired by listening to my uncle’s friends who were WWII vets talk about their experiences:

 I thought of those young kids from small-town America, about to jump from a rattletrap plane into the unknown, for that one last moment believing Hollywood crap of fame and glory, then dropping with fewer chances than a duck in a shooting arcade into an alien land, a land they’d been assured would include cheering crowds and willing women, which they would never see because they would splat like frogs into marshes filled with dung or float to earth full of bullet holes.  And they were the lucky ones.

I wish some things in the book hadn’t really happened but they did, such as:

Unfortunately Uncle Bob was wrong. Not every moron on the planet can pass the army typing test and I’m living proof of that fact.

Army Life
Army Life

I made army history by flunking the idiot-proof army test three times.

So a bit of truth and a whole lot of imagination went into the writing of the book as I imagine is the case with most novels.

Next time I’ll post the first chapter of the book.  Oh, the drawings on this page are doodles drawn by the cartoonist for Stars and Stripes, the armed forces newspaper, as we sat drinking Heinekens in the bar of the Officer’s Club in Worms Germany.  Alas, I’ve forgotten his name. If anyone out there recognizes the work, please let me know.

Wot the chuffin’ Gypsy Nell’re ya speaking?

Apparently no one told Pier Andrea that in England people drive on the wrong side of the road. Of course, the English don’t think it’s the wrong side of the road. That’s why the driver’s seat in English vehicles is on the right and not where it should be – the left.  Think we should tell them that they’re woefully misguided?  Probably not a good idea.

MrToadVehicleDriving on the four lane highway leading into London hadn’t been too bad but following a speeding Ferrari through a huge city’s crowded streets, often into oncoming traffic, was like being on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Disneyland (my favorite ride by the way). Finally Carolyn and I pulled over and parked the car until the boys realized we weren’t following them and turned back to find us. They had to be in Worksop by mid afternoon so the plan was to have lunch together and then say good-bye. They parked the Ferrari in front of a one of those Dr. Who phone booths and we walked across the street to a place advertising pizza. It was a hole in the wall, with a few laminated tables and a greasy counter where you ordered your pizza. Alberto grabbed a copy of their one page menu and began translating for the other two. The lady behind the counter made a face and then greeted us thusly: “You’re too Cilla Black for Rosy Lee and you’ve parked on the Pete Tong side of the blimey frog and toad.”

cockney2“What?” I asked.

“Daan’t ask me ter repeat myself. I’m speakin’ blimey english – wot the chuffin’ Gypsy Nell ‘re ya speaking?”

“We’d like some pizza?” I said, more as a question than a request.

“We daan’t serve the likes of them in this establishment,” she said referring to the Italians. “Gypsies – ya can na trust ‘em.”

I turned to Massimo who could understand her no better than me. “They’re closed.” He glanced at his watch. “Heh?”

“Let’s go somewhere else.”

We walked down the narrow streets until we found a pub that was slightly friendlier and shared a platter of fish and chips. Then they went on their way.

Carolyn had found us a cheap place near the St. Pancras/King’s Cross underground station which we finally managed to find as the sun was setting.St.Pancras

It was a run-down row house whose unsmiling proprietor had a hook for a hand and a face straight out of Dickens. Turns out he was letting an Irish couple whose daughter was in the hospital with an undiagnosable illness stay practically for free. He was a real nice guy.  We spent about four days in London traveling from touristy site to touristy site on the underground.  On our last day there Jimi Hendrix OD’ed.  Someone released hundreds of white doves in Hyde Park.

Massimo and I kept in touch until I returned stateside and then, you know, shit happened.  Here’s one of his beautiful letters.Letter-Massimo2_0001

Pier Andrei Makes His Move

Note:  This is the seventh installment of Europe on Five Dollars a Day which I began in February (in case you’re new to the site and wondering.  By the way – welcome and thanks for stopping by.)

