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.