Sweet Karma

As usual, my wife cut me off in mid-sentence. “I know how great you are. You tell me everyday.”
I wasn’t quite finished, however. “Did I ever tell you that you’re lucky to be married to me?”
“Twice a day,” was the reply.
Well, there you go, I thought to myself. Although every dog has his day, a (great?) man is seldom given his due within the confines of his own castle. I’m guilty of this myself, of course. I remember one of the last birthday cards that I sent to my father. It pictured several geezers, craggy-faced and white-haired, stepping out of a service station washroom. One of the old boys was already ahead of the rest. “It’s fifteen minutes till the next rest stop. Let’s ride !”

I thought it was hilarious. I sent it to my father a few years ago for his eightieth or eighty-first birthday, I don’t remember which one. I don’t even know how it was received either. My father sometimes smiled indulgently at what I considered the ultimate in my witticisms, or he sometimes looked at me quizzically, as if he often wondered about the sanity of his spawn. The last such look I remember was when my siblings and I had him moved from the Oakville-Trafalgar Hospital to a lovely palliative care residence near the lake in Oakville. My sister and I both arrived in his private room before breakfast. Although Dad had rallied somewhat since leaving the hospital he had not been able to leave his bed for at least three weeks. I figured that I would do my best to cheer him up.
“Which one of you two,” I asked, glancing first at my sister and then at my father, “is going to get me a cup of coffee?”

But what goes around, comes around, of course. It was just last week in our living room that my daughter Rachelle and one of her friends were giggling over some photos that they were showing each other on Instagram. I looked up from my old-school newspaper and wondered aloud how anyone could waste so much time looking at other people’s photos, a selection which ranged from that morning’s breakfast menu to which outfit to wear to dinner. I felt like my father as I advised the two girls to spend their time on a more fruitful activity. My daughter mentioned something about my love of listening to phone-in radio sports- talk shows. “Something only old men listen to.” Her friend however, bless her heart, came rushing to my rescue.
“Rachelle, that’s not true. Your dad’s not too old. He still has his own teeth.”
Yeah, that’s right, I thought to myself, and I got up to get my own coffee.

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Fifteen Minutes

It was the late Andy Warhol who said that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. Even yours truly. And I did have my moment when I was interviewed on t.v. by a station in Montpellier, a town of three hundred and twenty thousand near where we were living in Nimes. Even if it didn’t last for fifteen minutes.

We were practicing for our league opener against a squad from Montpellier, Nimes’ traditional rival. Of course it was impossible not to notice the t.v. cameras that reporters were setting up beside the boards. As we skated briskly through our drills while the cameras were rolling I tried my best to position myself advantageously for their attention, wondering all the while about my best profile.

There was a shout from the sidelines. “David, viens ici.” I delayed a second before slowly skating over, trying my best to give the impression that t.v. interviews were becoming tiresome.
“Would you be able to answer a few questions for the evening sports news in Montpellier ?” the reporter politely asked. I nodded blandly, my body language doing its best to communicate that this was just one more request on a long list. Then I reached into my mouth and removed my mouthguard, as I had seen N.H.L. players do after scoring a goal, knowing that the cameras would be on them.
“I have to put my teeth back in,” I joked to the interviewer. Then I winked at the camera in the way that I had always seen Bruce Willis and Chevy Chase do it, male role models for my generation. The interview rolled by without a hitch. I’m a natural at this, I thought to myself.

Saturday night was ‘le match’ versus Montpellier. It was my first game in France and the opposition supporters were as numerous in the stands as those cheering on the home team. The singing had already started, something a North American is not used to, and this ruckus would continue on throughout the game. My wife Brenda and my two sons were in attendance as well, of course. My two year old son Adam had even put on his special Donald Duck hat for the occasion. I couldn’t help but feel conspicuous as I skated around during the warmup, knowing that everyone would be sizing up le nouveau canadien. My eyes roamed to the other end of the ice to check out their import, a 220 pound Quebecois defenceman just out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The puck was dropped, starting the action for real. I picked it up, skated by two Montpellier forwards, put it between the legs of a third, and then nearly had my head taken off by the opposing Canadian defenceman who had skated sixty feet out of his way just to give me a warm welcome to French hockey, Canadian style.

