Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Part 1
(I haven’t done one of these since I was in primary school. What fun!)
We arrived in Paris early in the morning on the 15th of July and rolled our mountain of baggage over to a café in the terminal. We were starved. The breakfast on the Air France flight had looked kind of nasty - the so-called madeleine had looked suspiciously like a fruitcake and the kids hate the watery pseudo-hot chocolate they serve. So, we ordered REAL hot chocolates, pain au chocolat, chaussons aux pommes, pain cremes... everything the kids’ hearts desired. When it was time to order for myself, I thought: This is decision time! A fresh French pastry or that shiny Granny Smith apple over there in that fuit basket? This choice would determine the course of this vacation! Would this be the Summer of Healthy Eating, or a Pack-on-the-Pounds Estivale Extravaganza?
I chose....THE APPLE!!!!!
Did it make a damn bit of difference in the end? For my end?
Anyway, we finished up breakfast and with great difficulty managed to find the 12 year old child that was supposed to drive us over to the car rental lot. ( I know I’m exaggerating. Everybody looks so young to me now. He was probably really 14.)
The rental lot was a zoo when we got there. I finally found someone to start helping us out, but he kept referring to us as “The Americans” in a very loud voice. “Hey, Fabrice! You got the car for The AMERICANS yet?” and “Is that paperwork for The AMERICANS done yet?”
I wasn’t sure if he meant it in a good way, like: “Look at me helping the exotic foreigners!” or in a less good way, as in: “Look over here at the imperialist scum that ride rough-shod over the rest of the world!” He was hard to read.
I couldn’t figure out a subtle way to inform the staring crowd that our family is actually FRENCH, not just American. I just quietly told the kids to stand straight and try to look angelic. “You’re representing all of the USA” I whispered inspiringly. “ If you behave like deranged lunatics, as you so often do, they’ll think that all Americans are deranged lunatics”.
That was good for about two hours of exemplary behaviour, long enough to get two cars rented and packed.
Then, there I was- ready to hit the open road. The car was loaded, Valentine riding shotgun. JP was ahead of me in a grey Kangoo (a kind of über-nerdy French mini-van) with the three other kids. Yeah, all ready to go. Ready to drive out of Paris and race five hours down a superhighway to my mother-in-law’s house near the Luxembourg border. Have I mentioned that I only learned to drive a manual transmission about one year ago and I had NEVER driven on the highway with one? I’d never even been into 5th gear!! I’d only driven around Ouagadougou, which is a big town, but it ain’t Paris. I was a wee bit stressed, as you may conjecture.
Valentine saved me. She has a soothing presence and she gamely stayed awake, chatting and keeping good music going in the Clio's cd player.
By the time we pulled up in front of my MIL’s house, I was feeling very confident, which was good, as we did a lot of highway driving during the holiday. The house we rented was a half-hour drive away from my MIL’s place and that had to be driven round trip at least once a day. So, I got lots of driving practice. But driving in France has nothing in common with driving in Ouaga. It’s crazy here. You share the road with hoards of scooters and bicycles, as well as donkey carts, hand carts, camels, and horses. It’s interesting to watch this melange of traffic, but it’s not fun to drive in.
Coming soon: Part 2

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