We would spend five full days at Francois and Heike’s, marveling at how all of our lives had changed in the eight years since our last visit in 1984. In that time, we’d all had children, purchased homes, and pretty much settled into the careers that would sustain us through adulthood.
This connection to Francois means much to me for many reasons. Each time we meet, it takes me back to our initial encounter at Pelekas on the Island of Corfu in 1979. We’d be sitting on the patio of the pink house (there were a number of Tavernas right on the beach), the Eagles would come on the loudspeakers and we’d both sing along to whatever tune was playing. This common ground played out in a number of other ways. We’re native sons of large cities that represent our respective countries. We’re the same age, have advanced degrees, and pursued careers that brought each of us increasing amounts of responsibility and notoriety in our fields.
Our relationship has allowed each of us a glimpse at what our lives would be like if we were to exchange places, to compare relative qualities of life, to walk in another’s proverbial shoes. America, the land of unlimited opportunity, fast food, buffet dining and wide open spaces; France with its mandatory five weeks of vacation, 35-hour workweeks, legendary focus on quality of life and the home of haute couture. And as an added bonus, each of us will retire in the same year and get to visit each other.
This trip though would be the last time that all of these disparate units would be intact. The marriages of Francois and Heike and Patrick and Julike would both dissolve over time, as many others have with the people in our lives. It is a part of modern day living, this coming together and eventual coming apart. For some couples we know, it has allowed a reimagined pursuit of happiness. For others it has meant a diminution in their quality of life, a dynamic they may never overcome.
For those of you who have been to Paris, I think you will echo my sentiment that it is a place one never gets tired of visiting. The history, architecture, iconic buildings, landmarks, food, and energy weave a spell that you fall under as soon as you come up the stairs from the metro that brought you into town. The one downside of staying with Francois and Heike throughout the years is that except for my first visit in 1981, they have lived in a distant suburb, primarily to be able to afford housing. This has meant that a sightseeing trip to Paris central usually involved some level of advance planning and one or more connections on the commuter trains that run to and from town.
I’ve found during our travels to Europe that depending on where you might be staying, the housing can be entirely dissimilar from ours here in the states, or compare quite closely to it. This has been further reinforced by a not too well controlled addiction to House Hunters International on HGTV. In many cases, older houses in Europe do not have built in closets or finished kitchens. This would explain why for many years’ large wood wardrobes could be found in most antique shops and also the early popularity of Ikea for the kitchen. Later construction though begins to take on more of those characteristics we take for granted. Francois and Heike’s house in Montigney share many of those more modern touches.
Over the course of our stay, we made a number of forays into Paris and hit most of the major spots that would appeal to the kids that accompanied us.
One night old friends like Claude came over with his wife along with Heike’s twin brother Joerq and wife for dinner, a nice reunion that lasted well into the evening.
Perhaps the highlight of our stay was the day that Jessica had her ears pierced. Joanna and Jessica had been talking about getting them done at home, but had not prior to the trip. Once we arrived at Montigney, Jessica noticed that Francois and Heike’s daughter Lisa had hers pierced and that was the motivation she needed. One morning the girls set off for a nearby mall where without much fuss and little if any tears, she came home with a new set of earrings.
We left Paris and made the drive to Mainz, Germany to spend our last night in Europe. Located just about 30 miles from the airport, it made for a convenient place to stay. We secured a room at the Hotel Koenigshof in the center of town and I recall that checking out the first room they gave us. I didn’t much care for it and returned to the front desk asking to see another, which turned out to net us a much nicer room. Joanna and I remarked to each other that this demonstrated that we were just starting to get attuned to traveling, and how ready we were to just keep going.
Unfortunately that was not to be and so we arose the next day and drove to the airport, dropping the rental car at Hertz where they advised that someone would be in touch with us about the damage. I had used a credit card for the rental that included damage insurance and hoped that it would indeed cover the cost of the repair. Upon our return home I contacted the card company and they said that I should pay the repair bill and then send in a request to be reimbursed, leaving a bit of doubt as to whether they would actually pay.
Less than a month or so later, I received a letter from Hertz with a bill for a little under $2,000. They required that the payment be made by a certified check and it needed to be in German Marks, complicating the remittance a bit as I had to go to the bank and pay for the check as well as the cost of converting dollars to marks. I sent off the payment and then turned in my reimbursement request to the credit card company. Without any fuss, they did indeed reimburse for the repair costs, a welcome relief and a nice finish to Jessica’s first trip to Europe.