We arrived on the outskirts of Ostende fifteen minutes after the last ferry to Dover was scheduled to depart thus we almost didn’t  bother to drive down to the docks. But we took a chance figuring it might have been delayed by the rain or the wind or the rough seas.  Surprisingly we were right. It had been delayed. But not by the weather.

Ticket for the car ferry.

Ticket for the car ferry.

It had been delayed by three wildly gesturing Italians, who stood at the gates with the very irate captain as we arrived. Quickly they scurried us onboard where, as soon as we parked, the boys escorted us upstairs to a dimly-lit smoke filled cabin whose large windows were fogged over by the soggy crowds trapped inside.

They were an odd trio. Pier Andrei was the “wealthy playboy,” Massimo explained with a slight whiffle of disdain, while he and Alberto were serious college students. They were on their way to study English in a town north of London.

I don’t remember how long the ferry ride took but it was around midnight when we finally docked.  The full moon shown down the famous white cliffs of Dover which stirred a  strange swelling of pride in me.  I’m not sure why – my Puritan ancestors left England in the late 1600s and never went back.  Perhaps it’s in the DNA.   At any rate the streets

visasDoverwere unwelcoming and we had no place to spend the night. So, Carolyn pulled out her Europe on Five Dollars book and found a cheap bed and breakfast not too far from the center of town. Luckily  the proprietor was still awake and had rooms for all of us.europe5dollars1 However he and his wife were anxious to turn in, thus  we were mindful to go to our rooms immediately and remain quiet. Carolyn and I were on the second floor and the boys directly above us.   In the middle of the night we heard footsteps coming down the stairs and then a gentle rapping on the door.

“I am a Latin Lover, non?  Por favora, Carolina, una momenta.”

It was Pier Andrei  pleading for “Carolina” to join him.  We giggled quietly in bed until he finally went away.  In the morning the boys pretended to be confused by our breakfast of cornflakes in milk.  They shook their heads at the oddity and then took forks and knives and pretended to cut into the mush while we laughed.

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The East Lee Guest House in Dover. Probably not the place we stayed but a lovely place non-the-less.

As we were leaving Massimo said we should follow them as Pier Andrei claimed to know his way around London.  It was – shall we say? – a slight exaggeration.

Readers – I regret that we ran out of film in Spain so I have no photos of Massimo, Pier-Andrei, Alberto and their fabulous ferrari; however, Massimo did send me a couple of letters back in Gunthersblum which  reveal his poetic, sensitive nature.  They also reveal that the yearnings for peace and brotherhood are universal among the young and idealistic all over the world, then and hopefully now.

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One of the letters from Massimo of Carrera Italy.

Next – We finally get to London.

The Last Ferry to Dover

After Mont Saint Michel the plan was to drive up to Calais and catch the ferry to my must see place. London England, where I planned to meet the Beatles and be instantly accepted into their inner circle.

Which is exactly what happened.

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Hanging with the boys at John’s estate. My truncated feet inspired John to write “I am the Walrus.”

Once again we’d fallen into the “it doesn’t look that far on the map” trap. Readers – never make this mistake in rural France!   In my defense, I was from Nevada – a vast, scarcely populated state with (at that time) no speed limit.   And Carolyn, well, she was from Southern California, a maze of freeways on which people drive as if there is no speed limit.  France is a little different. From Saintes it took us three hours to reach Mont Saint Michel where, as luck would have it, rain lightly fell. The gravel parking lot already looked like a swamp so it wasn’t a big surprise when the attendant informed us we had only one hour until high tide would make leaving the Mont impossible (unless we had a boat.)  Thus we were forced to make a mad dash up the crooked cobblestone streets to reach the top.

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View from the chapel at the top of the Mont Saint Michel – a sea of mud.

We arrived back at our car just as the deluge deluged.

In wind and rain there is one car you do not want to careen wildly down unknown roads in:  A Volkswagen Beetle.  Especially one with flakey wipers and wimpy headlights.  Beetles have a tendency to spin like the tea-cups at Disneyland if you brake at high speeds.

