Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Belles and International Incidents

You’ve heard me talk about the Dynamic Duo of Grandma Willie and Aunt Louise.  Now let me tell you about the time that we took them out of the country. 

It was about 1990 and I was a junior in high school.  Grandma Willie has been a life-long anglophile (I got it from her), but she’d never actually been to the United Kingdom.  My parents set out to remedy that fact by taking a family vacation to London and Paris with her and Aunt Louise in tow.

Grandma and Aunt Louise were well prepared for the trip in one respect:  They’d heard all of the “horror stories” about English and French food and between them they had at least a suitcase full of Nabs.  None of us are particularly adventurous eaters and we come by that honest as well. 

In the beginning, we were all dipping into the Nab stash.  We hit London with some pretty serious jet lag and we were all starving, so we stopped at the first place we came to.   What we didn’t know was that we were at some kind of vegan/vegetarian/health food restaurant.  Over twenty years later, I can tell you exactly what was placed in front of me:  Pumpkin seed quiche.  I don’t have a clue about what else was in it and I can’t honestly say that I actually saw pumpkin seeds, but there was this clear, gelatinous goo oozing out the sides of it.  Peanut Butter Nabs, s’il vous plait!

We all managed London quite well after that.  One little hiccup occurred when Aunt Louise chatted with a couple from Amsterdam while waiting for the hotel’s breakfast room to open.  They asked her how she liked London so far and she said that it was great "except for all of the foreigners.”  The other little hiccup occurred when our stupid tour guide to Stratford-upon Avon let us ingest Yorkshire pudding before telling us how it was made and what was in it.  Ethan—who had two helpings of the stuff—barfed all over the bus and the very deserving tour guide.  I wished I could have done the same.

Paris was where things got interesting.  I fell in love with the city, but I at least had the advantage of a rudimentary ability to speak the language.  Mom also spoke a tad, but the rest of our party was cast into the wind.  Dad and Ethan were lost in the subway for hours only to finally emerge into the daylight and discover that they were only across the street from where they went in.  Of course Grandma and Aunt Louise went out on their own one time and it was the very definition of “international incident.”

The Dynamic Duo decided to strike out on their own for lunch.  I can’t remember the circumstances, but suffice it to say that a language barrier caused an accidental dine-n-dash.  If not for a forgotten item they would have gotten away scot free, but the ladies returned to the scene of the crime only to find the cafe owner in apoplexy and the police taking notes. 

The Duo innocently walked back into the store and a grand inquisition immediately commenced.  Finally, Grandma and Aunt Louise were able to escape their predicament unscathed but slightly poorer in their Monopoly money account.  (Both of them were very amused at the appearance of the British pounds and French francs and they loved to throw the bills up in the air while saying it looked like toy currency.)   

I would also like to add that the ladies decided very wisely not to mention the affair to my parents while still on the trip.  Actually, I think it was about a year later when they finally decided to come clean...and it was possibly longer than that.

The other little speed bump in the Paris portion of the vacation involved—yet again—food.  I have no idea whether or not the French still imbibe in the gastronomic delights of horse, but horse gourmet was a prevailing concern back in the day.  I’m not sure about Grandma’s feelings toward horses in general (I’ve never discussed them with her and I’ve never seen her around one) but she definitely took issue with the personal ingestion of horsemeat.  She was convinced that a chef or a waiter in one of those Parisian restaurants was conspiring to slip a little bit of Mr. Ed onto her plate when she was least expecting, therefore Grandma opted to be on high alert at all times.

Nearly every breakfast, lunch and dinner in France bore witness to this conversation:

[Waiter puts plate down in front of Grandma.]

Grandma Willie:  That meat right there never mooed in its life.

Dad:  Good God, Willie!  It’s not horse!  Horsemeat is expensive and there’s no way I’d spend that kind of money on you, woman!

[Cue children looking around in embarrassment and desperately scoping for a quick exit while Aunt Louise chuckles behind a menu and Mom all but bangs her head on the table in frustration.]

...aaaaaaaaaaand scene!  And what a scene it was.

I recall one incident where Grandma insisted on being allowed up to the counter so that she could literally point at what she wanted to eat.  Let me assure you that French waiters take their jobs very seriously and, had Grandma been a man, she probably would have been called to the back alley for a duel.  As it was, it was easy to tell that the waiter was using every ounce of willpower he possessed not to throttle her—and there were even a couple of times where Dad might have helped.

There weren't any Nabs left by the time we set foot on American soil.

That trip to Europe was great fun and full of fond memories—although I couldn’t envision the memories ever becoming fond at the time of their incident.  After long reflection on the matter, I’ve concluded that, had the Allies employed Southern Belles to storm the beaches of Normandy, every last soldier for the Axis would have given up in frustration and gone home.

1 comment:

  1. I so enjoy hearing the tales of the European Adventure. Bonnie, Steve you and Ethan deserve extra wings for the challenge you undertook but the memories are unforgetable and a treat to hear over and over. Once again, you have added a lot of chuckles to my day!! Love you, Ashley