US Army Retired

US Army Retired

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The End of My First Army Tour of Duty

[I don't know for certain, but I vaguely remember something like this in Bordeaux.]

Buses ran daily from the camp into Bordeaux. The service increased on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The weekday bus went to the train station but the extra ones dropped soldiers off at small square with Roman arches. We walked up cobble-stoned streets to the local Red Light District. The old, glaring district had been replaced with lots of bars catering to us American soldiers, not just from Camp Bussac but a couple of others in the area.

I always found it hypocritical that a female French politician had raised such a fuss that such establishments, once controlled and overseen, had been done away with – to be replaced by places with no control at all. The only censorship came from the U.S. Forces Military Police by making them “Off Limits.”

If one walked a couple of blocks further up the street, one entered a large square with a big pond in the middle filled with huge goldfish. That was to play a hilarious part in my memories.

A small Air Force station was located downriver. The boulevard ran directly from the square and we used to walk there to get cheap booze when we were close to broke. We couldn’t get the same stuff at the camp as they only sold cheap, weak American beer. The AF club had everything in the world, including Absinthe; the French called it a liqueur but I’m told it’s a spirit. At the time, it was outlawed in France and many thought it was a hallucinogenic drink. I remember drinking it once - but never again. It came out of the bottle clear and, when water was added, turned either light green or white.

One dare at the AF station was to pay $5 for a large beer stein in which they poured a half shot of every alcoholic beverage behind the bar. One had a 30 minute time limit in which to down the whole thing, then get up from the stool and walk across the bar to the dart board and back to the stool. If one managed to do it, they got to eat and drink for free the remainder of the month. I never tried it and never saw anyone who did that managed to get halfway back to their stool.

The last bus back to camp left at about two in the morning. If one missed it and didn’t make it back to camp in time for bed check, he’d be counted AWOL and would usually be restricted to camp for at least a month. Do it repeatedly and the GI would end up with Article 15 punishment. [I will never tell here how I managed to avoid this several times!]

In all the other units in the camp, getting an overnight or three-day pass was very difficult. In our small unit, it wasn’t that hard at all. And, as the unit clerk, the one who typed them up, I had no problem getting them whenever I wished.

One Saturday night, we’d been drinking pretty heavy at the AF station club and it got awfully close to time for the last bus. We left the station, I seem to remember six or seven of us, and double-timed along the boulevard to the square. We’d made such good time that we knew we’d have no problem getting down to the riverside square. Someone decided the night was too warm and wanted to wash the sweat of his face. So, he stepped into the goldfish pond, followed by the rest of us. Another then decided it’d be fun to try and catch one of the big fish. Apparently, someone took umbrage to our desecration of the park and called the Gendarmes. We made it just in time to pile onto the bus as it pulled out, leaving several Flics angrily waving their batons at us.

One of he things we did to pass the time in the bars was play a dice game using a cup and match sticks. I don’t remember exactly how it worked but the idea was to win the most match sticks. The one who lost first had to pay for the round, the second named the drink and the winner drank it. I seem to remember that it had the words four and twenty-one in it.

I was there when the French had a presence in Indochina and Algeria. Many of the ladies in the bars came from Algeria. There was also numerous Indochinese restaurants in the area and I found the food quite good. As Duple had been a missionary in China, she often took me to Chinatown in Los Angeles and I was rather adept at using chopsticks. So, every once in a while, I’d take my latest companion to one of the restaurants and found the cuisine quite tasty, although some of the dishes were beyond my delicate sensibilities.

Coming from Southern California where rain was rare, the time I spent in France gave me a completely different experience as it rained on a regular basis, almost daily. The day would start out with clear skies and by early afternoon., clouds began to appear. Then, about four or five, the rain would start. Sometimes it would pour down and others would be a simple drizzle. I loved the rain and would sit out on the barracks balcony to watch the lightning displays.

Rain storms and lightning displays are still my favorites – something I dearly miss living in Las Vegas.

In all honesty, after my nearly three years there, I could not (and still cannot) understand why some Americans seem so enamored with France. The food was okay and I found the best to be what was served in restaurants in small towns and villages or the garden variety café where our platoon had its monthly get-togethers.

As I’d never had wine before, the Bordeaux reds seems okay but I actually liked a couple of whites I found in St Émilion. I liked Cognac from that region.

I didn’t find French women all that glamorous and often backed away at the body odor their perfume couldn’t cover up, along with hairy armpits and legs. French men were generally sullen and rude. If I tried a restaurant with waiters, I’d leave to try and find one with waitresses - the men were insufferable and haughty.

I tried to learn French and could get by. But, I never became fluent and quickly forgot most of it within a short time of getting home.

The time came to leave and I looked forward to getting back to the land of hamburgers and cute girls. Harold sent his wife and car home ahead of time and we ended up getting travel arrangements together - again, it didn’t hurt that I was the unit clerk. The company had sent down a replacement so I didn’t have to do a lot to break in the new guy.

I shipped one box of things home, carrying only military stuff in my duffel bag. We rode the US Army train north, once again changing from the Gare Montparnasse to the Gare du Nord, going on an army bus. We were highly relieved when we got to the German border and they transferred our car to a German train.