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Roadblock in Normandy

I honestly don’t know how we survived that drive but our recklessness was all for naught.  By the time we arrived at the docks in Calais the last ferry to Dover had sailed.  However we were not alone.  Standing at the locked gates were three young men also watching the ferry chug away.  Noting the two us, they exchanged words and then approached.

“You are American?”  One of them asked.  He was tall, dark-haired and very good-looking but not in a self-conscious way.

“Yes,” I said.

“And you go to England?”

“Not now I guess.”

The other two began pelting him with questions in a language undeniably Latin. “I have forgotten me of my manners.”  He finally said to us. “I am Massimo Punatelli of Carrera Italy.  Here is Alberto and Pier Andre, also of Carrera Italy.  You may know – for marble?”

“Yes, of course.”

He took in a breath, thought of his next words and continued. “My compatriots – that is the right word, non? They do not speak English but I am at University of…”  That was as far as he got before the one called Pier Andre became impatient and interrupted him with gestures of wild intent.  He was shorter and had a profile more distinctly Roman than the others. Massimo translated: “Pier Andre has urge me most passionately that we depart.  There is a ferry to Dover which departs Ostende at nine so we must away fastly.”

Alberto, a pale man with Art Garfinkle hair, gestured toward an emerald green Ferrari parked nearby as Pier Andre turned and ran towards the car.

“Pier Andre say you follow us.”

Carolyn and I engaged glances. She shrugged her shoulders.  “Okay,” I said. What did we have to lose?  Besides, she pointed out, they were driving a new Ferrari (Pier Andre’s) so they had to be trustworthy, right?  Sure.

They kept track of us for a little while and then sped off when they realized we could not keep up; if they were going to catch the last ferry from Ostende, they had to dump us.  Well, that’s that, I thought.  They’ve abandoned us.   But I was wrong.

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The boys insist I go to India with them.

Next time:  What the heck language do they speak in London?

 

 

 

 

 

The Samwitch Stand

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The next place on Carolyn’s Must See list was Mont Saint Michel which I’d never heard of.  However, friends, that is the best way to first see this amazing place for the first time – with virgin eyes.  We were still miles away when it began to take shape through the mist hanging over the marshy farmland.  It looked like a pyramid. Or like the hat of a Chinaman rising from the sea. MtSteMichel2

As we got closer the castle walls came into  view, clinging impossibly to the sides of a rock. Who would built a castle on a rock in the bay, I thought.  Later I learned it was not a castle but an abbey, built in the eighth century by the bishop of nearby Avranches.  His motivation was self-preservation.  It seems the Archangel Michael really, really wanted an abbey built on what had heretofore been a useless mound accessible only during low tide.  And so, when the bishop ignored the archangel’s demands (delivered to him in dreams) Archangel Michael blew a gasket and thrust his pointer finger through the bishop’s skull. (bishop’s skull info here).

Mont Saint Michel isn’t easy to get to, even today. There aren’t a lot of signs, the roads are two lane asphalt and the nearest town, Avranches, doesn’t exactly pimp itself as the “Gateway to Mont St. Michel” so you can imagine what it was like back in 1970. Because I knew nothing about the place, I went along with Carolyn’s calculation of a day’s travel time.  She was wrong.  It’s located in at southern tip of Normandy (the northwest corner of France).  Of course it didn’t help that we started out late after a big breakfast with Hans and Klaus.

By noon Carolyn wasn’t hungry.  I warned her that we’d better stop and eat.  European restaurants weren’t open all day long like in the US.  She didn’t believe me and we BlanesFrancepushed on past the larger towns of  Marseilles and Toulouse until somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, Carolyn decided she was starving.  It was two fifteen in the afternoon.  “There has to be someplace open for lunch,” Carolyn whined as we encountered town after town whose cafes were closed until nightfall.  Whose bakeries were closed until the morning. Whose tiny stores looked unsavory to her.  Finally along about 3:30 we passed a roadside stand with a hand painted sign that read “Samwitches.”

