From our hotel in Arles, France, Alex insisted we head directly to the food court. Heat lamps brought out the deep reddish-brown color of the roast beef resting on thick vertical spears. A young man maneuvered his sharp knife down the meat, while the second fetched the shavings and stuffed them into a French roll. At one of the make-shift bars I watched an older man with shoulder-length grey hair pour beer as his feet pulsated to the music. I held up two fingers and he nodded his head – still keeping time with the music. Back at our table Donna and I lifted our beers which were met by three bottles of Orangina.
* * *
Emerging from the wall confines, we found the amusement area still crowded. Night was falling and colored lights began to surround us. The air smelled of popcorn, cigarette smoke, and freshly made candy. Hearing the game operators barking reminded me of home and I didn’t expect it here.
“I’ve never seen that ride before.” Alex pointed to the pink and navy-blue sky where the silhouette of a giant sledgehammer pounded through the air.
“Not at home. The lawyers would have a hay day.” The kids headed toward the “ride” which even had its own DJ sitting in a glass booth spinning records and rapping in French.
“Want to go with them?” Donna asked.
“No thanks” I clutched my heart. “I’d like to see my next birthday.”
The kids boarded the vessel of insanity and within minutes they propelled into the sky along with their screams as the DJ called every move the ride made. They plummeted back to earth and Donna buried her head in my arm.
An odd game booth featured giant fiberglass busts of Jimmy Carter, Idi Amin, Leonid Brezhnev, and the like. I grabbed a high-powered water gun and shot into the gaping mouths of the 1970’s era leaders, forcing air into a balloon protruding from the oversized forehead.
“Who are these guys?” Alex asked.
“A bunch of retro politicians – I was just shooting the man who was President of the United States when I was your age.”
At another booth gamers were challenged by a plywood goalie spinning in front of a net. Two gruffy-looking men leaned against the chain fence smoking cigarettes and bantering in French. They finally realized Jill had been standing there waiting for their attention. With a cigarette dangling from his mouth, the shorter of the two centered a soccer ball on a piece of Astroturf. Jill surveyed her quarter-inch wide opponent then took a step back. When her foot made contact with the ball all heads turned as it nearly exploded. The second man jerked his arms up and twisted his torso away from the trajectory.
“Don’t girls play soccer here?”
One of the stunned men waddled over to fetch the wayward ball. A small crowd of children gathered as he centered the ball again. Her second shot flew between the plywood legs and pelted the net. The high voices of the crowd cheered. With a slightly embarrassed look on her face, Jill accepted the small diary and pencil that was her prize.
We headed back to the stone gates where that party had pretty much ended. The tables were being folded and streets swept. We turned a corner and found something that nearly took my breath away. Amidst rows of ancient buildings bathed in golden light sat the most magnificent sight.
“I thought the coliseum was in Rome.” Alex gasped.
The largest is in Rome. This is a smaller one.”