Category Archives: France

Castle Hill view top

The View of Vieux Ville in Nice, France

I climbed the steps on a sunny morning.  They started at the end of the Vieux Ville (Old Town) of Nice, France, one block in from the Mediterranean Sea.  I stopped every few minutes to take photos.  At every point the view was fantastic.

Castle Hill view

A view from the start of the climb up Castle Hill.

Castle Hill overlooks the Vieux Ville and the rest of Nice.  It is on a small peninsula splitting the Vieux Ville on one side and the port of Nice on the other.  In the Middle Ages there was a fort on the site that protected both the port and the town.

view of Nice port

Which yacht can I take for a sail?

The fort was destroyed in the 1800s and a park was built on the hill.  Today it provides a good workout for those running up the steps, or even for people like me who hiked to the top to get one of the best views in the Mediterranean.

Castle Hill view top

I made it to the top of Castle Hill.

Vieux Ville street in Nice, France

The narrow streets of the Vieux Ville of Nice.

I had been to Nice about ten years ago. I had stayed in a hotel by the yacht club on the south side of the modern city.  It was a decent place to stay for a few days, but it lacked culture and interest.  For this visit I stumbled upon a small apartment for rent located in the middle of the Vieux Ville.  It was in a building at least a couple of hundred years old.  The streets were very narrow and were lined with small shops, cafes, restaurants, and service establishments for the locals.

The apartment was on the third floor.  The stairway was a challenge to navigate, since it was narrow and steep. There was no elevator in the old building. The view from the window was only of the building across the lane, but I could look down to watch the local residents shop at the patisserie on the corner.

Building in Nice, France

A typical building in the Vieux Ville.

A few yards away from the doorway to my building was another street called the Cours Saleya.  This pedestrian street hosts daily markets.  Fruit and vegetables are sold in the morning, flowers in the afternoon, and arts and crafts in the evening.  Along both sides of the street are restaurants of all kinds, with some of them serving traditional Nicoise cuisine.  Sitting in an outdoor café, eating a fresh croissant, and watching the tradespeople and shoppers is a relaxing way to take a mid-morning break.

Roof view in Nice, France

The red tiled roofs of the Vieux Ville.

The neighborhood of the Vieux Ville is a delight to wander around.  The middle-aged women line up outside the butcher shop to buy the main course for tonight’s dinner.  Old men drink pastis, the local aperitif, at the bar while arguing about the football news.  Trendy young women flit in and out of the designer clothes shops looking for a good deal on the latest fashions. At night the tables outside the restaurants are full of diners.  Once in a while a young man on a loud scooter speeds past the startled diners in a haze of blue smoke.

This is a working and authentic neighborhood.  Local people go about their lives in their daily routines despite the occasional group of boisterous American college students searching the back streets for good pizza.

Promenade de Anglais

Perfect for a stroll…

Across the street from the neighborhood and stretching along the coast is the Promenade des Anglais (Promenade of the English). Before Nice was urbanized, the coastline at Nice was bordered by a deserted stretch of beach covered with large pebbles. Houses were located on higher ground well away from the sea, as tourists visiting Nice in the 18th century did not come for the beach, but for the gentle winter weather. The areas close to the water were home to Nice’s dockworkers and fishermen.

In the second half of the 18th century, some wealthy English people started spending the winter in Nice, enjoying the panorama along the coast. When a particularly harsh winter up north brought an influx of beggars to Nice, some of the rich Englishmen proposed a useful project for them: the construction of a walkway along the sea.

I walked the Promenade des Anglais every day of my time in Nice.  The Mediterranean Sea shined in a bright blue glaze in front of the pebbles on the shore.  Like most beaches on the French coast of the Mediterranean, even today there is no sand.  Instead, the beach consists of various sized rocks and pebbles.  Although the rocks are worn smooth, it is still quite a challenge to position the rocks in such a way as to be comfortable for more than two minutes.

That doesn’t stop the hundreds of sun worshippers from spreading out across the beach every day all summer long.  Some of the women wear no bikini tops.  This is France, after all.

Beach scene in Nice

Ouch! That rock is poking me.

