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Al Martinez

Something happens to a man when he becomes a tourist. : Chicken Dancing in Paris

November 06, 1986|AL MARTINEZ

It occurred to me, as I was on the dance floor flapping my arms and clucking like a chicken, that I would never do this in America.

I would not suddenly leap to my feet pecking and high stepping hen-like through a fashionable Parisian restaurant and think I was having a good time.

I would instead realize instantly that I was probably suffering a seizure due to the mad chemistry of jet lag and the excesses of foreign leisure.

Why else would a dour man in a solid blue suit take to dancing the wildly kinetic "chicken" with a room full of German tourists?

Afterwards, for God's sake, we even oom-pahed together. Man, I never oom-pah.

Something happens to a man when he becomes a tourist. Surging Adrenalin short-circuits the synaptic conjunctions of his brain and he inexplicably begins to peck and flap his arms.

I say he because women are immune to that kind of pathology. Instead, they are knocked askew by the see-and-buy syndrome.

Wives who at home worry over a fluctuation in potato prices suddenly begin loading up on French perfume at $150 a drop because they are in Europe.

But even that, I suppose, is one hell of a lot better than chicken-dancing across a crowded restaurant.

The sole redeeming factor of my otherwise odious display is that when we left the restaurant I told them I was Syrian so as not to shame America.

For the past three weeks, as you might have guessed, my wife and I have been vacationing in Europe.

While you were having a good time at Lake Isabella fishing in the scum, we were dining on grouse and kipper pate in London, cruising the Seine on a starry night in Paris and standing amid the 2,000-year-old ruins of Rome.

But, hey, I'm not knocking your vacation, I'm just telling you about mine.

Someday you can amuse me with stories about how you sat around the old Coleman stove having chili dogs and Budweiser beer and singing "Someone's in the Kitchen With Dinah."

I would not even mention the fact that we strolled the Via Condotti or boated the Seine except that it is in the fine tradition of newspaper columnists, even those who have not made it downtown yet, to swagger and boast about their holiday , which you might know as vacation.

I have never been able to do that before. This year, however, my wife got tired of my whining about how I've never been any farther than the ruins of Oakland, so she snapped a leash on me and led me off to wondrous places.

We decided against a packaged tour because tour groups generally include nice old ladies from Omaha and she does not believe that nice old ladies from Omaha are ready for mad-dog columnists in their midst. They do not understand maniacal fury in Omaha.

"A tour group would be all right," she explained, "except that you don't actually like anyone. I can't depend on you to be civil."

"Trust me at least to remain nonviolent," I said.

"I tried that before. You chewed through your muzzle and bit a Christian."

We therefore agreed to commission Woodland Hills travel agent Marsha Calig to create a personal itinerary for us. She did and it was perfect.

When we arrived at the major cities, we arranged short tours, which afforded my wife an opportunity to bask in the wonders of Stratford-on-Avon, Pompei and the Palace of Versailles, and gave me a chance to study other tourists.

Forget the Germans chicken-dancing off the wall and the turbaned Middle Easterners fearful that they would be mistaken for terrorists and beaten senseless by British gentlemen carrying umbrellas.

What intrigued me were the Japanese. They cluster.

We were in the Louvre when one particular group of Japanese tourists marched by.

"Will you look at that," I said to my wife.

She turned, expecting another painting of rare beauty.


"There. The Japanese tourists."

They were moving in a cluster through a room full of Renaissance art. There were about 40 of them and they were grouped together like atoms.

"We are standing before the Mona Lisa and you're asking me to look at tourists?" she said.

"The cluster never seems to break up," I said. "Even when they veer suddenly or turn a corner it remains a single entity. It must be from living on those little islands."

"I can't believe you are standing there staring at 'clusters' with all this beauty around us."

"It's just that they're somehow so . . . well . . . awesome in their clustering. I know how the Marines must have felt at Iwo Jima. Another cluster of Japanese coming over the rise! "

"You were pretty awesome yourself last night. Another chicken-dancing Yankee coming over the table! "

I guess she's right. But it is still pretty unnerving to be suddenly confronted by a cluster of Japanese tourists bearing down on you.

One cluster went temporarily out of control and almost ran me down. Thank God I am still fairly nimble. I simply chicken-danced aside and let them cluster on by.

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