Here's the brand new Citroen which we picked up just off the peripherique at the western edge of Paris where the Europecar agent spent at least three minutes explaining the brilliant all-new features of this baffling vehicle.
"Make it ALL NEW" is obviously the instruction the Citroen designers were given. John's been driving cars since 1936 (it was legal to drive in Texas at age 13) and he thought he'd encountered about every model since. This one, though, has him stumped.
We did find a user-guide the size of a New York City phone book in the glove compartment, filled with exciting views of the engine's interior, and written in technical language that even your native-French speaker can't comprehend. I wish I could have taken pictures of the glorious French shrugs we've been treated to by every single man we've shown the guide to: shoulders and hands lifted in despair.
Padlocks on Lovers' Bridge, Paris
This was a new sight for Tib and me. In 1949 it was simply the
pedestrian footbridge which we used to cross the Seine to the Right Bank from our sixth floor walk-up on the Left Bank. Today thousands of padlocks are clamped to the wire mesh between the guard rails.
Some are tiny, the size of my thumb; others as large as a child's fist. Most are inscribed. "Pierre et Jeannette, ensemble pour les siecles." "Marie et Alain, toujours."
The bridge is wooden and I feel it shake as people cross. Most are intent on other errands , but romantic couples have come here too. They kiss -- not the conventional French way, briefly on both cheeks, but long, lingering kisses on the lips. Then they stoop, giggling, press their padlock shut around a wire, straighten up, hold hands, and he flings the padlock key into the Seine.
As a symbol of fidelity, Tib and I agreed, it was a lot more meaningful than names scrawled on a wall. Actually, we learned, the padlocks had been the center of a typically French controversy. Long-term commitment seemingly violated a tradition which some considered uniquely Parisian, the freedom to love each other only "for now."
And in a classically French response, the city at one point ordered the padlocks removed, sidestepping the quarrel by citing visual pollution. Several thousand were in fact destroyed. Almost immediately they began appearing again until today the padlocks are an accepted part of the Parisian scene.
Of course as part of this 65th anniversary trip Tib and I had to buy a padlock and add ours to these little tokens of commitment. Actually, Tib and I too see our relationship as just for-now. We love each other "in the moment." And in the next moment. And the next, and the next . . .
Forty years ago when the dollar was strong and pound was weak, John and I spent a whole month at the 700 year old Bear Hotel in Woodstock, England. We wrote so enthusiastically about it that our friends Len and Catherine Lesourd flew over to join us.
A scene I will never forget occurred as they arrived. I had filled out the reservation form for them and where it asked for "first name, middle name, last name" had put down "Leonard Earl Lesourd."
Len and Catherine were to take a taxi to Woodstock from the Oxford train station. John's and my room faced the street and about the time we expected them, we looked out the window. The entire hotel staff, from the august manager himself to the lowliest boot-boy -- waiters, porters, chambermaids, probably twenty-five people -- were lined up in two rows flanking the door. A black cab drew up. The head porter opened the car door and out stepped Len and Catherine while the maids curtsied and the menservants bowed.
Of course! They must have read Len's name as Leonard, Earl Lesourd.
We'd told Len and Catherine that the hotel staff was attentive: extremely attentive, they probably thought! As fast as we could we ran down the stairs and whispered to the Lesourds that they were nobility -- high nobility -- and shouldn't correct the mistake since the staff were so obviously gratified by this visitation.
Len went along gamely, but Catherine was in her element. She carried off the role of Lady Lesourd as to the manner born: gracious and dignified. For the ten days of their stay it was "milord" and "my lady," and even John and I for the rest of the month got the special service due to those acquainted with exalted personages.
The scene outside any Oxford college. This one is Christ Church.
The bicycles in front of every school remind John and me of our own student days at the University of Geneva, except that Oxford is mercifully flat, while Geneva's streets are perpendicular. It's not only students who ride bikes here. Postmen use them, policemen use them, businessmen and women use them. So far this morning our favorite riders are a gray bearded man with a bright orange safety vest and a bowler hat, and a heavyset woman in a long black robe and a round collar.
Bicycles here are given the same respect -- and follow the same rules -- as cars. When I googled a map to the Tate Britain museum in London two days ago, I was offered routes by bus, tube, car or bike, this last showing bike paths and bicycle parking lots.
And you'd better follow the road rules! In Geneva 65 years ago, John was issued a ticket by an irate policeman for stopping his bike just a foot beyond a stop sign. Bike riders here screech to a stop at pedestrian crossings and wouldn't dream of going the wrong way on a one way street.
I think with shame of my otherwise beloved New York, where I've seen bikes go not only against traffic but on the sidewalk, and nearly been knocked down by bicycles on Central Park's "NO BICYCLE RIDING" paths. Maybe when the price of gas at home gets as high as it is here, we'll all get bikes, follow the rules, and save the environment.
Six miles above the Atlantic, aboard this smooth-riding Boeing 777 carrying John and me from New York to London in just over six hours, I’m remembering our first flight to Europe . . .
It was 1949 when we spotted an ad for inexpensive air travel overseas: Only 24 hours from New York to Paris! “All the way across the ocean in only a day?” we said to each other, marveling. Two years earlier we’d crossed the usual way, six days by ship.
At La Guardia Airport we boarded a boxy-looking two-propeller World War II cargo plane with close-packed rows of seats recently added. Every one of them was occupied as the big craft lumbered down the runway. It seemed like miles before it gathered enough speed to lurch into the air.
It was a bumpy flight, but we expected that: “bumpy” and “flight” were synonyms. Some three hours after take-off the single attendant (male) passed around bologna sandwiches and unchilled apricot juice.
A couple of hours after that, came the first refueling stop at Gander, Newfoundland. I’d wondered what the paper bags stuffed in a canvas sack on the seatback in front of us were for. I found out as we made our jerking, pitching, stomach-churning descent. The landing strip was pitch dark, but it was wonderful to get out and feel solid ground under our feet. It was hard to get back in that plane!
Somewhere over the mid-Atlantic, a second meal was served. More bologna sandwiches. More warm apricot juice. Through the entire trip those were the only items on the menu and I’ve never touched either of those innocent foods again.
The second refueling stop was Shannon Airport in Ireland. The descent was as traumatic and stomach-emptying as the first. Many passengers felt too queasy to take the recommended walk, but John and I ran to the end of the tarmac to say we’d set foot on Irish soil.
The last leg was Shannon to Le Bourget Airport in Paris. Same wobbling and swerving, same sudden drops, same gastric result on this last descent. But… we were in Paris, and only yesterday we’d been in New York! It had happened at unsettling speed and the world had suddenly shrunk.
I was jolted from my reminiscences as the stewardess passed around heated towels before the breakfast service. Today’s trip lasts a quarter the time and is infinitely smoother, but so quickly do we adjust to marvels, that this now seems slow. Four separate times in the 1980s and ‘90s (but those are other stories!) John and I crossed the ocean on the Concorde in three and a half hours. “Six whole hours to get to Europe?” I said to John…