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View of the Eiffel Tower from the Palais du Chaillot

The Pickpockets of Paris

In any big city of the world there are many perils to try to avoid. One of them is the street crime of pickpocketing. Before returning to France for the first time in nine years, I read up on the latest news in Paris tourism. I was checking out the new attractions in the city and came cross an article warning tourists of the most recent scams. Little did I know that I would experience firsthand two of the main scams described in the article on my first day in Paris.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Palais du Chaillot

La Tour Eiffel.

I left my hotel in the First Arrondissement after breakfast to go for a long walk around the Île de la Cité and the Latin Quarter. I had my typically large and expensive camera around my neck, clearly marking me as a tourist of the most garish sort. As I crossed the Rue de Rivoli in front of the Louvre Museum I noticed several scruffy looking young men loitering in the big empty plaza. From a distance I could see that the guys all had dark hair and swarthy skin. They were gypsies (more formally known as Roma).

In some situations I might cross the street again to avoid this gathering. I would definitely do that late at night or if I was accompanying my wife and/or daughter. But it was only 9am in a busy part of the city. There were many tourists walking towards the Louvre. So I kept walking.

By the time I got to the first guy, some of the other guys had spread out and were approaching other passersby. At least half of the guys had clipboards in one hand and a pen in the other. The other half of the guys were empty handed. Thanks to my pre-trip research, I knew I was about to be subjected to the Survey Con.

Metro sign

Beware of the pickpockets…

The Survey Con is a pickpocketing technique that is much more blatant and obvious than the usual bump on the crowded Metro. It works best when the thieves have blended into a crowd of people walking down a sidewalk. A first thief is the survey taker. He (or she) approaches the mark (me in this case) and politely greets the mark and asks if you wouldn’t mind taking the time to answer a few questions for a survey of great importance. The survey taker may adapt the pitch according to the age, socioeconomic status, and perceived interests of the mark. The approach works better when the survey taker is well dressed, articulate, and formal. This puts the mark at ease. It works particularly well when the survey taker is an attractive young woman and the mark is a man (of any age).

The mark answers the questions of the survey, and the survey taker notes the answers and engages the mark in a dialogue. While the mark is temporarily distracted by thinking about his or her answers, the second thief (the accomplice) comes up behind the mark and pickpockets him or her. In some sophisticated rings, there may be multiple accomplices who crowd and jostle the mark, and any one of them will lift the goods from the mark.

These guys were crude amateurs. For one thing, there were at least a dozen of them in the same spot, all trying to run the same con at the same time on multiple passersby. They were dressed like they had slept on the street and they were doing this in a wide open plaza instead of a crowded sidewalk.

The survey taker approached me and I stared him in the eyes and firmly shouted “Non!” I briskly walked away without looking back to hopefully lessen the chances of him being persistent and following me. The tactic worked. He gave up on me and looked for an easier mark.

It concerned me that the Paris police do nothing to stop this behavior in front of the biggest tourist attraction in the country.

I.M. Pei's pyramid in front of the Louvre Museum

A fine summer morning in front of the Louvre Museum.

As I walked around the city over the course of two days I was approached three different times with the Ring Con.

The Ring Con is another wide open pickpocketing technique. The thief spots a potential mark in a crowd or walking on a sidewalk, unobtrusively approaches the mark, and bends down and picks up a gold ring off the ground.

“Excuse moi, monsieur!” the thief will say. “I think you dropped this ring.”

The mark stops to respond to this statement, looks at the ring, and checks his or her fingers, purse or pockets.

“No, you’re mistaken. It’s not my ring. It must be someone else’s ring.” says the mark.

While the mark is distracted by this ruse, an accomplice comes up from behind and pickpockets the mark.

I don’t know why, but each time I was approached in this manner the thief was a respectable looking old woman (a different woman each time). Maybe the old woman thinks that younger people will automatically think she is trustworthy and honest in trying to return something of great value to a stranger. Certainly I would never think my mother or grandmother would be part of a pickpocketing tandem.

I think also that the thief palms the ring with some sleight of hand instead of actually picking it up off the ground.

The first two times this happened to me I instinctively turned away from the old woman and kept walking briskly past. The third time I had had enough.

I looked threateningly at her and rattled off an angry stream of expletives. I yelled that it was the third time I’d seen the Ring Con since yesterday and that I was going to call the gendarmes.

She turned and ran away.