In between periods Georges, our coach, let me know what he thought of my dipsy-doodling. “You’re not on a frozen lake in Canada,” he raged, “trying to see how long you can hold onto the puck.” I nodded humbly and contritely, just as I expect a student to do when I’m reading the riot act in the classroom.

Third period. A minute-and-a-half to go. Montpellier leading 3-2. One of our defencemen intercepts a pass at the opposing blueline, moves first past one checker, then another, and feeds me a perfect pass fifteen feet in front of the Montpellier net. The goalie is down and out, flopping helplessly out of position. Now is the time to justify my big interview and play the big shot, I think to myself, as I pull the trigger.

I miss the net. I not only miss the net, I put the puck over the screen that is used here instead of glass.

“It’s the Euro curve,” Georges sympathizes with me as I skate back over to the bench, with the Montpellier fans increasing the volume of their incessant singing. We have no limit on the curves over here and some of the sticks recall memories of the banana blades of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita in the 1960s. I glance back to take another look at the missed net and I see Donald Duck on the far side of the boards running to retrieve the puck.

Ten years later I’ll tell him the story about the spectacular winning goal that I scored with that puck !

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Hockey Night in Nimes

It’s not true that I take my skates everywhere I go; it just seems that way to my wife Brenda. The big question when we first contemplated the teaching exchange was whether I would find any ice thereabouts. At least that was my foremost concern. Whenever I brought up the issue Brenda would change the subject.

Which is why my first choice was Switzerland. True, it is a picture-postcard beautiful country. Most importantly, there is lots of hockey played in those mountains. Switzerland, I convinced my wife, would be the best choice for all concerned.

In mid-March we received a phone call from Francois, a Franco-Swiss who lived in Neuchatel, a beautiful mountain town beside a lake in the Swiss Alps. Francois was very excited about coming to Canada. He taught History and Geography but twenty per cent of his course load was teaching Italian. Could I handle that ?
“Mamma mia, pizza, spaghetti – that’s it.”

There was silence at the other end of the line. “Oh, and excusio,” I added.
No response.
“Not good enough, I guess.” I was always good at reading between the lines.
Francois was doubtful. Perhaps I could drop that part of my teaching load and live on an eighty per cent salary ?
This time it was my wife Brenda who was doubtful. “Eighty per cent of one salary and the Swiss cost of living is twice that of ours’?” she asked, thinking practically.
“Well then, maybe I can add an ‘i’ or an ‘o’ to the ends of French words and they’ll be able to understand,” I countered hopefully. “Remember, that worked with that hotel clerk in Florence !”
Francois had now figured out what he was dealing with and hung up. That ended that. It would have been nice living beside an alpine lake in the Swiss Alps for one year, but to compensate we would just have to get out more in our canoe on the Scugog River.

A month later there was a call from the teacher exchange office in Toronto. “How about the south of France ? We have a partner for you there.”
Brenda was ecstatic. The south of France ? A thirty-five minute drive from the Meditteranean and not far from Italy, Spain and Switzerland ? Of course we were interested ! I nodded my head, trying to feign interest. The Meditteranean ? How many arenas would I find there ?

“Hockey ? In Nimes ?” My exchange partner, Philippe, struggled with the concept. “I don’t know anything about that, but there is a patinoire a glace (a rink).” That was good enough for me. That was good enough for me. Perhaps some ex-pats in the area got together for a once-a-week shinny session. I would settle for a leisurely Sunday skate with my family at this point.

August 23rd was a typically hot, sunny day with a cloudless blue sky in the south of France. Both kids were napping, Brenda was cleaning the pool, and I was inclined to do neither. I jumped on the Honda motorbike that had been left for me and sped off for parts unknown, in search of that elusive arena.