“Stop!”  Carolyn ordered.  “I have to eat.”

“The French don’t really eat sandwiches,”  I warned as we made a U turn.

“I’m starving.  I have to have something.”samwitches

“Okay.”

The farmer smiled enthusiastically as we approached.  “What do you sell?”  I asked in french.

“Samwitch de sausages et samwitch de fromages,”  he replied.

Carolyn ordered the sausage samwitch and I ordered the fromage.  He grabbed a fat sausage hanging from a hook behind him and with grimy hands and a bloody cleaver hacked off a piece on an old crate.  Then he took the same cleaver and hacked off the end of a baquette.  d99d9b45b10aec7df84c46aeea57983bProudly he handed the resulting samwitch to Carolyn.  Blood soaked through the bottom layer of bread as with ashen face she paid him and quickly walked back to the car.   Mine was a little more appetizing – although there were bits of straw in the soft cheese and it smelled funny.   A few miles down the road we discarded Carolyn’s samwitch.  I offered to share mine but she claimed the cheese was rancid.  I suspect it was the memory of the farmer’s grimy hands that caused her appetite to disappear.  That night we stopped at the small town of Saintes, too exhausted and hungry to go any further.  There we lucked out.  Dinner, breakfast and a room with a tub for the equivalent of one dollar and fifty cents in an old hotel that was shabby but clean and quiet.

Next – More boys!  These time three Italian lads in a Ferrari on their way to London.

Never Joke with a Border Guard (no matter how cute he is)

It was almost noon by the time we finally reached the Spanish border somewhere high in the Pyrenees Mountains.  The air was thin and dry.  We were sweaty, hungry, and crabby, especially after noting that every car not displaying a Spanish license plate was being pulled over and the occupants questioned by men in skin-tight military uniforms standing upright and proud in the sweltering heat.

“Oh my God,” I whispered to Carolyn, “they really are paranoid.  But cute.”

She glared at me. “Just don’t say anything,” she hissed.  We were in a car with DAC license plates which, in Cold War Europe, was akin to driving around with a nuclear bomb on your back seat. The Department of Army Civilians, you see, was a front for the CIA or so many Europeans believed.   This belief was so wide-spread in Germany that the local politzei had invented a game called “harass the occupiers,” in which they would pull over people with DAC license plates for flimsy reasons and confiscate their licenses.  They caught my Uncle Bob several times (okay, in his case considerable alcohol was involved) which is why he didn’t need his car! He couldn’t drive it.

Anyway, back to my story.  As soon as our car was identified as belonging to the vile CIA, extra guards were called and Carolyn and I ordered away from the vehicle.

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Spanish Military Officer – you may look but do not flirt!

“Do you have any drugs?”  One of the guards asked me.  His  brown eyes burnt through my sleep-deprived body like a lightening rod.

“Sure,” I answered, “The car’s full of them. Ha, ha.”

Next thing I knew Senor Passionate Eyes and his buddies were ripping out the seats of the VW, dumping all of our stuff on the ground and searching through it.

“It was a joke!”  I cried, as they pulled Carolyn’s sexy little undies from her suitcase and stuffed them into a bag (evidence?).

“Shut up,”  Carolyn scowled.  Men were pawing her underwear because I’d been stupid enough to flirt with a humorless hunk.

Hans and Klaus, who’d managed through the checkpoint with ease, waited for us and when the Spanish Inquisition was finally over, helped put the car back together. Hans even managed to convince the guards to return Carolyn’s undies which he gallantly handed to her one by one as she blushed. Then we followed them to the campingplatz.

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Klaus, Jan and Hans on the beach in Blanes Spain

The campingplatz was indeed full of Germans of all ages, shapes and sizes, all of whom had arrived with the intention of wearing as few clothes as possible.  I can still remember the nightly parade of naked fraus on their way to the communal, out-in-the-open showers. Not a modest lady in the crowd.  Carolyn and I showered in our bathing suits.  Typical American prudes!