P.S. Paris has the reputation of being the world’s capital of rude waiters. In past visits, I have noted that Parisian waiters are snooty, snotty, and surly. The tourist commission must have sent all of the waiters to a reeducation camp. On this brief mid-summer trip every waiter I had was friendly, smiling, and helpful. I was beginning to wonder which city I was really in! What a change for the better. Go to Paris before the old waiters come back from holiday.

Royal Palace Garden

The Jardin du Palais Royal.

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old car on a flatbed truck for a movie scene

Scenes from Paris

It was a cool rainy day in Paris as I walked across the Pont Neuf bridge over the Seine River. It was supposed to be summer, but this July morning seemed more like April. I was walking from my hotel near the Louvre Museum over to the Notre Dame cathedral to take some photos when I ran into a well-dressed couple loitering on the bridge. They looked at me with disinterest and then looked away. They were dressed in elegant long coats. The woman had a fancy hat on her head. Her dress flowed out from her coat down to her shoes. The man wore a bowler hat and spats. They certainly didn’t look like tourists, and they weren’t dressed properly for the inclement weather.

movie extras in Paris

A well-dressed couple on the Pont Neuf bridge.

Maybe it was a photo shoot. I had seen one the day before down by the right bank of the Seine. A young woman had been sprawled over the hood of a 1970s car, with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the background. She was dressed in very short shorts and skimpy shirt. Her beau was at her side. The photographer moved back and forth snapping away while his assistant moved the lights.

models on a car in Paris, France

A fashion photo shoot on the bank of the Seine River.

But I couldn’t see any photographer this time.  I passed them by and continued over the bridge.  As I reached the other end I saw an old car and a horse drawn wagon waiting on the bridge.  The car was from the early 1900s.  It had wooden spoke wheels, a hard top, and a large steering wheel.  A man and a woman were in the car, with the man as the chauffeur behind the wheel.  They were dressed in costumes like the couple on the bridge.

I saw a tent on the other side of the road and there was a small crowd of people milling about, eating a mid-morning snack and drinking coffee. I finally realized that I had wandered into the middle of a movie shoot! I couldn’t see any movie cameras and saw no director. I decided to wait around and see how this movie-making magic is done.

Once the crew had gotten their fuel for the morning, they slowly organized the scene. Uniformed police at each end of the bridge redirected traffic to other roads. Crew at each end stopped pedestrians from crossing the bridge. There were actually two old cars along with the wagon. The vehicles were lined up at one end of the bridge. I still couldn’t see where the camera and the director were from my vantage point atop a stone wall past the end of the bridge.

Then a white van drove over the bridge, pulled a U-turn, and backed up to the front of the lead car with the two actors in it. The movie camera, the director, and the cameraman were in the back of the van. The back door of the van had been removed.

vehicles for movie shoot in Paris

Lining up for the shot.

The director yelled “Action!” and the van pulled forward slowly. The cars and the horse-drawn wagon followed the van across the Pont Neuf bridge. Other extras in period costume walked along on each side of the bridge, including one man who folded a newspaper and crossed the street behind the passing cars.

At the other end of the bridge the procession stopped, and then turned around. I heard the word “Encore” from a bullhorn and the parade of vehicles came over the bridge back to me. After two takes, the director was satisfied and the crew and the actors went back to the refreshments tent. I decided to move along.

I turned the corner and promptly came across a second film unit filming another scene for the same movie. Another old car was on the back of a flatbed truck. There were four actors in the car. There was a movie camera on a tripod on the flatbed in front of the car. The cameraman was looking through the eyepiece while the second unit director watched the output of the camera on a big LCD display in the front of the flatbed. An assistant stuck her hands into the car with the scene marker card and the director yelled “Action!”

The two actors in the back seat started talking in French while the car gently rocked back and forth on the flatbed. It must have been attached to some hydraulic mechanism to give the illusion that the car was being driven on a bumpy road. An assistant was on each side of the car holding a large piece of black cardboard. At times during the scene, the assistants rotated the cardboard so that it gave the illusion in the car of going under bridges.

old car on a flatbed truck for a movie scene

How did that take go? Should we do another?

After a few takes I had had enough of movie making for one day. It consisted of standing around for a long time, followed by a few minutes of activity, followed by a coffee break, followed by more standing around in the rain.

