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Vacation Memories : European Trip With a Student Is an Education

VACATION MEMORIES: This is one of a continuing series on Memorable Vacations that appears from time to time in the Travel Section.

December 14, 1986|ADALYN BESS HALPERN | Halpern is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

When my husband, Bill, and I were thinking about another trip to Europe in our golden years, we decided I could use some help with Bill's wheelchair and driving in Europe.

David, a UCLA student, worked for us part-time. He helped Bill, drove him to the office and fixed everything. He was strong, quick, resourceful and best of all, sunny.

So we asked if he'd like to share our trip and give us a hand in Europe. He did a thumbs up, flashed a smile and suddenly the three of us were flying to France.

David was more of a blessing than Bill and I had anticipated. Fifteen minutes after we picked up our rental car in Paris, he had the European traffic situation solved. He scooted and slid through with the best of them; parked easily in a few square inches of half-street-half-sidewalk space, and a glance or two at a map was enough to find any destination like a homing pigeon. He got us into overbooked hotels and out of nasty jams. All that with a smile and wit and lightening reactions.

He was 20 years old.

Our first night in Paris, we headed for the restaurant an Epicurean French friend recommended. It was, he warned, located in a fine old home in one of the small surviving pockets of old buildings where Les Halles used to be, and it was surrounded by sex shops, adult book stores and unsavory types.

Secretly delighted, we ventured forth, parked the car a few blocks from the restaurant and proceeded on foot.

The sidewalk was just wide enough for Bill's wheelchair, so I walked behind, gawking at the red-light entry halls, with their glass doors that frame the girls. They smoked, chatted, waited for their customers.

Bill is a robustly handsome man, with a hearty laugh, a mischievous smile and a walking difficulty.

David looks like an Adonis.

As we came abreast the third doorway, I saw the girls. They had leaped into action to display their charms to this brace of manpower. Then I showed up. Off went the smiles, up went the bras. What a disappointment.

I tried to console them with a wry smile, but they stared back, sullen and petulant. I had ruined their evening. We kept on walking.

The restaurant, besides fine food and the ambiance of a cultured home, served up another helping of David among the Parisians. This time, it was from two bejeweled, haute couture ladies at a nearby table. Their slender fingers caressed a demitasse as they quick-eyed the men. David won, hands down. Perceiving that we spoke only English, they felt comfortable in the privacy of their rapid French conversation. But you'd have to be blind and deaf not to know that David could have danced all night, or whatever.

Carefully Chosen Words

Halfway through dinner, I was tuning in to their French and, silently, I began to practice five words of my own. They had to be perfect, and smooth. I owed it to the working girls. And I wanted to see the faces of the haut monde when I spoke French.

" Bonsoir, madames, " I murmured as we brushed their table on our way out. "Et bonne chance." (Good luck.) They looked up. It was worth it.

I'll never know if David had any idea of just how clinical their examination had been. He played it very cool, and we laughed all the way home.

We walked miles in Paris, and spent one day at the Louvre and our beloved Jue de Paume museum, mostly to give David exposure, but it didn't seem to take, so we didn't push it.

We drove at a leisurely pace through the Alsace area. In Strasbourg I wheedled a "small, country inn" recommendation out of the concierge at the sophisticated Sofitel. We loved the Sofitel, we assured her, but yearned for a change of pace. She phoned an inn in the Black Forest, about four hours drive away, near Baden-Baden.

We got a late check-out time, picnicked in the park and left Strasbourg in the early afternoon. It was a beautiful, relaxed day, driving across the German border, and on the winding Black Forest road to the tiny town of Sasbachwalden.

Our inn was really a German way-station, with lots of good food and only a few rooms. The ones we had were wonderful. David was in a student's paradise, up under the eaves, overlooking the soft, green slopes and geranium-filled window boxes of the town. He ordered doubles of home-made strudel. Bill and I munched contentedly on sauerkraut and bratwurst, and, finally, bade our hosts a happy good night.

Near Catastrophe

All was well. Until midnight. Bill sprang bolt upright in bed and exploded. "Oh, my God."

I leaped for the light switch.

"I left my wallet in the night table at the Sofitel," he said.

I went into shock. "Your wallet," I echoed.

"My wallet," he said with a scream, "with everything. Cash, checks, passports, cards, everything."

That did it. I was off and running for David.

Seconds later, David, dressed, was in our room, getting the car keys and brushing off Bill's complicated instructions with a "Don't worry, Mr. H., I can make that run fast this time of night. No traffic."

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