One of the funniest episodes I’ve ever witnessed on my European travels plays out on day number two. It’s early Easter morning and old town Nice is deserted, save the procession of parked vehicles lining the constricted streets. Our bus driver eases brilliantly through the tight squeezes until we meet a challenge he just can’t negotiate. A car is clumsily parked on an angle, its rear end jutting well into our lane. We approach but there’s no way we can pass the offending vehicle and we’re too far down the alley to safely back up. He futilely honks a few times in an attempt to rustle up the owner, but no such luck. When Guillaume suggests we move the Volkswagen ourselves, all on the bus chuckle, appreciating his humor. After a few more blasts of the horn, however, Guillaume gets up, cocks his head, and announces, “You do know I’m serious, don’t you? Do you want to go to Monaco? But I wonder if you have enough American muscles to move this car,” he speculates out loud. “I don’t know if you can do it.” And thus, the Franco-American challenge is on.
The bus doors open and all males spill out, including our driver. In a matter of seconds, biceps bulging and “bravos” beseeching, the car is slowly raised and then promptly plopped down three feet onto the sidewalk. Triumphant and proud, the two-dozen member EF pumping iron team clambers back on the bus amid applause and unbridled laughter. With Guillaume’s particular brand of encouragement and ingenuity, I wonder, might France have prevented the Nazis occupation?
We visit the Fragonard perfume and soap factory at the base of the hill town, Èze, where our busload quickly exchanges its supply of euros for fragrant gifts. I’m so fond of Èze and its breathtaking views over Cap Ferrat and the Mediterranean, and I’m remembering a stay there almost twenty years ago at the Château de la Chèvre d’Or on an anniversary trip with Joe. Guillaume gives us the option of staying down below and foregoing the hike up the hill. I ignore some initial jet lag grousing from my group and insist we all make the climb. I notice that no one’s complaining, however, once we’re rewarded with the panorama up top.
Monaco is next and I have two students ask, “Is Monaco a city in France?” When I tell them it’s an independent state and that the beautiful blond American actress Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco in 1956, they ask, “Who’s Grace Kelly?” I realize I have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do over lunch to catch them up.
The girls continue to delight in the simple joy of being silly together and when one student’s Monegasque ice cream cone drips over her hand and down her arm, you’d think it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. One of my boys is ever the scout, always prepared. Need hand sanitizer, he whips it out. The instant it starts to sprinkle, his rain poncho materializes and he slips it over his head. Need change for a five-euro note? He forks over the coins. Whenever a question is posed, he’s ready with an answer (and he’s usually right). I recall that on the flight over to Nice, when I headed back to the toilet, there he was asleep: black silk shade over his eyes, head perfectly poised on his navy fleece neck pillow with plugs in his ears, his red Delta blanket pulled tight to his chin. My thirteen year-old charge appeared a mature, experienced traveler until you noticed the well-loved Pillow Pet panda he’s clutching in his lap.