I have no idea what movie it is going to be. But if I ever happen to watch a French film set in the early 1900s where the characters drive over the Pont Neuf bridge, I’ll remember that I was there.

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The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Phantom Bed Bugs in Paris

“Ils sont la!” read the headline in the local newspaper in Fourmies, France. They are here! The temporary invasion by a small band of American students had begun. The accompanying photo showed 20 scruffy, long haired, wet, and tired teenagers standing on the steps of the town hall with the mayor. It was a grey and rainy afternoon in early June.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower in Paris

Fourmies is a small town in the north of France next to the Belgian border. There is nothing notable about the town. It was, however, the site for the European division of a large medical products company, which happened to have its headquarters in my home town. Some public relations person decided that the towns should be sister cities. I’m not sure what that means. Do the people of the towns fight over who gets to hog the bathroom or which TV program to watch or who has to do the dishes?

In the interests of cultural understanding, a group of French teenagers had visited my town a few weeks before. We struggled to understand them with our high school foreign language skills as they chattered incessantly at high speed and used local slang (some of which we were convinced were dirty words). They wore the same clothes for three or four days in a row, had the same schedule for washing their hair, and smoked a lot when the teachers weren’t around. They didn’t wear berets or striped shirts or perform mime, but they were unmistakably French. They seemed exotic to our Midwestern sensibilities.

When the possibility of visiting France in return was raised in French class, I jumped at the chance. The idea of touring castles and cathedrals, champagne and chocolate factories, and the Metro and the Louvre sounded fantastic to me. Besides, I had heard from the French students that the legal drinking age was something like 13.

After months of planning, working, and saving, we had finally arrived. The bus from Paris went straight to the celebration in the center of the town. The mayor and the school principal gave speeches in front of a large crowd. We felt like celebrities.

We were each assigned to stay with a French family for a week. I was with Mr. and Mrs. Keryer. They were both teachers at the school, but both spoke no English. This was going to be interesting I thought.

They went out of their way to accommodate me, despite my being a notoriously finicky eater. If it wasn’t a hamburger and French fries (ha ha), I usually wasn’t interested. I quickly discovered that the beef in Europe wasn’t to be eaten, and they didn’t really have French fries in France. I don’t know who named that food item but they obviously got it wrong.

Seine River in Paris

A lonely day at the Seine River in Paris

During the days we went on long bus tours to sights in Northern France. If you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all. Usually some French students came along. We tried to communicate with them, but often the Americans and the French ended up talking in their own social circles in their own languages. Since our language skills were rudimentary at best, it was difficult to hold a conversation with each other. Being teenagers, we always ended up talking about the members of the opposite sex from the other country. Arguments over who was the cutest girl on the bus were a daily occurrence. One day I discovered there was a spy in our midst.

There was a French girl named Lauren who wore the same clothes for three or four days in a row, washed her hair on the same schedule, and smoked a lot when the teachers weren’t around. She didn’t speak very good English, so she hardly spoke to us. Yet she observed us closely and listened carefully to everything we said.

By chance on one trip she was seated next to me on the bus. As she talked with another French girl across the aisle I noticed that she always talked to her friend whenever some American boys sitting behind us talked about her friend. They did this every day because her friend was the winner of all of the arguments about who was the cutest girl on the bus.

It suddenly dawned on me that she could understand everything we were saying. All of the crude, rude, and sometimes obscene things American teenaged boys say to pass the time on a long bus ride when in the close company of girls, both French and American, was being relayed in real time. I had an idea.

“Lauren, there is a bee on your foot!” I yelled in her ear.

She immediately looked down at her feet and shook them.

“I don’t see a bee,” she said as she looked up from her feet to my eyes.

“Busted!”

Her face flushed red. She admitted she was an American. Her father worked for a division of the medical products company from someplace else in the US and had been transferred to France a couple of years before.

“Please don’t tell the others,” she pleaded.

“OK, it will be our secret.”

It was about this time that one of the American girls started following me around. There was a small group of attractive “popular” girls on the trip. They were perceived to be in the unapproachable higher echelons of social cliques from our high school. They were cheerleaders, homecoming princesses, and girlfriends of the star football players. Not even worth seriously thinking about to a non-athletic studious person like me.