I wasn’t about to go home in another troop ship and finagled a deal where Harold and I would fly, courtesy of the US Air Force. We got off the train in Frankfurt and were bussed to Rhine Main Air Base. I thought we were going to fly in an Air Force transport plane but were shocked when they loaded us onto a big Lockheed Constellation aircraft. It was huge to me and I couldn’t believe how many people it held - all military. As an air force charter, the stews weren’t exactly beauty queens but, after French women, those American women were movie stars to me.

We landed in Shannon, Ireland to refuel. The weather was cold and damp and we happily walked into the terminal, being free to roam until time came to get back on the plane. I loved the lilt of Irish voices and was able to drink one of their beers - don’t remember the brand. I also wandered through the gift shop to find something for Duple. Don’t remember what it was, but it didn’t cost that much.

Our next stop was Goose Bay, Newfoundland. There were also piles of snow on the ground and it was colder than I’d ever experienced before in my life. There was an air force mess hall and we had a wide choice of dishes as it remained open twenty-four hours.

I remember we landed at McGuire AFB in New Jersey and were never so happy to be back in the good old USofA. It didn’t take long to process us out of the service, giving us our discharge papers and final pay. Harold and I traveled with two other guys from Bussac and we’d arranged to buy a car not far away in Pennsylvania. We were picked up in a van and driven to a town filled with car dealerships. We’d arranged to buy a 1959 Chevy with the huge rear fins. It was a sporty two-door sedan. 

We’d pooled our funds and the deal was to drive it across country. One guy was from St Louis, Harold from Redding (we’d drop him in Sacramento where his wife and family met him), I was from LA and the last guy from near San Diego got to keep the car. I don’t know about any cross-country records but we only stopped to gas up, grab a bite to eat and use restrooms. I seem to remember getting to LA thirty-some hours from leaving the car lot.

It was good to be home and a civilian again.

[Maybe, in the not-too-distant future, I'll start posting various adventures/SNAFUs from the next 20 years]

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Military Life in The South of France

First of all, I continue my narrative with a bit of trepidation. It appears Lonnie Robinson has a far better memory of what took place so many decades ago than I have. I have totally forgotten our platoon leader's name – Lieutenant Rumbaugh – and CWO Bosze who was the man behind our shop. Hopefully, he will occasionally chip in to clear up a thing or two I have forgotten.

After all, it's only been 52 years!

Now, to explain the bottle of Four Roses in my last post. One night, it was my turn to sneak out of camp to get us some booze for an all-night poker game. Getting out was no problem as there were holes in the fence the Polish guards turned a blind eye to. Just across the field next to camp was a small huddle of buildings that included a bar where some of the well-worn “girls” hung out. In that particular instance, I had enough script to buy a couple of bottles of Four Roses. We had plenty of coca cola in machines in the barracks, in glass bottles. We spent that Friday night, all the next day and the night after that playing poker in the barracks drinking coke and whiskey. We took breaks to go to the mess hall to eat and a few short naps. We called it quits some time Sunday afternoon and I remember waking up well before reveille Monday morning in my cot, sick as hell with a hangover that didn‘t go away for three days. To this days, fifty years later, I can’t stand the smell of Four Roses.

Every month or so, we would have a unit party in a small village not far from the camp.
All military units have some discretionary funds – usually coming from shares of the earnings of the various entertainment facilities on the bases – to purchase items for the Day Room or other unit activities. Lieutenant Rumbaugh and our platoon sergeant – hopefully Lonnie remembers his name – would arrange for us to convene at a small restaurant. I remember it had lattice work all over the place loaded with grape vines. They even produced their own red wine. The food was actually quite good and I must admit that the French fries were delicious. Who would believe that a tuber from far away Peru would become a trademark of French cuisine?

Harold met a “nice” French girl and, after going through all the paperwork (which I, of course, filled out) married her. He then bought a Renault and I took a train to Paris to pick it up. After being cold-shouldered by every Frenchman I encountered – including many Gendarmes – I made it to the factory where they gave me maps and instruction on how to drive back to Bordeaux. Unfortunately, the factory was on the north side of Paris, meaning that I had to drive through the heart of the city to get there. I encountered incredible traffic in Paris, especially traffic circles. It was a case of the one with the biggest balls winning. Close your eyes and dive in. By the time I got out of the city, I was shaking like a leaf and had to find a place to stop and calm my nerves.

As I stated, it was my first encounter with Parisians. Leaving the train station, I stopped at a small sidewalk restaurant and tried to get a bite to eat. The waiter was one of the most insufferable people I’ve ever met and, I was ready to punch him in his arrogant mouth. But, he was not the only one. No matter where I turned, I encountered the same thing. I spoke little French and was treated like I was some third-class creature barely worthy of notice. Even the people in the Renault factory were snotty!

I was never so happy to get back to camp. Harold's wife found a small apartment near the camp and his wife would drop off and pick him up every working day.

I've spent a lot of time trying to remember where I me and became friends with another soldier and it just came to me – we worked together at the battalion personnel office. Teodore [Ted] Kleemann was a fellow personnel clerk who came from Holland. I remember who impressed we were that he spoke Dutch, German, Flemish, French – and English. He was drafted where he lived in New York City and his main goal was to become an interpretor at the United Nations.