What is interesting about asking for directions in France is that when questioned, a French person will almost always direct you to contine on straight ahead. “Toujours tout droit.” Whether it is Jim Morrison’s grave at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery or the location of the local boulangerie, the destination one is seeking always seems to be just up ahead. That afternoon it seemed as if I had toured half of Provence before I mercifully came upon my Holy Grail, the arena, sitting in the hot sun right beside the railroad tracks. As I rolled into a parking spot a small lizard scampered to safety, reminding me that I was a long ways from the arena in Lindsay, Ontario. Inside the building was something more familiar, however, a worker wearing a Montreal Canadiens’ jersey. Finally, I figured, someone who would know how I could find some ice time.

“Excuse me, I’m a Canadian, and a big fan of the Montreal Canadiens, and I was just wondering if there was some way I could come in and play hockey once a week. Would that be possible?”
At the sound of the word ‘Canadian’ his eyes lit up. “Come with me.” I was led upstairs to the bar to meet Philippe, the president of the Nimes Hockey Team, National League, Division II. (Despite what you may now be thinking, not every man in France was named Philippe.)

As in all conversations in France it began with a handshake and like most, the offer of a cigarette. Philippe opened the conversation with the comment that his team had been looking for a Canadian for the past month. Each team in the French league is allowed one ‘etranger.’ Just in case he was expecting Eric Lindros or Mario Lemieux (remember this was 1995) I levelled with him right away.
“I’m thirty nine years old.” My heyday was behind me. I had aged and slowed down and I was now more accustomed to being just another oldtimer, short of breath and slow of step, than Canada’s representative on a European hockey team. Philippe pursed his lips and gave a Gallic shrug. “I’m not looking for someone right from the N.H.L.,” he replied generously. He blew out a cloud of smoke. “You can score goals ?”
I thought back to all the goals I had scored playing shinny at the Lindsay Arena these past fifteen years. “Mais oui,” I nodded.
“Well, we have a practice this evening. Bring your equipment and we’ll have a look.”

That night, though rusty, I was able to stay upright and not embarrass myself. Philippe was all smiles as he welcomed me to his team. “Now all we have to is pay a couple of thousand francs to get your release from your last year’s team and the Canadian Hockey Association and you’ll be all set for our first game on September 23rd.”

I smiled to myself. My last year’s team had been sponsored by the ‘Grand Hotel’ and the Canadian Hockey Association didn’t even know I existed.
Someone at the Grand Hotel was going to be sitting down to a few pitchers of free beer.

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No Moore

‘Appropriate’ is a much-used word in our time. For example, when I voice an opinion someone is sure to say, “That’s not appropriate.”

The end of the year, however, is the most appropriate time to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to those treasured personalities who have moved on to, well, I’m not quite sure where.

Just before Christmas former Montreal Canadien Hall of Famer and six-time Stanley Cup winner Dickie Moore died in Montreal.
If you are under fifty five years of age that may not mean that much to you.
But the Moore family left their mark on me.

The first time I remember seeing the Moore name in Montreal is probably when I was about six. A nearby establishment that I loved to frequent had its owner’s name on its masthead: Dickie Moore’s Dairy Queen. “Who’s Dickie Moore?” I asked my mother, who in that time was my own personal Google Search.
“He’s a hockey player,” came the answer. I didn’t know much about that, because in those Precambrian days a boy couldn’t sign up for hockey until he was eight years old. I guess the older generation of that time held the quaint notion that maybe you shouldn’t commit your kid to something until he or she actually showed an interest in such an activity. Little did I know that I would later get to know Dickie. That pleasure came about through the close association I developed with his older brother Jimmy.

It was the spring of 1975 and a friend named Cam was watching me playing passionately for the Dorval Jets in a Junior ‘B’ playoff round. He was impressed enough to divert me from my talks with Providence College in Rhode Island to make a trip with him to Lennoxville, Quebec where Bishop’s University was located.
“Our coach is Jimmy Moore, Dickie’s older brother”, Cam informed me. “He’s the greatest coach. You’ll love him.”

Cam and I made the two hour drive to Lennoxville from our West Island homes later that spring. Cam always called me Davey and it was with that moniker that he introduced me to my future coach.
That was how Jimmy would address me for the next thirty eight years.