She would bump up next to me in the crowd to get on the bus. She would trade seats in order to get close to me. One day by the luck of the draw she got a window seat and when I got on the bus the only open seat was next to her. To be honest, I hadn’t really noticed her before that day. I knew of course that she was on the trip but I had never talked to her. She was a year behind me in school. She had moved into my town recently due to her parents getting divorced. It soon became apparent that she had a huge crush on me. I had been oblivious.

Her name was Landis and I soon discovered that she was a master at flirting. She would stare into my eyes, smile, and bat her eyelashes. She would tell jokes, laugh, and ask me all kinds of crazy questions. I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I had no natural defense mechanism. The crush was soon reciprocated.

For a few days we were touring partners. We ate too many chocolate souvenirs at the end of the chocolate factory tour. She was my partner at the French-American dance. She kissed me in the alcove of the Rheims cathedral.

on the Seine River in a bateau mouche

A bateau mouche on the Seiner Rive in Paris

Then one day I saw the dark side of her. We had taken a tour to the champagne factory. The tour guide showed us how the workers painstakingly turned the tilted bottles of champagne as they aged in the underground cellars so that the minute particles in the wine settled onto the cork. We saw how the grapes were crushed and the bottles prepared. At the end of the tour we were given a souvenir bottle of champagne to take home with us. I saved that bottle of champagne for over twenty years. One New Year’s Eve I opened it and drank some. It tasted terrible! Maybe champagne doesn’t age well.

After giving us the souvenir bottle, the tour guide brought us to a room for a wine tasting event. There were hundreds of glasses of champagne on tables around the room. Apparently they do this for high school tours in France.

I don’t know what our chaperones were thinking. Perhaps they were overwhelmed and beaten down from keeping track of 25 American teenagers in a foreign country. I certainly don’t blame them for their lack of oversight. But at the end of the tour they were nowhere to be found. Perhaps they were back at the bus resting or buying their own souvenirs.

The tour guide then left us to take over his next tour. Whereupon most of our group proceeded to drink as much champagne as possible before the chaperones came back. I quickly discovered that champagne doesn’t really taste that good and sends bubbles up your nose. You can’t drink it like milk or water.

What surprised me was that Landis and all of the other “popular” girls loved to drink. We were left alone for at least a half hour. They drank glass after glass of champagne.

I have always been a rule follower. These girls were definitely rule breakers. Before we left on the trip we had signed an agreement with our school certifying that we would behave properly, represent our school with honor and dignity, and obey the chaperones. If we didn’t follow the rules, the chaperones could call our parents and send us home on the next available flight. Apart from the obvious parental discipline difficulties that would cause, for most of us the financial penalty of the impromptu flight home would hurt our families.

By the time we left for the bus, they were wasted. None of the chaperones noticed.
The ride back to Fourmies was uneventful. We all talked and laughed on the bus. The girls giggled nonstop on their champagne high. Nobody threw up. These girls knew how to hold their liquor.

The next day it was time to leave Fourmies and spend a few days in Paris, before continuing on to the castles and chateaux of the Loire Valley.

A view of the Champs Elysees

A view of the Champs Elysees from the Arc d'Triomphe

We were going to stay at a lowly tourist class hotel in the Montparnasse district of Paris. It was called a hotel, but it was actually a dump, perhaps like what transients would stay in for $5 per night in a rundown part of an American city. We were divided up into small groups and assigned to rooms. There were only four boys and over 20 girls on the trip (yes, that was a very nice ratio). I was assigned to share a room with a guy named Chip.

I didn’t know Chip very well. He had been in my French class, but I didn’t talk with him very much. Chip was well known throughout the school because his father was a teacher at the school and the hockey coach. He had been in many plays and was well liked for being very funny. He also had been diagnosed with lupus as a child and wasn’t expected to make it to age 18.

Chip and I lugged our suitcases up the narrow stairs to the third floor. The building was old, the rooms were old, the beds and furniture were old, even the man at the front desk was old. There was a bathroom down the hall. It usually worked.

In our room there was a double bed and a cot. The double bed looked decent enough. The cot was a misshapen lump of straw covered by a moldy sheet stuck on a rusty metal frame. It tilted severely to one side.

We looked at each other. There was no way in hell we were going to sleep in the same bed. We were 17 years old and very heterosexual. It just wasn’t going to happen. But the cot looked horrible.

