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Sunday, January 8, 2012

England & France

In 1947 I to sailed England on a passenger liner that took 6 days to get there - airplanes were just starting to make a few commercial flights across the Atlantic in those days. I had by then a degree in chemistry and experience working in a lab so I had no difficulty finding a job in a town just outside London. I was 22 and the big drawing card for me to take the trip to Europe by myself was that my future husband was studying in France. The first chance I had, I travelled to Paris to visit him and what an eye-opener that trip was!

I had first to get to the south coast port then board a ship to cross the Channel and finally to take the train to Paris. British passenger trains were divided into compartments and I had my porter find me one with an empty seat. I was by then used to the reserve of the English, so was not surprised that not a word was said in the whole trip to the coast.

When we arrived, I hailed a porter who took my bag and politely saw me through customs and then a seat on the ship. When I tipped him, he slipped the money into his pocket without looking at it, tipped his hat and was off.

I don’t remember sailing across the Channel so the trip must have been uneventful but I will never forget our arrival in France and the noisy chaotic scene on the dock as porters vied with one another to pick up a job. My porter flung my bag onto his shoulder and beckoned me to follow him as he fought his way through the crowd to the train. I barely kept up but did recognize my bag as he handed it in a window and waved to me to come. He held out has hand for his ‘tip’, one that I thought ample, but he looked at it in distain and proclaimed loudly ‘pas assez’ [not enough] and even after I added another bill he hurried off without a nod.

The railway car was full and crowded and I was fascinated with the animated banter back and forth, the food every group seemed to produce, the casual way they were dressed [one woman even had curlers in her hair] and how indulgently they treated their children. I spoke some French and was engaged in conversations several times.

I was met by my fiancĂ©, who eventually found us a taxi. It turned out, however, that the driver was not willing to take us to the outskirts of town near the student residences where a small hotel room had been booked for me. A furious argument ensued with menacing gestures and threats of calling police. Finally the cabbie acquiesced and off we went with him actually whistling happily – no hard feelings. Next came a late lunch in a tiny restaurant on a side street where I had the best mushroom omelet I have ever tasted – before or since – bar none.

Paris has continued to earn its reputation as an exciting city to visit and the England back then lived up to its name as a ‘Tight Little Island’. Rie


  1. Food always tastes best when the meal has been delayed and you are hungry. If you are in Paris you'll find nirvana. That seems to define your mushrooms omelet. It defines a veal chop I had my first evening in Paris when I had had no lunch. Thanks for the memory nudge. Just found you thanks to Time Goes By Blog.

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