I don’t remember why, but Ted invited me to join him on a trip home to The Hague. We caught the train and it was a lot easier to get through Paris changing trains with Ted’s help. We actually took the Metro subway system, the first I’d ever ridden. Wearing European clothes and with a Dutch accent to his French, he was treated far less disdainfully than I, even though he received some dirty looks for being with an American GI.

(Didn’t we free those people from the awful Germans not long before?)

We stopped at the World’s Fair in Brussels. If I had a hard time understanding French and Dutch, Flemish was even harder. However, the vast majority of people at the fair spoke more than reasonable English. There were good crowds and the only reason we were able to afford the prices was a center for American military personnel where we got special tickets and offers.

From there, we went to The Hague where I met Ted’s family -- truly friendly, generous people. We spent a couple of days, then went to Amsterdam. The canals were kinda neat but I must admit the most interesting part was visiting the area where storefronts held something other than scantily-clad mannequins.

There had once been similar locales in all major and some smaller French cities. However, a female member of the French parliament made such a fuss about the world’s oldest profession, that it had been outlawed. That didn’t mean the areas didn’t exist but were much harder to find.

Once again, the world grew gray and dreary when we crossed the border back into France. At least traveling with Ted was a most educational and interesting way to travel. As soon as we returned to camp, I headed back to the library to read up on the area we'd just visited.

Some more views of France in my next post.

An aside – some time during my tour of duty in France, two events occurred that our platoon became involved in. One was an earthquake in Morocco where the battalion was sent to clear the rubble. Some members of our platoon went along to repair the equipment. Another was a similar earthquake in Lebanon. For the life of me, I have memories of going along. I seem to remember the long, boring hours with the drone of airplane engines deafening us. I also can see a beautiful beach and hear the words calling it the playground of the eastern Med. A stop in Athens and somehow I picture the Parthenon. C'mon, Lonnie! Tell me I'm not imagining things.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Day Four of the Motor Scooter Trip

I set off to the east after breakfast, my destination the town of Narbonne. I wanted to see it as I'd read it had been founded by the Roman sometime in the BCs. Sure enough, I found a set of stones that were an old roman road.

It was still early, so I turned around and headed for Toulouse. I was situated towards the headwaters of the Garonne River that would lead me back to Bordeaux. Like every other town or city back in the late 1950's, the city was surrounded by farms and fields. I decided to follow the signs to the town square where I found a small cafe and, after parking my motor scooter, sat at a table to enjoy a snack.

The trip had become a bit tiring so I decided to get on my way and head back to Bordeaux, then Bussac. Instead of going to the city, I turned north at Agen on the highway to Bergerac. Who did not know of that town! The home of Cyrano de Bergerac. And they certainly let one know of their famous hero/lover. Heck! I had no idea that he was a real person.

However, there is was – a statue to the real person. Was I ever shocked to learn that his first lover was Charles Coypeau d'Assoucy, a writer and musician!!!
Back on the road through rambling hills with farms, little streams, and lots of woods. I still couldn't get used to how manicured and tended everything was. I never once saw a bit of wild landscape like we have here in the USA.

I know this sounds weird, but it was a bit of a relief to return to the communal barracks. It was “home” to me. I even enjoyed the ribbing from the other guys in the platoon.

As some who read this blog might now know, I just received a shock in a comment posted by a guy who was stationed in the same unit at the same time I was. How in the heck is that for coincidence. At the same time, I really hate to admit this, but I just cannot picture Lonny, no matter how hard I try. He remember Ralph and even the names of our lieutenant and warrant officer. Maybe he can even tell me the last name of Harold who came from Redding, California. We joked about it as I came from Redlands and the two always got mixed up.

Well, enough of this for now. There's only one little hint I'd like make for some of the upcoming posts. It is ----- 

See ya next time!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My thanks to all!

I'm in the process of reviewing and editing my sequel to Sonora Symphony – and find myself enjoying the story and how it progresses.

Before, this process was a grueling and even boring process. But, due to lots of help and guidelines I've received from all of you in the online writing community, I no longer see it as drudge work. If I may say so myself, Tsalagi Tales is a fun read with lots of suspense and insight into those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Add a bit of romance, American Indian traditions and lore, placing it in the Cherokee part of eastern Tennessee as well as the large military installation of Fort Carson, Colorado and it's tended to keep me enraptured, looking forward to what comes next. [I haven't looked at it for well over six months, so, in many ways, it's new to me.]

There are a lot of kudos to hand out. First is to the Absolute Write Water Cooler and the intensive library of tips, hints and guidelines for writing. Next is The Bookshelf Muse Blog which has and is providing descriptions of just about anything would want. Then, the most important of all, is the input one receives when sharing their works with others who are willing to take the time to review and make honest suggestions as to what works and what doesn't.

Finishing this and submitting it to my publisher will take care of what's been written. Following will be the also enjoyable effort of fleshing out and painting in words the final third of Father Serra's Legacy titled The Missions Bloom.

If someone would like to read and review any of the four, you are most welcome to. Just send me a PM and we'll work something out. Perhaps as I get involved in number three, I will have time to return the favor.