“OK, here’s what we can do,” said Chip. “We’ll take turns. I’ll sleep in the bed the first night and you sleep on the toxic cot. Then we’ll switch tomorrow night.”

We were supposed to stay in this sorry excuse for a hotel for four nights. That meant two nights on the bed and two nights on the probably flea-infested cot.

“OK, it’s a deal,” I said.

We unpacked some of stuff and got ready to go out into the city of lights. The rules the chaperones set up were simple. Don’t go out alone, sign a sheet at the front desk detailing who you were going with and where you’re going, and be back in your room by 11pm. They were going to check on us every night at 11pm.

The first night we got into our little cliques and headed for the Metro. We had a great time being independent and adult-like as we toured the city and of course stopped at McDonald’s. We made sure to be back to the hotel by 11pm.

Being back to the hotel by 11pm didn’t necessarily mean that we went to bed, or stayed in our own rooms. The chaperones checked on us at 11pm and promptly went to sleep. After all, they were middle-aged parents and teachers. The students stayed up most of the night and hopped from room to room. Since the vast majority of the students were girls, I don’t think there was anything going on in an improper boy-girl sense. However, it was apparent on the first night that the girls discovered that they could buy any alcohol they wanted and have a party in their rooms. Soon many of the girls were silly, falling down drunk. Chip and I retreated to our room to get some sleep. We had a big day of touring the sights of Paris coming up.

Chip lounged in splendor on the bed like a king while I tilted in agony on the cot. I was just drifting off to sleep when there was a soft knock on the door. Chip was still awake. He got up to see who it was. It was Landis. Of course, she was drunk. She wanted to see me.

“OK, come over here to my pesticide-coated cot.” There was no room for two on this thing. She tried to fit anyway. Chip snickered from the bed. He couldn’t believe this. We were both mostly afraid to talk to girls.

We talked for a few minutes and then Landis started snoring. She fell off the cot onto the floor (did I mention that it was tilted?). I fell asleep.

At about 5am I woke up. The happenings of my pre-slumber night came back to me. There was a girl in my room! Shoot, she better leave before I get into trouble. Chip was sound asleep in the bed. Landis was still on the floor. I shook her over and over.

“Get up! You need to go back to your room!” I whisper yelled into her ear. She didn’t move. She was out cold.

I picked her up and carried her out of our room and upstairs to her room. After knocking briskly on the door, I finally roused one of her roommates. Their room was covered in party trash – empty bottles, snack bags, glasses, and full ash trays. The “popular” girls were strung out all over the room in various states of disrepair. I dumped Landis on the bed and left.

After three hours of sleep, we made it to breakfast to start our day of touring. Chip and I were tired, but most of the group was hung over. Walking around Paris in that condition had to have been terrible, but it was self-inflicted.

During the day Chip started talking about bed bugs. He was scratching himself all over. He showed me many small red welts all over his stomach and back, arms and legs. They looked like bad mosquito bites. He thought they were bites from bed bugs. He said he didn’t have them staying at a host family’s house in Fourmies. He must have gotten them in the bed last night in the hotel.

As much as I hated the cot, there was no way I was going to sleep in the bed and get bitten by bed bugs. I don’t like insects or spiders. When I am near mosquitos, they head straight for me and overlook others. The thought of sleeping in the bed with the bugs nauseated me. When we got back to the hotel that night, I had a solution.

“I tell you what Chip. I’ll stay in the cot and you can stay in the bed.”

“Are you sure?” said Chip. “We had a deal to change.”

“Nope. I can survive on the cot. You take the bed. If I’m in the bed and Landis shows up tonight, I don’t know what might happen.”

That night was a repeat of the previous night. The girls had a party and got drunk. Chip and I were exhausted so we skipped the party and went to sleep. At 2am there was a knock on our door. It was Landis. She was drunk. She came over to me, fell asleep and fell on the floor. Chip laughed and laughed.

The next day we dragged ourselves around Paris again. The girls were hung over. We laughed at them behind their back.

The third night was a repeat of the other two nights, except Landis never showed up. I think she got drunk in her own room with the other girls and couldn’t get up.

While on the bus tours, Landis and I had talked about what we wanted to see when we got to Paris. I had the idea that it would be romantic to take her on the bateau mouche, a boat tour along the Seine at night. We decided that we would do that together, just the two of us on the last night in Paris. It would be a date. We would form our own small group and sign out together.

