Saturday, April 30, 2016

Paris, La Ville Lumière

The Pont Neuf with the Eiffel Tower and the Institut de France in the background. (Source)
Long ago, in the spring of 1992, The Missus Herself and I traveled to the City of Light, the heart of France. It was an Easter weekend trip with part of my unit, consisting of a busload of Americans, Canadians, a Dutchman and his Swedish wife, a Norwegian sporting a Minnesota Vikings ball cap, and a Turkish captain named Mutlu.

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.



  1. Funny tale, Interestingly, I just finished "War for the hell of it" by Ed Cobleigh. It had a passage in it that went along the same lines as your post. As I read it last night, I brought up a couple of memories of similar situations in my adventures. So, I thought, "Well there's the subject for Monday's post!" So, Come Monday, international diplomacy, Pacific Style.
    Great minds think alike Sarge, or something like that.

    1. Heh, I look forward to your tale of diplomacy. I hope the DiploMad stops by for that, him being a professional and all.

  2. I do indeed love Paris. Even with my miserable French I've never (well almost never) had a bad time there. And I agree with you that Museé d'Armeé deserves considerable time. From the 1914 era taxi, to the remnants of what was once the martial glory of France, there are so many fascinating things to examine. It is a wonderful museum which I absolutely enjoyed. It might have been better, however, if the French had a better batting average since the Franco-Prussian War.

    1. Indeed, the French didn't do so well in 1870. The Emperor thought he was his uncle. No, not so much.

  3. Great story! I've got a 10 franc coin in my hand just now, minted in 1976. IN fact I've got a whole bag of 1980's Mediterranean bar-crawling change; francs and lire and pesetas and shekels.

    When I arrived at the barracks of my first duty station and found beer machines I realized that I'd found true civilization at last.

    1. Yep, I haven't seen the bag of Med Cruise Coinage for a while, but it is around somewhere.

    2. Shaun - Tech school in Denver had beer machines. Indeed it seemed very civilized.

      I have a whole bunch of Deutschmarks from my time in Germany, the odd Belgian franc, Dutch guilder and not a few French coins. I still have some Korean change floating around as well. (No doubt there's a pound coin or two in the old sofa.) When we visited Italy back in '12, I was disappointed with the Euro. They just aren't as cool as the old money. Stupid EU.

    3. John - my Dad had a drawer full of German money from the Occupation. A few hundred thousand dollars worth at 1960's exchange rates. Thing is, it was so much Monopoly money, wasn't worth a dime after the Germans established the new Germany.

      I think all of us who went overseas have that bag of foreign change stashed somewhere.

  4. This had me laughing several different times.

  5. Have been to France, several times in fact. Only managed to glance through Paris once, on my first trip. I approached from the east aboard my Volkwagen camper-van charger . . . entered a very big, and crowded, traffic circle, which went around some sort of large arch. Became caught in the rip-tide traffic flow and was forced to make several trips around said arch. Finally, I managed to fight my way into an outside lane and when, next, the northbound exit appeared I made for it, escaping that vortex of vehicles. I was bound for Normandy and using the "Go to Paris. Turn right." method of land navigation. Don't laugh. It worked. I managed to find the coast with no particular problem . . . just kept on a northern heading until I sighted big water . . . then turned left. Voila! Normandy. Life is fun when you're young and stupid.

    1. Oh . . . and no beer. The trips were fueled by French wines. The beer drinking was reserved for Germany.

    2. I think I've been in that same traffic circle!

    3. Why did we drink beer in the hotel?

      Because it was there, I suppose.


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