Muchas gracias y feliz navidad y prospero Año nuevo.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Day Three of My Motor Scooter Trip

My interest in Cathedrals came from having lived with Kit, an Irish Catholic from South Boston who had married Jack [the man who'd never adopted me]. I think it was due to her that I'd seen the 1940 move, The Song of Bernadette. With that in mind, my next destination was Lourdes, in the northern foothills of the Pyrenees.
I'd quickly become enamored with the Continental Breakfast and the hotel in Candanchú, France did not let me down. The crescent rolls still smelled and felt fresh from the oven. Topped with unsalted butter and marmalade, they went well with everything else.
An ESSO station near the hotel allowed me to top off the tank of my peppy little Lambretta. An aside, the current popularity of these nifty little things always make me smile and remember the one I had back then. I doubt very few Americans truly realize how much Europeans rely upon them to get around. I checked the map to ensure I knew how to get to my next destination. Some figuring told me it was about 120 kilometers or just about 75 miles.
No helmet. Actually having to back off the accelerator to keep the speed down. Riding the very edge of the highway while monster trucks roared past. What a great way to enjoy some spectacular vistas. Rivers and streams joined mountain lakes. Green ever greens covered the slopes.
I did not take long until I reached the village of Escot where the two lane highway wended its way east through the rugged foothills. It took a bit over an hour to reach Bilhères where I encountered an awesome switchback road over a mountain pass.
I reached Lourdes around eleven in the morning.
The town itself was quaint and the people did not seem all that upset by having an obvious American GI in their midst. I found a small café and settled in for a bottle of soda pop, a soup and a ham sandwich. It took but a brief look around to tell me the town had one main industry – tourism. Every where one looked were shops and stores announcing the grotto and the miracle of the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a poor, peasant girl.
Every sign pointed to The Grotto. I found a parking lot and secured the motor scooter, although an old man missing a leg with a patch over his eye clearly tried to tell me he would guard it with his life for a mere sou or two.
The story of Jesus and the money changers in the temple in Jerusalem instantly came to mind as I neared the grotto.
Everywhere I looked, some poor, cripple soul in ragged clothing held out relics and souvenirs for the faithful. Tiny vials of water offering miracle cures. I don't want to sound cynical here [which I am by the way[ but, it the water miraculously cured all ills, why where there so many sick and disabled? While I had often felt at peace while sitting in old churches and cathedrals, I left filled with disappointment – and even anger.
I could get away from there fast enough.
My next destination was a town I had read about that supposedly still had walls surrounding it – Carcassonne. It had been been originally built by the Romans and expanded into s city by the Visigoths. The map told me it was a little over two hours from Lourdes and I happily marked out side roads so I did not have to go through the city of Tolouse.

The view from a distance was awesome. But, what would it look like up close?
I had to remember that this part of the country had been controlled by the Vichy Government and thus escaped the bombing and fighting of the recent World War.
The first thing I did was find a small inn not far from the city itself and checked in. It had a courtyard for the motor scooter and I made certain breakfast came with the room. I would learn asking that question was unnecessary as breakfast ALWAYS came with similar rooms. It was still early so I walked into the city.
It didn't take long to learn one had to pay to enter the walled city itself. In 1958, the entry price was very cheap for an American. I think the conversion came to something like thirty cents.
It was worth the price.
They had done an outstanding job of hiding modern amenities like electric lights. I found a small bar and sat at an outside table to drink a glass of red wine. After an hour of watching the people – all clearly tourists – passing by, I got up and climbed up onto the parapets of the old fortress.
What a great view of the countryside.
Neatly maintained farms, appearing like sculptures far below. Here and there, wagons drawn by horses or mules. Lights showing here and there as the sun set over the hills to the west, head and tail lights marking roads. An old man came by with a strange instrument shaped like a long hook at the end of a pole. I quickly saw he was using it to light scones on the stone walls. I had already learned that visitors were to leave the inner city by ten o'clock, unless they had a room in one of the expensive hotels there.
I made it back to the inn, my stomach telling me I was going to regret having something to eat for dinner. Much to my happy surprise, the wife of the proprietor ran a kitchen for guests and was still open. Another discovery was that only we uncivilized Americans dined before eight or nine in the evening. The tables were covered in snowy linen and they served a very nice red wine. The opening course was a fresh salad followed by soup and the main entrée like the picture above. And, there was of course, coffee with thick cream and a very tasty pastry.
I took a walking tour of the area for an hour before returning to my room and collapsing into the atrociously warm and comfortable bed.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's in the mail!

What a relief. After editing, revising, reviewing, spell-checking, grammar checking, and reformatting. The King's Highway, El Camino Real, Book Two of Father Serra's Legacy is on its way to the publisher.
And The Sailor and The Carpenter will start the editing process in a few weeks.

It doesn't mean I'm through with writing as I've still got The Missions Bloom to finish. In addition, they want to take a look at Sonora Symphony, the one I've had so much trouble with.

But, it means I can get back to posts about my first tour of duty in France.

That means I'll be taking you all through the 3rd day of my motor scooter trip, leaving the Pyrenees to visit the shrine at Lourdes, followed by a stop at the Midieval walled town of Carcassone.

Right now, it's back to catching up on some forums I've been ignoring and catching up on some other thing.