I wore my best clothes and washed my hair three times. I had bought some cologne and splashed some of that on me. Before Chip left with his group, he shook my hand.

“Good luck tonight. Have lots of fun and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

At the appointed time I went down to the hotel lobby to meet Landis. She wasn’t there. Well, girls are usually late, I thought. She’s probably primping in her room.

I waited. And waited. After a half hour I asked the desk clerk to call up to her room. No answer. Then I checked the sign out sheet. I discovered that everyone in our tour group had signed out already. Including Landis. She went with three of the other girls to the Avenue de Champs Elysees. I was left alone on my last night in Paris.

I signed out by myself and wandered the streets of Montparnasse in a daze. How could she do that to me? I thought she liked me. Why are girls like that?

I played pinball in a corner café. I ate some pizza. I got bored walking around and decided to go to the cinema to kill time. The clerk kept telling me in slang French that the movie was not in English. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going back to the hotel room to do nothing.

I sat in the back of the theatre and wondered went wrong. I was baffled and embarrassed. It was a long movie and incomprehensible, even if I could have understood the dialogue.

I staggered back to the hotel. It was 11:30pm. I missed the bed check. The head chaperone was standing in my room talking to Chip. She was our French teacher. I had had her as a teacher for the past three years. She was grey-haired and grumpy. Her husband was also a chaperone on the trip. He was very sloppy and also grumpy. I sensed they had a grumpy marriage.

She did not like me. She thought I was arrogant and cocky. I probably was. I was an excellent student and would never let any errors go unnoticed. I had this problem with a couple of other female teachers in high school, I don’t know why.

“Where were you?” she yelled.

“I, uh, I was walking around Montparnasse,” I stammered. I hated getting yelled at or getting into trouble.

“By yourself!?” she yelled again. “You know the rule about going out by yourself. You could have been kidnapped or gotten lost. And you signed the sheet saying ’gone out walking around.’ What is that supposed to mean? How could I or anyone else find you?”

“Well, I agree it is not very specific. But other kids have signed out as going to the Champs Elysees. That’s a street. Who knows where they would be along that street? Anyway, I made it back OK, I am a little late, but so what?”

“Shut up! Now you are quibbling.” Her face was beet red and a vein was sticking out on her forehead.

While she ranted and raved about the rules I almost told her about how the girls had gotten drunk at the champagne factory, and had gotten drunk and ran around between hotel rooms every night. But there would be no gain in that. I didn’t want to be the tattletale. Even if I was being singled out for special treatment.

“If you break the rules even one more time or cause any trouble whatsoever you will be on the next plane home!”

She turned and stomped out of the room.

“Well, that was fun,” said Chip. “I tried to cover for you but couldn’t. She never liked you anyway. Let’s get some sleep. Only one more night with the bed bugs.”

We finished the trip without any further trouble. I didn’t get sent home. Landis wouldn’t talk to me.

I only saw Landis once after that. A few years later I was attending the university and saw her walking across a courtyard arm in arm with her boyfriend. He looked pretty nerdy. I turned the other direction and walked away.

After that trip Chip became my best friend. We became like brothers to each other, since neither of us had one. We were the best man at each other’s wedding. We spent a lot of time together over the years. He made it past every doctor’s diagnosis that he would die by age 18.

Sometime many years later, when we were probably in our early 30s, we were at a small party with our wives and small children. We were reminiscing about the old days, about badly behaved we were in our high school French class, and our trip to France. He said he had a confession to make. He had lived with something all these years and had to get it off his conscience.

“You know that hotel we stayed at in Paris?” he asked.

“Yeah, I remember it very well.” I said.

“Well, there never were any bed bugs in that bed. And those welts on my body were from lupus. I just didn’t want to sleep on the toxic cot,” he admitted.

I socked him in the shoulder. We all laughed. He told that story for years afterward. He always said we should go back to France together again sometime. Of course that never happened because of college, work schedules, getting married, and having children.

Chip passed away suddenly a few years ago. The complications of dealing with lupus and the side effects of all of the medications he took for years depleted him.

I will always miss his friendship and sense of humor.

Chip and Laurance

Steve, with best friends Chip (right) and Laurance (left) in 2005

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