The house was quiet. While we slept, the others had evidently gone off to school or work, except for Mary Ange, who was bustling about the kitchen. She lead us back into the dining area where a table had been nicely set for us. She told us Luc would “soon return.” A yellow, ceramic cereal bowl sat on the placemat in front of me. I didn’t see granola or anything like that on the table. I figured Mary Ange was making porridge or oatmeal. She returned from the kitchen and poured coffee into my bowl.
She made us a delightful breakfast of “French Toast.” She was so nice and kept bringing homemade jams and honey. We offered to help, but she insisted we remain sitting. I told Donna I felt a little weird being waited on. She told me to relax.
Luc returned just after we finished eating. We packed into his late model Mitsubishi mini-van and returned to downtown Lille. There, we bought tickets for a bus tour that Luc highly recommended. We offered to buy him a ticket but he declined. “I’ve already seen it.”
We climbed aboard the bus and waited in silence for the remaining tourists to board. Jill and Chris broke the silence of the bus with giggles. Luc stood out on the sidewalk making funny faces and pointing to the front of the bus where a young man sat in the driver’s seat smoking a cigarette. Luc exhaled on the window to create a fog and used his finger to write Beware. By now he’d gotten everybody’s attention. He continued writing: Driver is Italian.
Five passengers burst into laughter.
From the freshly cleaned bus window, we saw the Stock Exchange, BeauxArtsMuseum, and the GrandePalace. Lille impressed us as a thriving, cultural city. We stopped in front of a simple townhouse that was the birthplace of Charles DeGaul. Alex leaned forward in his seat. “Who the hell is Charles DeGaul?” A few heads turned our way. “He was a famous French General.” Donna explained. “Then he became the President of France.”
Luc was standing on the same spot on the sidewalk when we returned and hour later. We followed him back to the parking lot where a car was parked so close it practically sat on top of Luc’s van. I’d just managed to open the sliding door when I heard Chris say “Uh oh.” In his hand he held a side view mirror of the offending car. Luc walked over and assessed the situation. He took the mirror and studied it. “Must be a Ford“ he said and casually placed it on the hood.
As our van sped down the highway to the next unknown place, Donna and the kids chatted away in the back. Luc and I silently studied the road ahead. At one point he tapped my knee and nodded back at them. “Good for family.”
It was nice to hear him say that and it brought an unexpected sense of relief. Since arriving, I’d started feeling self-conscious that Europeans – especially the men, might think less of me for taking five months off work and traveling like this, especially since Donna was financing the trip. I didn’t want them to think I didn’t have anything better going on at home – like a mooch that didn’t have a job. Luc’s words made me think I may have been looking at things the wrong way.
We came upon a smaller town and he slammed on the brakes. “Lunch time!”
He jumped out – by now we’d learned that was our cue to get out and follow him. A passing car nearly struck him. We froze in our tracks as the car whizzed past. “Sorry about that,” he said, continuing his stride, “I’m a Frenchman”.
Le Potato had a country feel about it and featured rough wood paneling decorated with antique farm equipment. Our Formica-covered table was lined with paper placemats that also serve as the menu. Luc placed his hand against his cheek. “All the courses are served at once here” he whispered loudly, as if to expose a violation of French culinary code. “With one exception,” he proclaimed holding up his finger, “Dessert!“
Baked potatoes were the primary menu item. Our job was to select a filling. Some unrecognizable ingredients were offered, so we played it safe and opted for cheese or mushrooms.
The waiter returned with cafeteria style trays filled with food. Luc held up a small glass bowl of something he called “special cheese.” It was white and smooth – like yogurt. We listened patiently as he explained the process of making this cheese. He described cultures and bacteria. None of us were interested. He spooned some onto his potato then offered some to Chris, who was the only one brave enough to sample it.
He grinned at me. “What?” I asked.
“It’s sour cream.”
After we’d consumed everything on our trays, the “big moment” arrived for us to order dessert. Most of the items featured alcohol and Luc insisted that spirits cleanse the palette and help digestion. Alex and Chris settled on crepes with chantilly cream. Jill ordered lemon sherbet.
Donna and I finished our chocolate mousse. Luc asked Jill why she hadn’t finished her dessert..
“I will drive.” Luc assured her.
Humoring Luc, Jill took a spoonful of the lemon flavored vodka, then grimaced and pushed the dish away.
“Be careful.” He banged his head back and forth between his palms while his eyes glowed with the look of a crazed inebriate. It was possibly the most hilarious site I’d ever seen.
We came out of Le Potato laughing and giddy. I ask everyone to stand on the sidewalk for a photo. Just before I snapped it, a woman jumped into the shot and posed with our group. She took a drag of her cigarette then instructed me to shoot. She carried on her merry way down the sidewalk. Luc rolled his eyes and smiled – as if this was a daily occurrence.