Thanks all for your patience.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Good News

Well, sort of.
I've been offered a contract for Book Two of Father Serra's Legacy. While The King's Highway has been written, new research material indicates I have a number of extensive revisions to make, along with some general editing. As I've only reached page 115 of 209, I'm going to have to reduce my time here and on various discussion forums.
I hope off of the followers here will be patient with me.
[The publisher also said something to the effect that they were interested in anything I write so I may have a new home for Sonora Symphony.]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day Two of My Motor Scooter Trip

The sound of iron wheels and shod hoofs crossing cobble stone streets awakened me. People talked to one another and it took a moment to realize it was in French. The wonderful aroma of baking bread wafted through the window.
Tossing back the feather-filled cover, I placed my feet on the highly polished wooden floor and glanced at my wrist watch. Six a.m.! How could I oversleep like that? I grinned and stretched, rising to walk to the open door onto the balcony.
Pelicans skimmed the water of the bay, often no more than a meter above the gentle waves. About a kilometer to my left, the south, clouds of terns and seagulls swirled in tornadoes of wings against piers where fishing boats tied up to unload their catch. More sails glided into port from the Atlantic.
I padded over to the bathtub and stripped, pleased at the warmth of the water from the hand-held shower head. Not quite as hot as back in the barracks but comfortable. I lathered myself and put a new blade in my razor to remove what little hair grew on my teenage face. After toweling myself, I brushed my teeth before donning my OD boxer shorts and tee shirt. I repacked my handy little shaving kit and put my dirty clothes into the bottom of my backpack.
The one reason for selecting that particular inn, beside the security for my motor scooter, was breakfast. This was my first introduction to a Continental Breakfast. The small room had a half dozen tables covered with snowy white cloths. A sideboard held plates, cups and small dishes. A mother, father and a young boy and girl sat at one table. A couple occupied another.
I sighed with relief when the one man stood and introduced himself – in English [or British] – to welcome me. “Is this your first breakfast like this?” I told him yes and he invited me to join he and his wife, introducing themselves as being on vacation from some town in England. His wife rose and went to the sideboard, returning with a plate holding a croissant, two small pats of butter and a small cup of marmalade, and an egg in a cup clearly designed to hold it.
I had absolutely no idea what to do with the egg. So, the guy demonstrated how one carefully removed the top, showing the soft-boiled interior. I rose and went to the sideboard myself to pour of glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee.
It was delicious! I hadn't had unsalted butter since living on the ranch. The orange juice has as much pulp as juice. The bread had to be less than an hour or so out of the oven.
And the conversation with my table mates was most enjoyable. He had served in the British Army during the Korean War. They were on the first half of their month-long vacation time. The shared their time between the beach and the town's market place.
The breakfast room overlooked the beach front and, as early as it was, people were already out on the sand and even in the sea.
The women then gave me one of probably the best tips I'd received up to then – gratuities in Europe were included in the price. To tip is often an insult and they think you are trying to shove your economic status in their faces.
I had no detailed plan for the day's travel except to cross into Spain and then travel along the southern edge of the Pyrenees. I quickly reached the border where brightly uniformed border guards smiled and waved me through, obviously seeing the US Forces license plate on my scooter.
It was like entering a new world. The people wore colorful clothing. Window boxes overflowed with bright flowers on every balcony. Smiles predominated.
Following Rand and McNally, I turned inland to reach famous Pamplona. I could almost see Papa Hemingway watching the running of the bulls. The mountains to the north began to grow higher as I rode east and I began to worry whether my scooter had enough horsepower to get me over them.
I needn't worry. The well-paved roads kept a reasonable grade, often with awesome switchbacks.

I stopped for a light lunch in Jaca, Spain and found someone who spoke enough English to tell me I could cross the mountains back into France before nightfall. The scooter had a headlamp but I didn't want to find myself in the middle of nowhere in the dark. Besides, I was already having enough trouble concentrating on the highway and the passing vehicles without trying to ride at night.
I think the biggest breath-holder of the trip came when I entered a tunnel that seemed to go on forever. Part of it had those open arches. I pulled into one and got off the scooter to grab hold of the ledge as I gazed out at mountains making me feel puny.

I'm certain this is not the hotel I stayed in in Candanchú but it was similar. Again, the person behind the desk greeted me nicely and I found it difficult to believe I was back in France. I had not had a bit of trouble at the border. The village was a winter resort and with little to no snow on the ground, few visitors were there. That's probably why I was treated so nicely. Dinner was quite good and I enjoyed a lentil soup along with a piece of roast beef. And yes, I had a couple of glasses of red wine.
I walked around the town until about nine o'clock, with a stop at one sidewalk café for a glass of wine and to watch the people in the square.
The bed was comfortable and I snuggled into the big featherbed, dropping quickly asleep.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Which One?


 I'm kind torn between them.

In the first, the view of ocean goes with Sailor while the  bell goes with Carpenter.

But, the story takes place in a desert of Baja California which is filled with saguaro and other cacti.

Comments please!

