Sunday, October 6, 2013

50. Cruising in France

I looked around the small cheerful cabin. The perky blue and yellow Provence print on the bedspreads, curtains, and desk chair echoed the style of the French countryside we'd soon be sailing through. Outside the wide window I could see steps leading up from the concrete dock to the road which ran alongside the Rhone river. I sat down on one of the two twin beds and considered my options. I could unpack, or go to the sun deck to watch the crew cast off, or I could go right to the bar and order a stiff drink, or just curl up in a ball and wait to meet the stranger I would be living with for seven days.
Emma, the oldest of my four children, who made the arrangements, urged me to ask for a travel partner. Not because a double was cheaper than the single supplement, but because she thought I needed someone to talk to. Although I didn't really want a room mate, I knew it would be less expense for my children who were paying for this French river cruise. Even if the person was difficult I only had to be in the cabin to shower, dress and sleep.

My husband Carl and I had always dreamed of traveling once the children were through school. I mused on how life has a way of changing the best laid plans. It had been three years since a fatal car accident had interrupted ours. He was only 53 and with our last child out of college we had been looking forward to life without tuition bills. I didn't want to go on this cruise, but my children wanted to give me a special gift for my 55th birthday and thought it would be good for me to get away from my memories. But your memories travel with you.

A bustling out in the hall interrupted my day dreams. The door opened and a man carrying a huge overnight case stumbled in. He looked at me. “I'm sorry. I must be in the wrong room.”

I looked up at him. “This is cabin 224.”

He looked down at the sheets of paper in his hand. “That's where I'm supposed to be.” He stared at me. “You aren't Robin are you?”

“Yes, I am. Are you Frances?”

“This happens to me, all the time. Yes, my name is Francis, but spelled with the male i not the female e. The tour company's computer made a typo.” He gave me a shy smile, “And I thought Robin was a British nickname for Robert.”

“I'm not British.”

“And you're not a Robert either.”

The tour company must have thought we were both females when they matched us up. Well, I wasn't going to spend a week in the same cabin with a male stranger--no matter how nice or even how good looking. Oh, my friend Jenny would love to hear about this. She was always reading romantic novels.

He dumped his suitcase and said, “Come on, let's see the purser or whoever and get this straightened out.”

Fortunately, there was a gentleman traveling alone who was willing to share his cabin for a substantial reduction in price. Francis moved his bag from the room saying, “It's a small boat, I'm sure we'll see each other again.”

That evening I changed into fresh black pants with a black and white silk blouse. And since I was in France, I tied a red scarf around my neck. When I walked into the small bar that evening for a pre dinner drink to calm my nerves, Francis waved me over to his table. I went over but hoped he wasn't going to assume we were now joined in some special way.

He explained he was supposed to be with his brother, but his brother got sick at the last minute. Nothing serious just a flare up of shingles. So the tour company, thinking Francis was female, put him with the first available passenger, who happened to be me. We laughed and both said, “Small world,” when we discovered we lived in St. Louis, including his brother, but had never met until this cruise.

Francis taught French and history at a Catholic high school, which is one of the reasons he was on the trip. Jenny would have been disappointed, as no romance kindled as the result of the name mix-up. Francis was friendly to everyone on the trip and translated when we needed help bargaining with the merchants along the river. It was a wonderful trip and everyone shared interesting travel stories. My children would be happy when I reported that I had enjoyed myself.

The next to last day on the ship was a Sunday and the daily bulletin announced there would be a Catholic Mass celebrated on the sundeck. When I got up there I found out why there had been no romantic overtures from Francis, not that I wanted or expected any. He was the priest presiding at the service.

At lunch, he apologized to those of us at his table, “I'm sorry I didn't tell all of you I was a priest but I've found that people are usually more comfortable not knowing.”

“You certainly looked like a different man in your vestments. I almost didn't recognize you. Is your brother a priest, too?” I asked.

“No. He was a happily married man until his wife died a few years ago after a long fight with cancer. I was hoping he would have some fun on this trip. I think stress made the shingles pop out. But I do have good news.”

“Great, I love good news.”

“Paul sent me an email saying he had recovered from the shingles and would meet me in Paris so we could continue our driving trip to Belgium.”

“That is wonderful news.” I was happy for the brothers.

“Robin, I know you'll be in Paris for the few days included at the end of the tour. I hope you'll be open to meeting Paul and maybe having dinner with us one night.”

“If he's as good a talker as you are, I'll sure it will be a fun evening.” Hmmm. Maybe I'll have something interesting to tell Jenny after all.

                                                                        The End