I didn’t know what kind of impression I made during my first encounter. Years later Jimmy would fill me in as he told the story that before he met me he asked Cam if I drank. “Oh, he’ll have a beer, maybe two,” Jimmy recounted that Cam had told him. “Jesus Christ, I could hardly sit down all afternoon as I was running back and forth to the fridge getting Davey more beers.”
Maybe Jimmy exaggerated a little. My mother certainly hopes so. Jimmy always had a well-stocked fridge to entertain his hockey players even if he didn’t drink himself.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” he later told me. “For awhile it got so bad that when I came up to a traffic light and it was red I had to turn off and get myself a beer.”

I don’t think it was ever that bad. But Jimmy always held onto that locker room/ barroom camaraderie. He was never happier that when he had a bunch of us players up to his house on Academy Street in Lennoxville for supper that always included as many steaks as hungry hockey players in their early twenties could consume. His buddy Bruce Coulter, the Bishop’s Gaiters very successful football coach was a frequent guest. He would bring along a couple of his players, some of them future CFLers. They sure could eat. Jimmy did the barbequing, his vivacious wife Barbara did the rest.

It was as easy to love Barbara as much as we did Jimmy. Both were from the hardscrabble area of Montreal known as Park Extension and she had lived through, and put up with a lot, through Jimmy’s long career in hockey’s minor leagues. Jimmy had once been a top prospect before Dickie, and both had an Irishman’s aversion to being pushed around.
“Frank Selke Sr. was the General-Manager of the Montreal Canadiens at the time. That was the era long before expansion in the NHL and certainly before the free-agency of today,”she told me one night. “Those old NHL owners and G-Ms owned the players lock, stock and barrel. Even Gordie Howe was afraid of saying anything to his coach Jack Adams. Adams used to walk around the dressing room before games with train tickets to minor league towns in his breast pocket, just to remind players where they might end up after a bad game. Old Selke wanted Jimmy to sign a particular contract. Jim didn’t think it was anything near what he was worth, and you know Jimmy. He stuck to his guns. Selke told him to sign that contract, or he would never see the NHL again. That’s how I came to spend a lot of years in Cleveland, Ohio.”

Both Barbara and Jimmy made the best of it, however. The two had attended a lot of wild parties, where characters such as the notorious drunken ex-NHLer Howie Young would literally enter parties by swinging in on a chandelier. Fred Shero, the Philadelphia Flyers’ Stanley Cup winning coach of the 1970s had also been a teammate. Barbara told me that even as a player one could tell he had the coaching gene, as he could sit and talk hockey strategy by the hour. No one could tell at that time that he would win his two Stanley Cups not through his strategy sessions however, but by getting his Broad Street Bullies to beat up the rest of the league, player by player. Jimmy was also a collector of one-liners that he had picked up from a variety of hockey folk. Once while I was hopping over the boards for a shift, the toe of my skate caught a teammate’s shoulder and I landed, ingloriously, face first on the ice below.
Jimmy enjoyed it immensely. “You can’t swim there, Davey, it’s frozen,” he cackled, as I struggled, red-faced to my feet. He also liked to remind wingers of their defensive responsibilities.
“You don’t just go one way,” he would remind lazy backcheckers. “You gotta go up and down, just like a toilet seat.” He later told me he had heard those lines many times from King Clancy, the old Maple Leafs’ great, who had spent years coaching in the minor leagues.

Dickie would often meet us in Montreal when we would play at McGill or Concordia University. He ‘d come out to dinner, sometimes bringing along other Montreal hockey personalities such as John Ferguson. Dickie was a multi-millionaire by that time, having expanded his two Dairy Queens to a large construction equipment rental business. Even my hockey-playing children never lost sight of Dickie’s name, because the change shacks where we put on our skates at Mutchmoor Park in Ottawa had his logo on them. Over the decades he had provided jobs for dozens of old hockey players who had found themselves down on their luck. Jimmy told me that it was not always an easy transition.
“They’d phone Dickie when they should have been going to work, saying that they had an Old-Timers’ game to play that day. Dickie would say, “Jesus Christ, do you want to work or do you want to play hockey ?” Jimmy would smile, shake his head and mutter, “Dickie should know the answer to that !”