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Different Type of Tour

During two summers before my enlistment in the US Army, my Boy Scout Troop took tours of the United States. The differences in my country amazed me. From the shores of the Pacific Ocean, through great deserts, the swamps and bayous of the south and eastern shore, the tall pines and great trees of the northeast, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountains. We often traveled for several hours without seeing any towns or villages.
So, I found the French countryside far different from the USA. Los Angeles is not particularly a city as the center of a “landopolis” - a place where houses sat wherever one looked. There were never any clear lines between the towns. That was not the case in the countryside I now rode through. One did not go more than 5 or 6 kilometers without entering a small village.
Another note. My moped had a tank that held 1 liter of gasoline. Our gas stamps came in one, five, and ten liter denominations so I almost never used the monthly allocations. [We won't talk about how one bought the full allotment and “traded” them to one's buddies.] Being willing to peddle as much as using the engine often gave me well over 250 kilometers on a tank.
The Lambretta was a bit different. I had a 5 liter tank with a range of about 100 kilometers per liter – more if one kicked it into neutral going downhill. I bought the 1 liter stamps as I never used up all the tank and didn't want to give away the amount I didn't need on a 5 liter stamp. I may not be right about this but seem to remember the Exchange Service had a deal with ESSO and that was where one had to buy gas. I'm also not certain what companies operated there but seem to remember Shell, British Petroleum and another – but not a French company.
Interior of the Cathedral in Bordeaux
There I was, a young, virile man in a far away country, free to fall into the depths of sin. [That's all you're gonna read about that part of my time there!]
But, one of the things I truly enjoyed with the architecture, the old buildings came from historical times. I especially enjoyed visiting churches. The massive cathedrals with their towering ceilings and ornate facades and internal friezes always caught my attention. During my trips, I found a lot of smaller local churches just as beautiful.
I also broke from my Mormon upbringing by attending masses at the various churches in the area. Something about the Gregorian chants echoing from the vast ceilings calmed me. I even understood some of the Latin and the way the rite was conducted. I also discovered little places here and there where one could see remnants of things constructed during the presence of the Romans in the area.
In early summer of 1959, I took a 7 day leave to see the countryside. I had a Rand-McNally map from the Stars and Stripes store and figured I could make my way without getting lost. I had some American Express traveler's checks and French bills and coins.
At a top speed of about 45mph, I wasn't going to be traveling on the major highways where drivers had no idea speed limits existed. The first leg from Bussac to Bordeaux gave me no choice and I rode the very edge of the highway, hanging on for dear life with a truck or bus roared by, the wind tossing my around.
No, I didn't wear a helmet. They weren't required and I couldn't wear my army helmet. I wore a knit cap with a pair of shop goggles over my eyeglasses. And gloves with my black GI boots.
I reached Bayonne a little after noon and found a boulangerie [bakery], boucher [butcher], and boutique de vins [wine shop] to buy my lunch. A bench in a nice park filled with beautiful flowers almost, but not quite, hid the sight of soot-covered buildings and people wearing drab clothes.
It did not take much longer until I reached the Bay of Biscay and rode down the highway to Biarritz. There was a long stretch of beach but not a big crowd of bathers. I also saw very few bikinis. The one thing that upset me was to see tufts of dark hair showing under arm pits, a furry coat on legs, and similar tufts in places I won't delineate here.

I quickly moved on and, as it was getting late, decided to find a place to spend the night in Saint Jean-de-Luz. The first thing I noticed about the landscape south of Bordeaux was the total lack of signs of destruction from the big was only 13 years earlier. To see bullet holes in walls was common north of Bordeaux although it had been in Fichy France. I found a small inn facing the waterfront, selecting it because it had an interior courtyard where I could park my motor scooter.
The one thing I had learned was to check for the glass covered price list posted by the door of almost every establishment. The prices were clear so, with my English/French dictionary in hand, I went inside. Very quaint. Highly polished wood floor, old pictures and paintings covering the walls, some furniture that appeared to come from the late 1800s and a small bell desk with a woman in her 50s or 60s. Unlike her countrywomen to the north, she smiled and appeared pleased to welcome an American soldier to her establishment. She even tried to speak some words of English to me! [I almost fell over in shock.]
I filled out the required card, showed her my military ID and leave papers [which she had no idea what to do with but understood I didn't need a passport or visa] and paid by converting one of my traveler checks. She even gave me a most reasonable conversion rate that was posted behind her desk. I put my motor scooter in a corner of the courtyard and ensured it was locked, then followed her upstairs to my room. It was small but very clean and the sanitary facilities were more than adequate to include an old fashioned bathtub on legs. Yeah, it had the required bidet. The best thing was the small balcony facing the ocean.
Two doors away was a small restaurant. Again, I checked the clearly posted menu and sat down at a table looking out over the beach. It was not yet the height of summer and not that many people walked or lolled on the beach or in the water. Parents enjoying the day with their children were the majority. A waiter came out and patiently waited while I translated the menu. At least I'd become fluent in the different types of wine and ordered a small bottle of Bordeaux – it was not until a few years later that I learned to savor different types of wine.

I ordered alaitue, tomate, oignon et la salade au fromage, un soupe de poisson, et veau et les pommes de terre la puree et haricots verts. The wine was excellent, the lettuce crisp with an excellent vinegar and oil dressing, and the veal with mashed potatoes and green beans nicely finished the presentation. Actually French cooking worth talking about. There was an assortment of pastry, so I tried something with pears in it and topped off the meal with strong café avec crème et le sucre. Like every eating establishment I entered,  a large espresso machine stood behind the bar but I never had a taste for it.
The one thing I liked about eating was that nobody hurried. As long as I had a drink in front of me, I could spend hours. That's just what I did, watching the passing people to include a few young ladies who hid their faces and giggled as they passed the obvious American observing them.
There was a rare television set in the bar area and, when it grew dark, I went in and found a table where I could watch some kind of variety show in black and white. I only stayed long enough to drink a glass of cognac before going upstairs to my room. I left the window wide open to hear the soothing sound of waves – and the honking of horns that appeared mandatory for any French driver. The mattress was firm but the feather comforter and pillow soon led me to the land of slumber.
More next time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I don't believe I reached the Milestone

