Jim Ott's Blog
This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.
Friday, April 07, 2006
A Paris Roller Coaster 1977
Not long ago several friends and I were sharing memories of past vacations.
“I was 20 when I traveled to France on a summer exchange program,” I said. “That was the summer
I met two American girls and learned a tough lesson about romance.”
“Romance?” asked one friend.
“Oui,” I said.
In 1977 I joined a French family for a month as they vacationed on the Normandy coast. My travel plans called for a short stay in Paris before meeting up with my host family.
“And that’s when you met the girls?” asked another friend.
“Yep,” I said.
I was walking along the Champs-Elysees when I heard the clear and familiar sound of English. I turned to see two American women in their twenties, accompanied by an Asian fellow who was about 19 and dressed in a dark narrow tie and white shirt.
“You sound like Californians,” I said.
The women--Debbie and Ginny--were vacationing schoolteachers from California. The young gentleman, Peter, had met the teachers that morning on the hovercraft from England. He was a Chinese student studying at Oxford and spoke with an impeccable English accent.
“Do you know where we might find a hotel?” he asked.
We made arrangements at my hotel. Debbie and Ginny would have a room, and I offered to share mine with Peter.
Then we set out to explore Paris.
As afternoon turned to evening, I noticed that Debbie was a subtle blend of danger and the girl next door, the kind of girl you’ve been in love with since fifth grade but didn’t get it until just now.
As the four of us jammed into a taxi, Debbie settled in next to me. I asked the driver to take us to a nightclub.
On the way, with her perfume tugging at my lapel and the glamour of Paris all around us, I discovered we were holding hands.
“Is this for real?” asked a friend.
“It’s for real,” I said.
Within minutes of arriving at the nightclub, we were served a bottle of champagne. The waiter handed me a bill, expecting payment.
Imagine a dark club, loud music, and I’m looking at a bill for 1200 francs. This seemed like a lot of money, and was far more than the 700 francs I had in my pocket. I panicked, then asked Peter for the difference. He pulled out a fistful of bills and we paid the tab.
At the time, 1200 francs was only about $60 dollars, a fair price. But at the time it seemed like a lot of money, and to Peter, as I would learn, it seemed like robbery.
The next morning I awoke to find Peter asleep. I slipped out the door and went downstairs to Debbie and Ginny’s room.
As I knocked, they asked who was there, and when the door swung open, they said, “Thank goodness you’re alive!”
The girls told me that Peter had come to their door in the night and was convinced I was a con-artist in cahoots with the taxi driver and nightclub. The bill for 1200 francs, he said, was proof of my scheme to rob them. He insisted the three of them leave right away.
The girls tried to calm Peter down, and when he finally left their room, their imaginations flared and they feared for my life.
They then told me it would be best if Peter did not travel with them anymore. They asked me to break the news to him.
As I went upstairs, I wondered what I’d say to my would-be murderer, to this young man from China, in France, studying in England, being dismissed by me, an American.
He took the news quietly, and said little as we walked to the hotel door. “I’m off to Spain, then,” he said.
After breakfast, Debbie, Ginny and I resumed our tour of Paris. Ginny thought it was cute that Debbie and I had become, as she said, sweet on each other.
“But somehow you messed it up?” asked a friend.
“Yes,” I said. “I uttered one sentence that would snuff out my Paris romance.”
It happened at dusk as we took an escalator down into the Metro. Debbie stood beside me, and Ginny was one step in front of us. Our conversation turned to what women find attractive in men. Ginny said something about a good build or leather jackets, and I joined in to say what I found attractive in women were good fitting jeans, like the way Ginny’s jeans fit…
“You didn’t,” a friend said.
“I did,” I said.
Yes, in one thoughtless moment, I violated the most basic rule of courtship to never ever admit, acknowledge, or imply that you are the least bit attracted to another women. It doesn’t matter how astoundingly beautiful a woman may be, if a man is standing next to his girlfriend, he should just shut up.
Further, if a girlfriend points out that a beautiful woman is in the vicinity—and we all know this happens—a man is authorized to say only the following: “Oh, I didn’t notice.”
After my foolish remark the girls resumed talking as if everything were the same, but everything wasn’t the same.
In the taxi that evening on our way to dinner, Debbie listened as I apologized. She even placed her hand on mine.
But we both knew I had burst the bubble of romance.
During dinner, Debbie talked about The Velveteen Rabbit, a book she often read to her students. She talked about how important it is to be real, and how real love takes time.
As she spoke I realized I didn’t need forgiveness from Debbie; I needed to forgive myself so I could enjoy the remaining hours with my new friends.
The following morning, we said our goodbyes. As Debbie and Ginny boarded a train for Italy, I waved and smiled, then turned and set off for the Normandy coast.