Our daughter-in-law Jacqueline came home with her husband and children recently after spending the holidays in her native France.
While they were still there she telephoned to say that for the first time on her several visits to France she missed Los Angeles. She realized at last--after 15 years--that it was home.
The other evening she invited us to her house for dinner and my wife told her that we were on a low-calorie, low-fat, no sugar, no alcohol diet.
She said that was all right because she was on a diet, too, and that she had cooked the chicken with nothing but herbs.
"Could you bring a bottle of mineral water?" she asked.
I realized that her diet must really be austere. She usually asked me to bring wine.
I took a bottle of wine just to be on the safe side, but I needn't have bothered. We were no sooner there than our son opened a bottle of sparkling white Vouvray wine from the Loire Valley.
"We brought 18 of these with us," he said.
I was astonished. I could hardly imagine the energy needed to carry 18 bottles of wine on an airplane, much less get them through customs.
"All they asked us," he said, "was whether the things we were bringing in had a value of more than $1,400 per person."
They had been in Tours to visit our daughter-in-law's mother, and our son and his sister-in-law's husband had gone out to see the caves in which the wines of the Loire valley are kept. The wine he brought home was left over from the carload they picked up on that expedition. He had bought sparkling wine because it is not exported, and thus cannot be bought in Los Angeles.
"The wine is nothing, Mr. Smith," our daughter-in-law told me. "I show you something. Come with me."
She led me into her bedroom and showed me two dozen cans of French pate on top of her dresser. They were each about the size of a can of shaving foam.
I wondered how she had managed to carry 24 cans of pate on the airplane, along with the wine and the numerous presents she had bought for our family here.
"I scatter them through our luggage," she said. "Nobody notice."
The chicken was delicious, although Jacqueline had removed the skin and cooked it without spices. I declined the sparkling wine in deference to my wife's diet. I am on it only for her sake, to give her moral support.
My son was surprised. "I thought you'd crack," he said. He knows that I hope to die drinking champagne.
Our daughter-in-law said at dinner that she disagreed with me about Paris. After our recent European tour I had written that the women of Paris were the most beautiful and chic in the world.
"The women in Paris are ugly," she said. "And their clothing is terrible. The men are even uglier. They are short, fat and bald and they wear thick eyeglasses. They are not tall and handsome like my husband."
She was also disappointed in the moral climate. "We went to a carnival, you know? They had those cars that bump into each other and shooting galleries and all kinds of booths, and every other booth was a bordello! I'm not kidding."
She said a terrible-looking old woman stood in front of one of the bordellos trying to talk men into coming inside for "the most beautiful sex experience of their life."
I wondered how my grandson had reacted to that.
"He just said, 'I wish (my friend) Gabe was with me--he wouldn't believe it.' "
I don't think it makes her any less formidable a person to say that our daughter-in-law sometimes exaggerates and has a tendency to overreact.
Our son told us that they have a law in France requiring that motorists in the front seat fasten their seat belts, but Jacqueline refused to fasten hers in their rented car. Then they drove into a police roadblock. Policemen were standing about with machine guns at the ready. Our daughter-in-law, fearing that she would be arrested for violating the seat-belt law, uttered a shrill scream and looked frantically for her seat belt.
In the back seat our grandson, being in a foreign country and having seen too many cop movies on TV, misinterpreted his mother's scream and thought that the policemen were about to shoot them in a spray of shattered glass. He fell to the floor of the car to avoid extinction.
Our daughter-in-law was somewhat disenchanted by France.
"The life there is not as good as here," she said. "My girlfriends, who I went to high school with, they do not have houses. They live in little apartments. Most of them have washing machines now, but there are no dryers, no microwaves. And there is nothing in the supermarkets, compared to what we have.
"All they do over there is eat and drink," she said. "In the morning they go shopping for lunch. Then they eat lunch. Then in the afternoon they go shopping for dinner. Then they eat dinner."
(Just the other day I read in the paper about a survey showing that the French have less leisure time than the people of any other Western nation, including the United States, mostly because they spend three hours eating dinner, which is considered "necessary time," and not leisure.)
The gift she brought me was a champagne bottle stopper. I can't wait to use it.