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Back to the Daily Grind

During the train ride back from Italy, we were loaded down with all sorts of gifts and foods to keep us fed during the long journey. The Italians riding in our train car knew we were American GIs and beamed with pride when someone would translate for us that all our loot came as gifts from Ralph's home village. As if what we carried wasn't enough, no few fellow travelers tried to add to our riches.
We had no thought of the upcoming crossing into France until we stopped at the last train depot before the border and an Italian customs inspector came on board. He asked for our ID cards and then asked where our sacks of stuff came from. He too beamed when he learned of Ralph's trip home but frowned as he told us he felt certain the French customs inspectors would demand a “small gift” from us in order not to confiscate what we carried.
In our stupid smugness, we hadn't even given it a thought. In fact, we'd forgotten all about financial matters as our entire stay in the village had been free. If we tried to offer to defray costs, we were informed our offers were insulting – however nicely it was done. So, we had exactly the number of dollars we'd had on the trip south. Fortunately, the Italian customs guy came to our defense and rode with us across the border into France. He took the French customs inspector aside and whispered with him. It was clear the two were arguing. However, in the end, two twenty dollars bills went from our hands to his and he gave us a paper with a big red seal that indicated duties had been paid on our goods. The Italian simply shook our hands and wished us a safe trip back to Bussac.
One of my favorite experiences in the village had been riding around on near little motor scooters. One easily cut in and out of the byways and alleys. I decided I was going to buy one the first chance I got. So, after spreading around some of the goodies with the guys in the platoon, we stored the remainder of our stuff and prepared to get back to business.
I've never been a frugal individual and whatever savings account I'd had was only there at Duple's insistence. But, the first thing I did when we got back to camp was to go to the Ameican Express Office to open a savings account. I actually kept my promise to myself of depositing 25% of my meager paycheck in the account. I even stopped the trips into Bordeaux to enjoy the GI bars and kept my sightseeing to my moped. It was cheaper. And, the French people of the small villages seemed far less disapproving of an ignorant American who did not share their belief in French superiority. Sitting at a café table slowly sipping a glass of wine and watching people [you can imagine which type of people] was a great – and cheap – way to pass an afternoon.
Like most things that happen when one is young and in the military, the chance to buy a motor scooter seemed to fall into my lap. I went to the Service Club to pass the time playing one of my favorite card games – Pinochle – and saw a note posted on the bulletin board. Someone was heading back to The World and had to sell his motor scooter. I quickly took down the note and got in contact with him the next day. He named a very reasonable price and I hit up one of my buddied for the few bucks I needed over what I had in the Amexco account. With a Bill of Sale I'd typed up at work, I passed over the money and was the proud owner of a Lambretta motor scooter.
It needed work. One of the cables had to be replaced. The brakes were worn. And the paint had a lot of scratches. Again, I managed to forego all little extras and saved up enough to go into the nearest town, Angoulême, to buy the parts. Unlike most of my fellow GIs, I had no thought of paying the first price offered. My moped rides had taught me that nobody in France ever paid the posted price! I bartered at length with the guy, actually walking out of the shop twice, until I got what I thought was a good price. [I later learned, of course, that he still took me for about 25% more than they were worth.]
The lieutenant allowed me to keep it parked at the shop so, on a Saturday, I was able to work on it there. It probably took me a bit longer than someone who actually knew what they were doing, but I fixed it. I also used sandpaper to remove some of the scratches in the paint and even banged out a couple of dings. I then took a can of bright blue spray paint and turned my new transportation into a work of art.
Oh yeah. I had no problem selling for moped for a few dollars more than I'd paid for it. A new 'cruit arrived from Stateside.
I poured through the maps in the Service Club trying to decide where I would go for my first trip. The Pyrenees seemed to be a beautiful place to visit. Doing some calculations, I figured it was a little over 300 kilometers to Bayonne and not much further beyond that to the mountains. At the Lambretta's top speed of 45mph, that was about a 5 hours ride. From there, a lot of side roads would take me along the flanks of the mountains to one place I wanted to see – Lourdes. A stop at Bairritz would also give me a chance to see if bikinis were as popular as I was led to believe.
Now it was just a matter of waiting for the next payday and getting an overnight pass – which isn't that hard when one is the company clerk.
Jusqu'à ce que le prochain post
[Have to make a confession here. While I became fluent in German and Spanish, I have never been able to fully get into French. I could understand a bit but probably never really tried to gain any fluency in it due to my personal feelings about the French people. I freely admit that I am not a Francophile.]

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Further Adventures in France

[This is really about a trip to Italy]

I quickly settled into my job and military life. Our unit was small so I got to know every member in it – probably more so than the others as I had access to all their military and personal histories.
Everybody in the platoon but Harold and I were from the Deep South. One of the guys was Ralph Spagnolo of Italian heritage, but he too was from Louisiana or Alabama. Ralph invited me to go with him to a place on the Italian coast where his family was from. I was going to pass it up as I didn't have a whole lot of money. “Don't worry about it,” he told me, “We can do it on the cheap.” Through the on base Special Services, we bought Third Class train tickets. They Donut Dolly also gave us tips on how to travel as cheaply as possible. We exchanged our entire month's paycheck in U.S. Dollars – getting special permission from our platoon leader to do so.

