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LOVE: Romance Blooms on a Tour : European Tour Sets the Stage for Love to Bloom

June 12, 1988|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a travel writer based in Canoga Park

Sometimes the things that happen on tours are like the events in the larger world, only on a smaller scale.

I don't mean you're likely to see Genghis Khan riding up and down the aisle of your bus raping and pillaging, but if you take time to look, you might see romances bloom, marriages fail; you could see hotel emergencies, economic crunches, administrative failures and sometimes "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."

Not long ago, my wife Joyce and I saw all of those things on the same tour, and the incidents involved just a small segment of the larger group.

(The events that follow actually took place, though the names have been changed.)

Instantly Likable

The first person in that smaller segment was Howard. By himself, Howard Flynn was not a person you'd soon forget. He was a thin, middle-aged man who wore Western clothes and hand-tooled boots. He also wore a Stetson on the back of his head. It framed his easy smile.

You might have been tempted to think of Howard as short if it weren't for the two inches of heels on his boots and his 10 gallons of hat. Howard was instantly likable.

Lynette Flynn was not. She was 5 feet, 7 inches, a buxom redhead with Doris Day freckles.

Lynette was flashy. She also seemed like the kind of person you find yourself talking to at a cocktail party who spends more time looking over your shoulder than at you.

At the get-acquainted dinner in Paris, Howard introduced her as his bride, gave her a little squeeze and announced that the tour was their official honeymoon.

Then Lynette made a brief speech, telling us that her husband, though not the biggest guy around, had the biggest heart and was going to buy drinks for everybody.

Drinks Aren't Cheap

When our tour director held up his hands and said that the following day would be pretty full and we'd all do well to retire early, Howard was noticeably relieved. Mixed drinks aren't cheap in Paris, and there were 38 of us.

If the Flynns were hard to overlook by most of us, they were impossible to overlook by Maria Amati. Maria was a petite Italian-American lady in her late 30s, with glasses so large they hid half of her face.

From the time Maria first saw Howard, she began to take on a glow.

Stared at Him

He didn't notice her until the third day out. He caught her staring at him. She smiled and quickly looked away. Howard was unable to figure out why. His bride didn't seem to notice. Lynette didn't notice much before about noon, anyway.

Howard and Marie first spoke the day we stopped at Bayeaux to see Queen Matilda's famous 11th-Century tapestry. The tapestry is a once-white cloth about a yard wide and dozens of yards long, upon which are embroidered scenes depicting the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066.

In the building where the tapestry was housed, we were issued individual tape players that explained it all--how the masterpiece was made, by whom and even including information about the Norman Conquest.

It didn't work out for some of us. I got a tape that was so faint, I couldn't hear it. Howard was holding the device close to his ear and listening intently while Lynette was talking into his other ear.

Machine Blocked Voice

Suddenly he seemed to realize that she was talking, stopped and apologized, explaining that he hadn't heard her because he had been holding the machine to his good ear.

"Good ear?" she said. "You mean you've got a bad ear? Howard, you really are lame, aren't you?"

The remark hit him pretty hard, but he just smiled, muttered something about having been sick when he was a kid and told her he'd wait for her outside.

He and I both turned in our tape players, went out in front of the building and sat on the steps.

Within minutes, Maria came out. She explained that she had heard Lynette say Howard was lame and wondered, having nursing experience, if maybe she could help.

He thanked her and explained that it was only a passing thing. After she'd gone back inside, Howard took off his hat and worried the band a little. "You know, that little lady smiles at me for no reason at all. How do you explain something like that?"

"What's to explain," I said. "I think maybe she's got soft eyes for you."

Howard toyed with the idea for a moment, then shook his head and laughed. "Not likely."

Deprecating Remarks

In the bar, back at the hotel, Lynette "reviewed" the Bayeaux Tapestry, calling it the best organized roller-towel she'd ever seen.

A few people laughed. I was one of them, prompting Joyce to give me a dirty look and an elbow in the ribs.

"Listen, I think she's right," I said. "Even a busted clock is right twice a day." This got me a dirty look from Lynette. There was no way to explain the remark, so I just joined my wife, who was trying to slide under the table.

In the days that followed, we saw a lot of Southern Europe, but we also saw Howard and Lynette in a lot of bars. Sometimes others from the group would be with them. Usually Maria would be someplace close by.

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