I last saw Jimmy a few months before he died, when I was in Lennoxville at a Bishop’s University Homecoming. While Barbara was as sharp and as effervescent as ever, Jimmy was in the throes of Alzheimer’s. He brightened up when we talked about the old days and the guys who had so joyously played for him, and then I asked him how Dickie was doing.
Jimmy couldn’t hear the question but Barbara later whispered that Dickie wasn’t doing much better than Jim. Jim died in January of 2014 and Dickie followed almost two years later. Ron Maclean on his broadcast of ‘Hometown Hockey’ last Sunday night mentioned the deaths of both brothers, adding that Jimmy, although the lesser-known of the two, was a legend in the Sherbrooke area.

Jimmy and Barbara had come to my wedding in 1987, making the ten hour drive to New Brunswick to join in the festivities. Later that night I thanked him and told him how much it meant to me for him to be there.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, Davey,” was his reply.
And I wouldn’t have missed for the world the impression the two brothers left on me.

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A Villa in Nimes

Marco Polo I am not. However, I had hitchhiked all over Canada, worked in Alberta on a couple of occasions. Done the Eurail pass thing and even played hockey in Scotland. But I had been young, single and carefree. Those were my days of being an itinerant labourer and down-at-the -heels philosopher. I was used to sleeping on trains and park benches. And for this year of a teaching-exchange in France I was fully expecting cramped living quarters facing a busy street in downtown Nimes.

Annie and Philippe Paternot were our exchange partners. They met us on the train platform and we were somehow successful in getting everything packed into their two vehicles. This was no small feat; European vehicles are of course a lot smaller than our often- mammoth North American variety; especially so in 1995. Annie’s Renault V seemed to my spoiled eyes roughly the size of an elongated accordion. Brenda balanced two suitcases on her lap in the front of the car and a large cardboard box was leaving its impression on the back of my neck in the rear seat. I couldn’t move my head, but I hoped that our two and four year old sons had found their way into one of the two cars. There was a brief break in the traffic and we surged out into the middle of the street.

Some of you Baby Boomers might remember a mid-1960’s t.v. show by the name of ‘The Saint.’ It starred Roger Moore as some sort of James Bond-like private eye and it took place in Europe. What I remember most about that series (apart from the beautiful women who were always falling madly in love with our hero) was the speed with which ‘the Saint’ drove on those narrow, twisting and winding European roads. This time however, was not a scene on a male fantasy t.v. show, but our reality.

As we made our way out of the city centre the roads became increasingly narrow. Nimes had been built by the Romans more than two thousand years ago and like the ancient world’s most important city was also built on seven hills. Obviously these roads had been constructed to accommodate only one chariot at a time. Annie gunned the little Renault forward like Danica Patrick at Daytona; I slipped lower in my seat and checked my seatbelt clasp. “You certainly seem to know your way around,” I managed to say even though my teeth were tightly clenched. “Are there many accidents on these streets ?”

Fortunately, Annie didn’t turn around to answer Nervous Ned in the backseat. She was an expert driver and by now we were in the hills of North Nimes. No street lights out here. We finally slowed and turned into a large yard surrounded by stone walls, probably built by Spartacus before he had led his revolt. Not an apartment building in sight. The Paternots owned a three bedroom villa with both a summer and winter terrace and a loft upstairs with enough books and toys to stock an entire floor at ‘Toys ‘R Us.’ The loft also contained two extra beds, great to provide hospitality to any of our free-loading friends who might wander over to the south of France. “Let’s take a walk around the grounds,” Philippe suggested. “I’ll show the kids the pool. Annie can show you the olive, peach and plum trees and also the vineyard.
Great, I thought to myself. Now Brenda and I can become vintners. After all, we did have a lot of experience bottling our own wine at the ‘Do-It-Yourself’ facilities in Lindsay, Ontario.

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French Connection

My friend Chris always chuckles when I finish up every story about my year spent in the south of France with a shake of my head and the exclamation, “God, how I suffered.”
Not all of the time, mind you. It just seemed like it.

