I REMEMBER.......A DINNER IN PARIS
Hey, it’s okay, you know. I happen to be in a remembering mode, in a remembering time of life. With that comes the luxury of revisiting, and reliving, some of the special moments I have experienced……moments I remember. In particular, I have recently been remembering some of our family travels, and the recollections we brought home with us.
You know that feeling, don’t you? All of us, no matter what our age, like to remember. Of course, we realize that we ought not live in that space permanently, but it is a nice place to visit from time to time. For me, this is one of those times.
So, what do you remember about your life and travels…..the places you have been, the things you have seen, the things you have done, and the people you have met? For my own selfish satisfaction I have decided to gather some of the “memorable moments” I have encountered along the way into a series of posts I am calling “I REMEMBER…..”
Everyone of us has our own “I Remember” candidates. So what qualifies for that title? In the course of your life and mine there have been times when things went exactly as planned, without a single hitch. Were those the times you remember? Or were the remembered occasions apt to be the surprising, sometimes uncomfortable moments when you bumped into something unexpected …..something you were not ready to face, but had to deal with
If you are like me the times you are most likely to remember will be the ones that took an unexpected turn…..while adding a surprising bit of spice to what might have otherwise been an ordinary event. Our family’s dinner in Paris was such a ‘spicy’ time.
There were eight of us….our young family and Roma’s parents….who had joined us for a two-week excursion from our Winchester, England home to take in some of the sights of Holland, Germany, and France. There had been so much to see and do……though in truth the ice and cold of that European winter had made it less than an ideal time to play ‘tourist.’
By mid-afternoon, the freezing Parisian weather had overcome our enthusiastic sight-seeing. After a warming lunch at a sidewalk vending booth, we had returned to our rooms to thaw out. Though we had certainly not experienced a storybook “Springtime in Paris” tour of the city and its sights, it seemed we had done as much as we could….to the point of trying to see The City of Lights through the fog from the second deck of the Eiffel Tower. At least we had beat the crowds.
We would be returning home the next morning, and had agreed there was just one last item on our Paris “to-do” list. We could not leave that fabled city without having a real French dinner. After all, what could be more memorable than an authentic Parisian dinner….bathed in the intimate ambiance of a quiet, candlelit dining room. Or maybe not.
The young man at the hotel front desk offered his personal recommendation without hesitation. The restaurant he had in mind was a short walk up the street, which sounded better than an expensive taxi ride. He assured me that the prices were reasonable and the meals would be very good. Best of all, everything about it would be authentically French. As it turned out, he was right on every count ....especially the “authentically French” part.
How authentic? Well, we stepped inside the restaurant, which had all the ambiance of a narrow quonset hut filled with tables and bench seats....the kind of place where diners were expected to follow the European custom of sharing their long table with others. The signage and menus were in French, with no hint of an English translation. Once the waiter who greeted us realized we could not understand him, he simply smiled broadly and motioned us across the room.
The eight of us were seated on both sides at the end of a long table. Though we were a bit put-off by the presence of the other folks seated beside us, we tried for a smile in their direction, then turned to the menus the waiter had set before us.
There we were, in the middle of a strange city, sitting among strangers, trying to read a menu full of strange words we could not comprehend. (Unfortunately, the menu was not illustrated.) Roma was straining to recall her long-ago French class, searching for familiar words and coming up short. There was only one thing to do. We must make our best guess, check the price to be sure in was not too exorbitant, and point it out to the waiting waiter.
Truth to tell, however, that was not the “only” thing we could do. Pointing to a line of foreign words on a menu, without knowing what she was ordering, was not something Roma’s mother, Grandma Janet, was prepared to settle for.
Ordering a foreign meal in a foreign country was far beyond her comfort zone. She wanted to know exactly what those strange words meant, and she was not about to order until she knew what she was expected to eat.
Everyone else had ordered, and still Janet was repeating her questions. “What is this? What does it mean?” She must have known how bad it looked, but she would not settle for anything less than a full translation.
Our waiter was getting stressed. He shook his head and rolled his eyes....clearly out of his own comfort zone, with no idea of what to do next. In words he did not comprehend, the American lady kept saying the same thing over and over, each time a little louder than before.
While he looked around the room, wondering what to do, the seven of us were wishing we could crawl under the table. The whole affair had turned into a disaster, and none of us knew what to do about it.
In the end what we did was absolutely nothing. Clearly, Janet’s efforts to get an answer by talking slower and louder were not working. By then her emphatic questions could be heard throughout the restaurant.
Then, at the far end of the room, a man stood and started toward us. A moment later he and Janet were talking softly in English as they studied the menu together.
Finally, with no ceremony at all, the fellow told the waiter what she had settled on, nodded to her, and returned to his table. Meanwhile, Janet was grinning sheepishly....sorry for the fuss she had created, but glad to know what she was having for dinner.
By the time we traipsed back to our room that evening what we had for dinner was probably forgotten....some of us never knew in the first place. But for every one of us, the lasting memory of our Parisian night on the town would be the awkward standoff that had been defused by a kind and understanding Frenchman..
How ironic was that? Our introduction to the wonders of Paris, the city of lights, would be best remembered as the scene of an embarrassing, but thoroughly memorable offering of French cuisine, though only one of us knew exactly what she had for dinner.
For better or worse, those are the kind of travel adventures I tend to remember. I’ll bet you have some of your own to revisit. And why shouldn’t you? No matter what our age, we never outgrow the wonder of remembering.