(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange is enjoying a European vacation – right here in Vermont.
(LANGE) Mother and I were having breakfast in a little restaurant in France. We were headed south toward the coast, and in no particular hurry. We flipped croissant crumbs to the ducks in a millpond below and conversed in undertones.
We were in our noir phase in those days: black from our turtlenecks to our shoes. Mother had on her "Russian hat." It does make her look like Geraldine Chaplin in Doctor Zhivago.
A few tables away sat an American family. They were looking at us and whispering. "You can’t just go over there and shoot their picture," hissed the mother. "They might get upset. Ask!"
"But I don’t know enough French!" her husband protested.
I rose, approached their table, and said, "Pardonez moi. May I be of the assistánce?" Yes we would like to take your… photograph!… but don’t know how to ask.
"Mais," I said, "that is easy. You speak my native language." I switched from Clouseau to Bloomberg: "You gotta be from Syracuse or Binghamton, right?" They were " Binghamton" and I wonder, when they show that slide back home, how they identify us.
Ah, we’d love to go back, but the Euro’s up, and the dollar’s down. So we’ll wait. Meanwhile, Mother’s found the silver lining. She says, "Think how many people from all over the world come to see the place we take for granted." She’s right. We’ll never find a restaurant here in a medieval hostel; maybe the White Mountains aren’t as spectacular as the Alps. So our highways don’t tunnel through the mountains like the road on the south shore of Sicily, but the Northway through the Adirondacks is, as the Scots say, no’ bad at all.
And you can’t always get away from America in Europe, anyway. I spotted "American barbecue" on a menu one evening, and ordered it. It was the best I’ve ever had! I walked up to the counter window into the kitchen and in my very best French told the cook his was le plus meilleur barbecue du le monde!
"Thank you," he said. "You theenk so? You know New Orleens? I go there, I learn le barbecue Americain." I kissed him on both cheeks. Mother almost died.
She and I went out the other night, to a funky little restaurant. Tables cheek-by-jowl; you’d have to be an utter misanthrope not to talk to the folks next to you. Mother had a deep bowl of soup, and I a grilled sandwich, which is not an adequate description of its perfection. We finished off with cheesecake and strong coffee, finding it easy to pretend we were in a different hemisphere and about to retire to a creaky little hotel nearby beside a river. The old buildings across the street could have been almost anywhere, the people passing speaking any language. But we paid in dollars, climbed into a Plymouth van, and drove home through a soft New England spring evening that some people travel thousands of miles to see.
This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.