If you’re lucky, you’ll meet a couple or three in your travels. They can make a trip so memorable.
I’ve got my favorites — like the little old woman that led us on a brief but interesting adventure down some back streets in Paris. We met while she stood next to me at an intersection on the Champs Elysees one evening while my husband and I were waiting to cross. Her head was swathed in a scarf babushka-style and she barely reached my shoulders. She first asked if I were an American, then without hesitation, with an accent that wasn’t French, said she had no doubt that I was because of my lack of fashionable dress.
I wanted to leave her in the dust right then, but she inquired if we had eaten dinner. Of course, we had eaten; it was nine o’clock and
we were Americans! Nevertheless, she insisted that we follow her to “the best restaurant in Paris.”
So we did.
As we walked, I asked her — pestered her, really — to tell us about her life and what sort of work she had done, but she steadfastly refused. She would say only that she had lived all over the world and spoke several languages. She didn’t flinch when I suggested that perhaps she had been a prostitute or a spy.
We scurried through some side streets and alleys, then she shooed us into the front door of a restaurant. We soon figured out that it was owned by the two elderly, mostly toothless women who were buzzing from tables to kitchen. They spoke no English and our French is meager, but somehow we made reservations for the next evening. That led to a delicious and entertaining dinner that included the Chef’s Surprise for dessert — a phallic-like ice cream sculpture with two apricots at the base. The old ladies couldn’t stop laughing, and once we figured out the joke, neither could we.
By the way, we never saw the mystery lady again.
Another memorable character was a high-end boutique owner in Telluride, Colo., whom my sister, Jenny, and I convinced to come to our rental home and cook dinner for our eight-women hiking group.
Jenny and I were browsing the shops on the town’s main street after a hard day of hiking and wandered into Paul’s store. It was filled with expensive art and other pricey things that really rich people buy for their second homes in Telluride. We struck up a conversation with him, asking if he could recommend a restaurant in town. With a haughty flourish, he quickly pronounced all the restaurants in town to be highly mediocre, and that he could cook better than any local chef.
I couldn’t help myself; I challenged him to come to our house and cook dinner — and he accepted. Jenny and I promptly went to the store and purchased ingredients for seafood and chicken paella.
Paul arrived at the house with two small dogs — one was blind — a couple of extra bottles of wine and some olive oil and spices. He proceeded to whip up a huge bowl of paella, but not without drinking more than his share of the wine. (We ladies did our best to keep up.) By the time we were gathered at the table, the stories began rolling out.
Paul claimed to have been a chef and restaurant owner, some sort of fashion industry expert, and the inventor of an industrial coffee pot currently used by thousands of restaurants and non-Starbucks coffee shops. (“Starbucks? Oh, please. That stuff is the dregs. My machine makes such better coffee.”) Among the stories, there was something about serving in the military, and the clincher was his claim that he dated George W. Bush’s sister, Dorothy, back in the ’60s, and the stories of their wild, drug-and alcohol-induced escapades.
All pretty bizarre stuff, but we concluded that he was probably too drunk to fabricate all of it.
When the evening was clearly at a point that it should be over, Paul left our house with two lady hikers who served as “designated walkers” so that he and his entourage (one sighted dog, one blind one) were assured of making it home in one piece.
What unusual characters have you met on your travels?
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.