Essays: On The Road And A Little Off

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NASHVILLE, August 23, 2004 - - Earlier this month I am sitting in Seat 37J on American Airlines Flight 42 to Paris when I hear the familiar sounds of little girls squabbling.
An American Babe/Mommy is being overwhelmed by the difficulty of keeping three seven- to ten-year-olds corralled while trying to get their carry-ons into the overhead bins. Meantime other embarking passengers are pressuring her from the front in their attempts to stampede to their seats.

A cool head is called for.

Manfully I step into the breach. "Let me help you there, little lady," I say in my best John Wayne, lifting her bags into the overhead bins as though they were empty.
She's seen this movie, too. "Oh, thank you sir, you're very kind." I wait for her to say her next line, "And me just a poor widow woman who hasn't enjoyed a man's company seems forever," but she doesn't and so hefting the last fifty-pound behemoth of a suitcase into the bay, I smile my grandfatherly smile at her young jezebels and suavely collapse overheated and winded back into Seat 37J.

We arrive at DeGaulle Airport on time at 9:30 the next morning. The same racket ensues when we have to hike up the stairs to Customs. The sweet little girls are spitting mad at each other, but this time there are other gentlemanly buckos to hand and each grab a kid's carry-on and haul them up the stairs, again to the gratitude of the Mommy. Hey, what are two strong arms for?

We get through Customs unscarred - - unexamined actually - - and I catch a taxi to my friend Michael's pied-a-terre. The driver does not give me an unrequested tour of Paris, but takes me straight to Boulevard Voltaire...costs about 35 Euros.

Michael has his foot of earth up for sale as he has found another he wishes to buy which is even closer to his home, so the next day, which I'm spending alone in Paris, I wake up constantly to pleasant strangers looking in on my bedroom so as to check out the premises. I figure, what the hell, it's Paris, these are French, and being all Continental and everything they're probably unfazed by looking in at some strange American as he sleeps. Who am I to interfere with the dealing of prime Paris real estate? So I spend my first day in Paris re-reading Gore Vidal's "Burr" and dozing while posed attractively for the locals.


Doc shows up Thursday sharply at five pm. We go have coffee, rehearse far too little and then go visit our friend the French rocknroller Jean-Philippe Thepault and his more than somewhat beautiful wife Berengere.
I have brought some Wint-o-green Lifesavers from America, something to stick in my mouth in lieu of a cigarette. I offer one to Jean-Philippe. He takes it and puts it in his mouth. "Ptah!" he says, spitting it out. "Qu'est ce que?"
"It's candy," I reply.
"Oh, Berengere, come taste American candy!"
She comes and tastes hers with the same result.
"Ptah! You EAT this?" she asks.
"Well, yeah," I say, "and we like it."
"It tastes like something we put in the toilet bowl," she says.

Next day, when I relate this story to Michael, he confirms that, yes, wintergreen is the universally preferred toilet deodorant aroma in France. I lay off the Lifesavers for the rest of the trip, lest I become known to my fans as "Toilet Breath".

My friend Michael, the noted anthropologist, is currently in the throes of recounting the ins and outs, if you will, of marriage customs among Dravidian tribesmen. Day after day he locks himself into his office and draws all kinds of overlapping circles which represent who can ordinarily marry whom, understood only by a few specialists in the field...and the Dravidians, I suppose. It is taxing work, I'm sure. I only mention this so that you will be impressed by the fact that my circle of acquaintances is not limited merely to pimps and gangsters, but extends to famous anthropologists as well. But no one truly respectable.

On Friday, our last day in Paris, Michael introduces me to the panache, a drink consisting of basically 7-Up and beer. It is like beer, but refreshing. Or like 7-Up but alcoholic.

The Doc and I set out for our first gig, a Tex-Mex biker bar called Tomahawk. We played there last year, too. It is owned and staffed by an old hippie/biker dude named Serge and his wife Claudine and an indeterminate number of daughters and grand-daughters.

Last year because we were pressed for time we couldn't spend the night in one of Tomahawk's faux teepees, but we bunk in one this time.

At all of these places we play food and lodging is provided. The meal at Tomahawk is basically a pot roast of beef and potatoes, but along with the cactus salad it is one of the premier gustatory experiences ever. After we eat, it is time to perform.

It is the first time in a year that the Doc and I have played together so there are some bumps in the road but we arrive at the end of the show not having gotten into a knife fight or worse and to great appreciation of the audience. They file out and as is also the custom here the staff and the musicians gather round the table for a last glass of wine...but it takes about three hours of herbs; Corsican beer (great stuff); exchanging toasts and in the case of The Doc and one of the daughters, glances; and listening to Bob Seger to drink the wine until it is gone.

The Tomahawk is located in Chantenay-St. Imbert on Route National Seven (RN7), just south of Nevers, which is itself about 260 kilometers below Paris. Tell Serge I sent you. You will be adopted.

Next morning, The Doc and I set off for our second gig, at Le Cornemuse in Arleuf.

NEXT: The adventures continue.