Each of us carried a backpack with changes of clothing and ponchos for the daily rain showers we had in Bussac. However, with our GI haircuts, clothes and shoes, nobody was going to identify us as anything but what we were. We caught the shuttle bus into Bordeaux and walked the mile or so to the big, gray, iron and glass train station. One of the tips we'd received was to buy snacks and stuff from the stands outside the station and definitely NOT on board the train. We also bought a bottle of cheap red wine to quench our thirsts. Our Post Exchange Swiss Army knives took care of the corkscrew need.
Only the very well-to-do French had cars in 1959. Most were either the Citroën “Gangster Wagon” as we liked to call the Avant [see picture below] that always caught my attention as the way the front doors opened or the little “upside-down-washboard” car whose name I can't remember.
Everyone else traveled by bus or train so the station was huge with endless tracks. Even back then, the Europeans provided pictures to help travelers – although I always got the impression the French did so begrudgingly. So, we had little trouble finding the right train. Aw c'mon now? You don't expect me to remember the route we took do you?
I do remember the Third Class seats were wood, but shaped so it wasn't too bad. I also quickly found that out backpacks made excellent cushions, not only to sit on but to use as a pillow. We left early in the afternoon and passed through miles of countryside with open fields or wooded areas, interspersed with towns and villages. It was certainly a far cry from the sprawl of houses I grew up with in Southern California. We seemed to stop at every single village along the way with lots of people getting on and off.
Oh yeah – there were express trains but were a bit too steep for our limited budgets.
As neither of us spoke more than a bit of “Bar room French” we got lots of dirty looks from everyone, especially the conductor who clearly showed his disgust every time he came by to once again check our tickets. I figured Ralph knew a little bit or that his Italian might help us. Oh yeah? He didn't speak a word of Italian.
My parents came to the States to be Americans, not Italians. They never spoke Italian in front of me and made it a point that English was not our language.”
Every once in a while, French Gendarmes would board to pass through the cars checking passports. We only carried our US Army ID Cards as all European nations accepted them as valid ID and we didn't even need visas to go from France to Italy.
Passing into Italy was truly like entering a new country!
They grayness of France disappeared in an instant. The people. Their clothes. Their attitude. The towns and villages. The Italian policemen who came on board, smiled at us and one even tried to speak English. He was curious at Ralph's name and beamed with delight to learn he was going to visit the village his family came from. He even took the time to write down some directions as to which train depot to change to what train and some other tips on getting to where we were going.
And the train passengers surprised us beyond belief. They welcomed us! Americans! Their friends. Their liberators. An Italian family moved into the seats around us and freely shared their food and wine with us. All eagerly tried to ask us about America using the universal signing. They also happily tried to teach us Italian. And sever of the attractive young Italian lasses smiled as to warm our “souls.”
It took us almost three full days to reach a small fishing village on the western coast of Italy. In addition to our backpacks, we each had a colorful blanket-poncho and cloth traveling bags for food and other little things. Almost everybody in our car rose to shake our hands and some of the ladies kissed us. One family was getting off at our station and took us in hand, insisting that they be our guides. They, of course, recognized the name Spagnolo and it turned out they were related to Ralph – as was almost every individual living in the village.
I don't remember Ralph's father's name but we were greeted as the wandering son returning from a far land. Even the village priest was a relative. There was no staying in a hotel or inn. We were led to probably the biggest house in the village where the Patron, another relative, made us welcome. He was something like the assistant mayor or something similar, had some impressive college degrees, and spoke pretty good English. We each had a huge bedroom with 18' ceilings and a big four-poster bed covered with feather comforters. A maid even came to take away our kinds ratty clothes, a manservant replacing them with a complete casual outfit – it seemed one of the Patron's boy had gone to Rome and those were his clothes.
We had only taken two week's leave and the train trip took three days each way. That meant we could only stay for 9 days. I don't think the party stopped from the time we arrived until the time we left. Ralph was family. And, because I was his friend and we served together, so was it.
We went out on a fishing boat a couple of times – I think it was a way to find out if Ralph had lost the instincts of his ancestors. At least neither of us got seasick and we worked as hard as we could, not exactly being sailors or fishermen.
The food? I won't even try to describe to amazing smells, aromas, tastes or just plain delight of the endless dishes placed before us.
Mangiare! Bere!” The demands to eat and drink filled out ears. And everyone wanted to dance. Dances that Ralph and I had absolutely no idea how to do. But, that didn't matter. We were hauled into the village plaza or patios or porches to make total fools of ourselves.
The time came to leave. The conductor look at us in amazement as we made our rounds of so many people there to send us off. Hugs and kisses and handshakes. It was truly a time of sadness at such a wonderful time coming to an end. We waved back as the train pulled away from the depot. Neither of us spoke during the long train ride back to Bordeaux. We were too busy remembering the wonderful time we'd had and the superb people we'd met.
And no! There's no way I'm going into details of just how wonderful some of our encounters had been. That's none of your business.
Ciao – until my next post.