By the time we assembled Hans’ thankfully roomy tent, the sun had set and the temperatures cooled considerably.  The sound of a band playing nearby led us to an outdoor cafe where we ordered pitchers of sangria and paella and giggled as the singer massacred the English lyrics to the song Sugar, Sugar, sung by the regrettably forgettable band – The Archies.

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“Stop you rascal!” Hans gets frisky.

The first night went well.  We were all exhausted so a couple of pitchers of sangria knocked us on our butts.  However, the next night  I awoke to:  “Stop, you rascal!”  Hans’ hands had  found their way over to Carolyn’s body.  In the morning he asked me what “rascal” meant and I told him it meant we must be going…

Next – Mont St. Michel and the Samwitch Stand.

A Roll in the Hay, the French Riviera

After abandoning Elizabet and Soboric to their fate, we stopped in Cannes which is a noisier, more crowded city than Nice.  The beaches weren’t nearly as nice and the people decidedly rude.  NiceBlanesAt Carolyn’s insistence, we rented a room for the night at a rundown hotel which we could barely afford. She simply had to have a bath after spending the previous night in a car and the morning sleeping on a beach that smelt of fish.   I can still remember guarding the lockless door to the communal bathroom while she showered.  Ah, the annoyed stares and perturbed grunts I got from other guests who had to take a dump but were forced to wait for the spoiled, puritanical American to wash her already clean body!  Then we slipped into a twin-sized bed with no sheets for a very restless night’s sleep.  In the morning, we left Cannes firmly believing we would be sleeping on the beaches of the Costa Brava that night.  We did not realize that August is the month eighty percent of all Northern Europeans take vacation, generally to affordable places to the south.  Like Spain.  Thus we were about to find ourselves in a two day traffic jam with no food, no water, no detour.

We spent eight hours sitting in stop and go traffic, looking toward the famous French Riviera and seeing nothing but hot, dry beach towns, until the traffic finally came to a dead stop. It stayed that way for about an hour as the sun set.  Gradually families began abandoning their cars and setting up camp in fields that had gone dormant.  We had no idea what was going on until two young Germans in the Mercedes next of us came to our rescue.

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Klaus, Hans and Carolyn after a night spent sleeping in a field.

This happened every year, they explained in German (they spoke little English), the reason being that the Spanish border guards would only allow a certain number of cars into Spain before the borders were closed.  We would have to spend the night in our car or sleeping on dried hay in the fields. As they had expected this to happen, they were supplied with bread, sausages, and most importantly – wine – which they were more than happy to share.

We woke the next morning hung over and thirsty as hell with hay in our hair.  Luckily Klaus and Hans had orange juice and apples which we ate in the morning light, chatting until people started returning to their cars.  They asked where we were staying and I replied that we had no plans.  Why not stay at the campingplatz with us, they suggested.  There were hot showers, toilets and beautiful beaches at the campingplatz and, being that it was full of Germans, it was safe.  After I translated the word “shower,”  Carolyn said, “Well, let’s try it for a night. They seem like gentlemen.”  Famous last words, everyone, famous last words!

Coming soon – Never joke with a border guard (no matter how cute he is.)

Nice is not nice

After gagging down as much hot and sickeningly sweet Coca Cola as we could stand, Carolyn and I set off for Nice France, one of GenevaNiceher must-see places even though, according to the Five Dollars a Day book, it had no one star hotels. Nor did Cannes, its sister city.  Still, several movies Carolyn absolutely adored had been filmed in that vicinity so she just had to go, even if it meant sleeping on the beach.

The road through the mountains started out gently but soon we found ourselves on a series of unguarded switchbacks clinging narrowly to the side of steep slopes.  We crept along behind beat-up delivery trucks, too afraid to pass, unlike the French who swerved around us tires squealing and horns blaring.  Every time we were passed, a wave of doom swept over me.

mountainpassSure enough, about an hour into our trip, the trucks we crawled behind abruptly came to a stop. Ahead was a plume of smoke.  I can still remember the sound of sirens echoing against granite cliffs and the look of profound sadness on the face of the truck driver who’d walked forward to investigate. There was nothing anyone could do, he reported.  It was head-on crash between car and truck and the car lost.   After what seemed like forever, one lane was cleared and the police began to direct the backed up traffic in both directions around the nauseating scene.   As a result, we didn’t arrive in Grenoble until sunset.