First of all, never trust your travel agent. With all due respects to that vanishing profession, I was taking its name in vain that first afternoon in Paris, burdened down with thirteen very heavy suitcases in the sultry Parisian heat. My wife Brenda and I had not slept a wink on an overnight flight that had left Toronto at 11:20 p.m. Our two sons, Liam and Adam, aged four and two respectively, had not slept more than two and one-half hours.
The Perras family’s adventure, up to this point, had not been excellent.
I rolled my eyes in frustration and cursed out my wife. “Another one of your great ideas,” I seethed. “Let’s go to France, you said. The south of France. It’ll be great.” I looked around the vast, crowded Charles de Gaulle airport terminal and made a decision. “I’m going to get a croissant and a café au lait.”

It was August 11, 1995. There were three weeks before the start of school in September in Nimes, in the south of France. Given our present predicament, we would need all of that time before we found our way there. With our usual lack of foresight we had failed to ship any of our luggage on ahead; hence our heavy burden. And you can guess who the pack mule was.
“Getting to Nimes will be a breeze,” our travel agent had assured us. “The train station is right beside the airport. If you’re whisked through Customs quickly enough you’ll be on your train 65 minutes after you land.”
Of course. And the cheque is in the mail and this won’t hurt a bit.

The travel agent was partially correct. Customs was great. Never had an easier time. Train station ? An official pointed through the front doors, leading out to the Great Beyond. Just beside the airport ? He gave a Gallic shrug, a gesture that I would only become far too familiar with throughout the next year. “You can catch the shuttle bus right through there. I cursed (quietly) in French, then in English, gave my baggage trolley a yank and watched two cardboard boxes and one suitcase topple over. Brenda was up ahead with the kids and didn’t hear a thing. When I finally pulled up alongside her she was joining the sweaty, surging mass of humanity boarding a bus to parts unknown.
“Thanks for your help back there.” I gestured to my burden, which even one of those Himalayan sherpas would refuse to shoulder. She had two kids and two heavy bags in tow. That left me with only eleven oversized cases to handle by myself. The bus doors were closing and it was obvious there was no room for neither me nor my caravan. “Now what am I supposed to do? ” I shouted in frustration. Brenda looked at me, shrugged and waved as the bus backfired and pulled away from the curb. What, I wondered, was the name of that train station ?

Ten anxious minutes later another bus pulled into place and once again the crowd surged forward. Unfortunately for me it wasn’t just a case of grabbing my two or three cases and charging on board to carve myself out a spot; there would be four more trips back to the curb. I shot a quick glance back at
the airport and for a brief moment wondered when the next flight to Toronto would be taking off.

Reality interrupted my reverie when someone stepped on my toe and shoved in front of me in line. I started running between the bus and the curb like a chipmunk storing a winter’s supply of nuts.
Never had I encountered a better-humoured bus driver. While answering questions in French, Spanish and Italian, he looked at me and smiled. “Just don’t pile them on the steering wheel,” he chuckled.
“Train station?” I inquired, not knowing the exact name.
“Ah, mais oui,” he answered. Between the two of us we were able to push shut the bus doors.

I kept an anxious eye out for Brenda and the two boys at each stop. Usually, even if I can’t see my family I can always hear them. But this was more difficult in a bus loaded with excited international travelers speaking at least six different languages.

My frantic glances finally caught sight of three exhausted, dejected figures sitting on a curb. Brenda leapt forward when she saw me. “Did you bring all the luggage?” she asked as a first greeting. I resolved to make sure that at the next wedding I attended I would shout at the top of my lungs for the bridegroom to run now, as fast as he could, and never come back.
“Is this the train station?” I yelled back.
“I’ll find out.” She grabbed the two boys and disappeared through the nearest doors.

It took a frantic hour of asking questions and lugging bags in the wrong directions before an amiable station employee ambled over and inquired if we were the lost Canadians. Evidently, less than two hours after landing in the country, we had already acquired a reputation.

Faith in guardian angels was very much in fashion at the time and now we had found ours’ in the form of a bulky and bespectacled Frenchman. He found us a room to store our baggage and sent us off in the right direction to locate refreshments. “The train to Nimes leaves at 5:10 p.m.,” he said. “I’ll see you back here thirty minutes before that. Ask for Gilles.” After finally locating a snack bar that was serving we discovered that it was not only Canadian airports and train stations that could perform legalized holdups.

