“Where a tale begins and where it ends matters.” – Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell
I hope to tell this well. Hmm…. how to begin.
The Algerian war of Independence had been raging since 1954 and was about to end in July 1962. France was embroiled in all manner of discourse re the pros and cons of the war.
The country was split. Just as Viet Nam divided the U.S., the Algerian war tore at the heart of France.
And there we were. Stranded. Broke. And quickly the adventure turned to concern. Real concern.
About the second day on Ibiza we were forced to face a hard fact. We were almost broke and barely had enough money between us to make it back to Heidelberg barring some unforeseen disaster.
Time to get serious.
Reluctantly we boarded the ship and sailed for Barcelona. The need to get home hung like a dark cloud over us and dampened our spirits. This was going to be close.
Picked up the car in Barcelona and began the drive.
Somewhere north of the Pyrenees the car gave up the ghost. Oops. Did not anticipate this. The unforeseen disaster.
Not many people in southern France spoke English. We did not speak French. Big problem. All communication done with our limited German and demonstrative sign language.
Somehow we made arrangements with a French mechanic to leave the car with him as we could not afford the repairs. (Can’t recall whatever became of that ancient Bug. I think Sam eventually retrieved it)
The immediate problem. What now? Broke and stranded in France.
We had no choice. We hit the road with our thumbs out. Four, young, American kids hitchhiking across France. Hey, this might be fun.
Did not have much luck that first day. Tired and starved we got to a small cafe and spent most of our remaining funds on lunch.
If you can’t speak or read French – a menu is a real challenge. With some pointing and sign language we ordered. Did not recognize what arrived. It did not look good. I think it was head cheese. The other guys managed to down it. Me….not so much.
Back on the road. Drivers ignoring us. Tired and hungry. Rising concern. Fear. No more fun.
Finally a guy in a small Renault stops.
I’m sure he asked where we were going and of course we had no idea what he was asking. We blurted out something about Lyon and he gestured to get in. Relieved and happy we crammed into the small car.
Turns out he was a French soldier returning from the Algerian war and was headed home to Paris. This was one crazy guy. He was so happy to be leaving that war behind. He was letting it all hang out as they say.
Singing. Spewing out volumes of non-stop banter, none of which we understood. Driving somewhat erratically. As we passed through one small town he slowed and slapped a young French girl on the ass as she walked on the side of the road.
But did we care? Not at all. Cest la vie.
Around dusk we arrived in downtown Lyon. He let us out next to a park and with hugs and handshakes all around bid us a fond adieu.
That was a sad moment for us. We really bonded with that guy.
OK guys. What now? Here we were. In a foreign country In a strange city without any real means of communication. Tired. Hungry.
There’s a hotel. Let’s check in and call our parents in the morning. They can wire us enough money pay the hotel and catch a train for home tomorrow. Sounds good. Let’s do this.
Looking like a species from the Grapes of Wrath we entered the hotel lobby. We didn’t get a room that night. Bottom line. They took one look at us and demanded payment in advance.
Back out to the park. We spent the night in that miserable half acre. Cold. Wet. Huddled around a can of sterno for some warmth.
To be continued…………
“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity” – “American Heritage History of the Pioneer Spirit” by Richard M. Ketchum
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