Grenoble

Grenoble

The town of Grenoble sits in a deep valley in the perpetual shade of the French Alps, which, even in August, were snow-capped. We stopped, bought baguettes and cheese and looked around the laid back city center where old men played bocce ball.  Then we set out for Nice.   On the outskirts of town a young man and woman hitch-hiked in the growing darkness.  She had thick, wavy blond hair that hung practically to her butt and model good-looks.  He wore leather pants and was scruffy.  We judged them safe to pick up (or rather I did, Carolyn had her doubts).

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Carolyn (standing) Elizabet and Soboric (sleeping on the bench)

Her name was Elizabet and she was Swedish.  His name was Soboric and he was Hungarian.  Neither spoke English but he spoke a little German which we used to communicate.  He claimed to be a political refugee on asylum in Sweden and I really never figured out what she did other than be beautiful of course.  They were on their way to the island of Corsica for vacation.

Too soon night fell and we found ourselves on an even more torturous mountain road, one with tight hairpin turns every hundred feet and narrow lanes whose edges dropped off into ink-splot ravines.  We could only guess how high up we were or how far we would fall if we missed a turn and plummeted off the unguarded side of the road. The wimpy headlights on the VW only provided a thin stream of light directly ahead, the stars in a moonless sky, far away. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, fog billowed up from the valleys below.  It enveloped the car often without warning, dropping visibility to around zero.  Thus we inched along and didn’t make it to Nice until five in the morning.  Exhausted, we stumbled onto a pebble beach where fishermen untangled their nets in the pink dawnlight.

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Sail boats by Van Gogh

When I woke hours later, the beach was full of people in bathing suits or naked, eating lunch or just sunbathing.  Soboric had disappeared.  We walked to the car to find him bent over, head in hands on a nearby park bench.  The car had been broken into.  Carolyn’s camera was gone, as was Soboric’s satchel containing all their money and their passports.  Their trip was ruined.

And that’s when we met the real life Inspector Clouseau. He was manning the front desk at the tiny police station in Nice.  ClouseauUnfortunately I’d never learned the word for thief or robbery or even stolen in Madame Burkholder’s French class so when Soboric and I walked up to Inspector C. railing on about “bandidos,” he naturally assumed we were confessing to a crime.   He summoned another constable and they put us in handcuffs, took us downstairs and locked us in a cell.  There we sat stunned until an interpreter was found and the situation cleared up. Soboric, who claimed to have been jailed by the Hungarian police for his dissident activities, became outraged.  Especially when Inspector Clouseau made it quite clear that the case was sans importance and if we did not departee immediatement  he would lock us up again.  So we drove Elizabet and Soboric to the Swedish Embassy and then sadly went on our way.

Next: Jan jokes with the Spanish border guards and it ends badly…

Oeufs in a Van

KtownGeneva

Ktown to Geneva

Day One: We began our  trip in K-town, and, because there was no other direct route,  felt  we had to take autobahn to the Swiss border, otherwise we’d never get out of Germany.

An autobahn is Germany’s answer to the Indy 500, a three lane highway on which there is no speed limit.  For a Volkswagen Beetle, whose top speed is 50 kph, it’s also a Death Trap.

This was my second time on the autobahn, the first inspired this section from The Graduation Present.

I shrunk as far as I could down into the backseat and closed my eyes, positive that my first day in Europe would be my last. What a waste! Dying before I’d seen anything other than the Frankfurt airport and the autobahn, my body parts indistinguishable from the metal of a dozen cars when the inevitable pileup occurred.  