True to his word, Gilles was at his specified spot at 4:40 p.m. Obviously he had realized that this train station was particularly confusing, or just that we were easily confused, because he stayed with us right until the train pulled in. The conductor jumped out, took one look at our paraphernalia and sent us seventy-five metres down the ramp to another door. We had just started storing our bags when he reappeared and ordered us back down to the spot that we had just left.
“Con,” cursed Gilles, sweating profusely and puffing dangerously. It was a word describing what he thought of the conductor. Its translation is unprintable.

Three minutes later the Perras family pulled out of the Paris train station, destination Nimes.

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France , of course, has been in the news lately.
What this has done has brought back memories of my year in France. It was 1995-96 and it was a teaching exchange.

If it was a trip then it was my wife Brenda’s idea. We were living in Lindsay, Ontario at the time and had two sons, ages two and four. She probably brought up the idea while I was watching the Montreal Canadiens play hockey on the t.v., when I quickly agree to anything. I never want to miss a second of the action.
“I’ve been reading up on the possibility of overseas teaching exchanges. How would you like to live a year in France ?”
This was something that had to be stamped out immediately, lest any hope be allowed to fester.
“No way.” I was adamant. Montreal had just won a Stanley Cup the year before, the team was still strong, and I had dreams of attending the next parade as Lord Stanley’s celebratory march took its usual route through the streets of downtown Montreal.

But after a second’s reflection I didn’t want to seem totally dismissive. I knew Brenda and this idea would not disappear gently into the good night. I decided to throw her a bone.
“If you want to go on an exchange, I would consider Edmonton, Alberta. Al Veltman, who I coached soccer with, went there and thoroughly enjoyed it.”
I snickered to myself. I had worked twice previously in Canada’s oil kingdom, once on construction and another winter toiling for the Hudson’s Bay Company. I had often regaled her about the brutally cold weather in that area of the world and especially about the short winter days.
She said nothing but moved away from blocking the t.v. and I was left in peace. Another bullet dodged.

Two weeks later I was bouncing my two year old son Adam on my chest. Brenda must have figured that it was best to deliver the news while I was lying down.
“I just got a letter from the Ontario Teachers’ Exchange Society. They have a likely candidate for us in Nimes, France.”
Adam stopped bouncing. The universe must have sent him the vibe that I was about to explode.
“There’s no way. Jesus Christ.”
As usual my wife was not intimidated. “Nimes is in the south of France, just on the edge of Provence.”
Young as he was, Adam already knew who would win this encounter. Just the day before, as I was driving him home from daycare, I announced that he wouldn’t be able to watch his favourite show, ‘Dark -Winged Duck,’ as he had to go down for an early nap.
Adam was unimpressed. He took his thumb out of his mouth and voiced his rebuttal. “I’m going to tell Mum that you were trying to boss me around.”

Two months later all the plans were made. The French exchange family would trade jobs, homes and cars with us for the year. I asked, but wives were not included. We had been advised not to exchange cars by the Ontario Exchange Federation. “It never turns out well. For instance, there is usually a discrepancy in the value and the condition of the vehicles. If something major breaks down, who pays for it, for instance ?” Good point, but both sides figured there were enough logistics to iron out without having to buy a new car in a foreign country as well. An 850 c.c Honda scooter would also be available for me to take to school, leaving the Peugeot Cinq for Brenda and the kids. Brenda would not be teaching, leaving that pleasure up to me. The French couple’s names were Philippe and Annie and they had an eleven year old son named Bruno. I would be teaching English in a lycee, a technical high school, which included Grades 10, 11 and twelve and two years of college. The school specialized in electronics technology.
“Jeezus murphy. Will I be expected to teach that too?” I asked Brenda. “All I can do is change a lightbulb.”
We were packed up and ready to go on August 10, 1995. At least Brenda was excited. The boys, still aged two and four, didn’t really know what was going on. To be frank, neither did I.
“At least the winters in Provence should be milder than those ones in Edmonton,” I said to myself as I put the car in gear and started towards the Toronto Airport. (to be continued.)

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