|The Pont Neuf with the Eiffel Tower and the Institut de France in the background. (Source)|
Now the crowd I stayed with consisted of that latter group and an assorted small band of Americans. Other than my better half and moi, the Americans in our merry band were Captain Tim and his lovely wife Pam, and Staff Sergeant Juan. There may have been one or two others but it was a long time ago. I'm lucky if I remember what I had for breakfast these days.
We stayed in a nice hotel on the outskirts of the city and had a grand time over a long four day weekend. Have I mentioned before that in Europe, Easter weekend runs from Good Friday to what they call Easter Monday? Well, I mention that now and shall no doubt mention it again in the future as I get deeper into my dotage.
The trip there and back again was by bus (no hobbits were along, sad to say) and I remember well the northern fields of La Belle France. Lots of grain fields and the terrain was very flat. Here and there I swear I saw a bunker or two, for France has seen much conflict in its storied history.
Now what sparked this particular reminiscence was a comment about beer the other day. I remember this beer dispensed from a vending machine in the lobby of our hotel. Cheap it was and it wasn't the best beer I've ever had, though it had been brewed in Alsace which is right on the German border and was at one point part of the German Empire. A sore point with the French.
We did the tourist thing while in Paris, stopped at the Eiffel Tower, no I didn't go up in it, the lines were massive. Oddly enough it also began hailing furiously upon our arrival, I took that as a sign not to climb the bloody thing. Looks much bigger in person though, I can tell you that.
We wandered down the Champs-Élysées, had a bit to eat in a little café on that lovely boulevard and was told in no uncertain terms by my dear wife to stop mentioning that I could still picture the Germans marching down that wide street in 1940 because a) I wasn't there and b) she gathered that the French did not look fondly upon that time period.
So I stopped playing the absent minded history professor and we moved on.
We spent quite a few hours in the Museé d'Armeé at Les Invalides. I had to be nearly literally dragged out as I would probably have spent the entire weekend in there. Ah well, someday I must go back. We did linger a while at the tomb of Napoléon where I had an elderly gentleman come up to me and start addressing me in quite terrible French. I turned to the fellow and said that I was an American and that my French, like his, was quite bad and did he, perhaps, speak English?
Well, he revealed himself as a fellow countryman and in fact a veteran of World War II come to revisit his youth. Oddly enough, he had spent his time in the United States Army Air Forces and when he discovered that we were mostly American airmen ourselves he was quite overjoyed. I wonder if that dear old gent is still alive. It was something meeting him like that.
When we weren't playing tourist we were ensconced in the lobby of our little hotel. It was much cheaper than the clubs and bistros of Paris. I believe the beer in the machine went for one 10 franc coin per can. About a buck seventy five as I recall. Anyhoo, it seemed cheap at the time.
That Friday evening in the hotel we had a great time, drinking Alsatian beer at 10 francs at pop, making merry, telling jokes, singing songs, and generally being jolly. Each group of people who would come through the door would be greeted with raised cans and shouts of bonjour, bonjour! The French girl at the counter thought we were all lunatics.
That Saturday morning before departing, we told her to make sure that the beer machine was full and to have a ready store of 10 franc coins on hand. She gave us a funny look and off we went.
Returning to the hotel that evening we discovered that though mademoiselle did have a stock of coins on hand for purchase, she had, much to her chagrin, forgotten to have Marcel refill the beer machine.
She got on the phone and begged Marcel to come to the hotel forthwith and restock the beer machine because the crazy Amis were back and were demanding la bière d'Alsace.
Marcel eventually arrived to restock the machine. While he did so, mademoiselle began to stow everything movable, breakable, or otherwise fragile in the lobby into the back room. Once that task was done, she locked that backroom and beheld our little band with some consternation.
At that point a couple entered the hotel and we began our cries of bonjour, bonjour! With some disdain, the man of the couple looked askance at us and said, "Guten abend." As if to distance himself and his Brunhilde of a Frau from what he obviously thought were a band of ruffian French.
At that point Hans, our Dutchman, began to berate the Germans in no uncertain terms in their native tongue whereupon Herr und Frau scuttled out the door with aghast looks upon their insulted visages and went elsewhere.
Now mademoiselle was torn, we'd just chased away paying customers. Marcel (having finished filling the beer machine) looked upon the scene with some amusement. At that point I believe it was Captain Tim who handed Marcel a beer and bellowed vive la France! While I chimed in with "à bas les Boches!"
Mademoiselle scuttled off to the safety of her office while Marcel drank his beer and we all sang the La Marseillaise and continued with our merriment.
Actually we didn't sing La Marseillaise, I doubt we knew more than the first few words, but it would have been cool if we had.