To be on the safe side, Carolyn and I never left the slow lane, but it didn’t matter.  Those mighty monuments to German engineering – Audis, BMWs and Porsches –  rocketed past us at speeds of up to 200 kph, blowing the poor little car off the road and onto the shoulder like so much dandelion fluff, again and again.  Caroline said not a word as horns blared for no good reason, lights flashed and red-faced drivers shook their fists in disgust.   Apparently  the German government  encourages macho nincompoops to have ego-fueled temper tantrums with impunity on autobahns (“mine’s bigger and faster than yours, etc.”)  Never again, I vowed as we reached the Swiss border. Never again would I go on an autobahn.

The scenery was so spectacular in Switzerland  that Carolyn and I spoke in nothing but Wows. At every twist and turn, every serpentine lake or Disneyesque village – wow, wow, wow.

RogerFederer

This Swiss guy probably also thinks he’s better than all of us! Humph!

However, the men were another story. Oh, they were reasonably good looking, but not at all interested in talking to tourists which made us think that, because Switzerland did not have the same problems as the rest of Europe, they felt superior.

By the time we reached Geneva we decided the country deserved an A+ for scenery but only a D- for men.  I know that seems cruel but there’s no bigger turn off than condescension.

After checking into our one star hotel we decided to give Swiss men another chance to raise their grade.  I mean, a D- is kind of insulting.  It didn’t take long before we ran into these three gents.

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Michel, Paul et Roger avec Maman Deux (their van)

They were very friendly, particularly Michel who kindly put up with my massacre of the French language.  They were so friendly that we were about to upgrade Swiss men to an A when Michel told us they were from Brittany, thus they were French, not Swiss.  Too bad Switzerland.  They invited us to dine with them that night in the Maman Deux – an old delivery van that they’d repurposed to serve as a home away from home during their travels. Carolyn wasn’t too keen on the idea of dining with three men she couldn’t communicate with at all, especially after she ran into and chatted up a well-dressed middle-aged man in the lobby of our hotel who spoke English.  He was her “type,” she said (a man who acted as if he had money).  Then she tried to get me to cancel dinner in the Maman Deux to be part of a foursome which would include the middle-aged man’s much older traveling companion.  I dug my heels in, of course.  Then I pissed her off by asking why a man who invited us to dinner at one of Geneva’s supposedly better restaurants was staying at a flea-bag hotel.  She took my point.  We kept our date with the Maman Deux.

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Jan, Paul et Roger

Our dinner consisted of scrambled eggs cooked over a butane stove, a bottle of red wine and a baquette.  I can still remember watching Michel crack the eggs and then scramble them in a pan of sizzling butter. Gotta love a man who cooks – even if it’s just oeufs in a van.  But in the morning we were heading off to Nice and they, returning home to jobs, girlfriends, etc.  Geneva was the end of their adventure and it was the beginning of ours.  Au revoir, Michel!

That night the phone rang and Carolyn answered.  The hotel staff spoke little English and Carolyn, of course, no French.  I don’t know why she didn’t hand the phone over to me. Perhaps she was still peeved at missing a date with a man who might provide more than oeufs in a van.  I don’t know.

This is how the conversation went.

“Hello,” said Carolyn.  Then after a few minutes, “Hot cocoa.” Then a second later with irritation.”I said Hot cocoa.”

I asked who it was and she said it was the front desk wanting to know what we wanted in the morning for breakfast.  I pointed out that chocolat chaud was the French phrase for hot chocolate, not cocoa.

“Well, they understand what I said,” she huffed.

Yes, readers, she was still pissed.

cocacolaSure enough, the next morning there was a knock at the door.  We opened it and there stood a young man with two bottles of steaming hot Coca Cola, each wrapped in a towel.  He had a very funny look on his face.  Embarrassed we took a sip of the hot coca-cola in front of him as though it was a new fad in America: hot coca cola for breakfast.

PeterSellers2On Day Two we meet the inspiration for Inspector Clouseau in the rocking suspense thriller: Nice is not nice….