franc_for_blogMy friend Doug casually mentions he’s going to France with friends for a few weeks and tosses out, “You know, you should tag along.”

What better time would there be for me to take off to Europe than when life feels unsettled, and further unraveling will surely ensue?

My affirmative commitment was because of Doug.  Doug is a prolifically promiscuous homosexual man.  He would step out of his home/office on Beverly and La Brea walking to meet me for lunch, bump into a man on the way, have sex with him, and still be on time for our meeting.

Doug and I have traveled to Toronto, The Hamptons, Berlin, and Texas together, and each destination was fraught with hysterical fits of laughter and random adventure.  He was the happiest person I have ever known even as he was the most financially challenged.  He never cared about money, no matter how broke he was, it didn’t affect his level of happiness.  It wasn’t that he didn’t work either.  He worked constantly.  He produced film, plays, parties, art, people, clothing, literature, music, anything, yet he always chose projects that were so independent, obscure and artistic, they never made money.  Well, someone made money.  No matter!  We were going to France!

First I had to pass a test.  Doug had over stepped by inviting me, because some of our free lodging would be with Garrett and Bronwen’s family in Paris and London.  I was invited to dinner to meet Doug’s friends.  Garrett was shy of the average male height, yet a style-y metrosexual.  He was a warm and open guy, and like Doug, worked his ass off in production to no avail.  Bronwen was a successfully working model and actress.  She was statuesque, wielded a fantastic English accent, and was uncomfortably attractive.  The two of them together made for an initially confusing pair in Los Angeles where so much of perception hinges on the visual at the expense of substance.  They had obviously delved into a substantial connection, effortlessly forcing others to dig deep as well.  I used their inspirational chemistry to decidedly forgo any physical reaction to “Bronnie,” opting instead to concentrate on the higher good of the group.  Doug eyed me suspiciously to see if I were up for the task.  I was in the clear.  We were all instant best friends.

We headed first to the Cannes Film Festival in France.  Doug had miraculously found a little apartment house for me near the center of everything, while he and Garrett slept on cots in a studio apartment finishing up production work on another struggling project.

I unloaded my luggage, and took a hot shower in the bath.  There are no showers in France.   I hit the streets to find some action.  I landed in a bar featuring an elaborate drag show with an eye popping, acid dropping, production value that made Priscilla, Queen of the Desert look like a grade school production.  I sat down and ordered a drink next to a spectacular French woman named Rita.  Every guy in the place was trying to scale her like the Eiffel tower.  She was after all quite tall and superbly constructed.  We talked for a while at the bar until she drags me to a private table, ordering a bottle of champagne to be delivered in a bucket.  As she gazes deeply inside me she confides, “I have never kissed a woman before.”

I nearly fell off my stationary banquette.  Even in France this seemed to be a conversation I would continue to visit.  It wasn’t like I broach this topic either, I dive, ask questions later.  Why discuss?

“Kissing a woman is a dangerous business.”  I finally volunteer.  “Women have all the softness and sensuality that girls have spent their lives trying to wring out of men.  When you find it in a woman it’s a hard habit to avoid.”

She smiled schemingly.

Who was I trying to convince?  She was obviously the only one who would escape unscathed from this scenario.  I may act like I can have casual and inconsequential sex with virtual strangers, but if it goes on for too long, it’ll take a handy wipe and a penknife to fish me out of the cracks.

Yes, we made out.  She was the queen of Cannes and I her feudal servant.  I did everything I was told for as long as she wanted, until I started to fade.  I had been awake for more than twenty-six hours and I was losing my edge.

“You are boring.”  She said in her sexy French accent.

“No,” I said, “I know what you mean.  You think I’m bored.  Not boring. “  I had to clarify that.  “I’m just tired.”

She invited me to meet her the following evening at a party and I graciously accepted and staggered back to my apartment to pass out.

I could feel Cannes embarrassment for hosting a giant film festival every year that allowed the shallow waters of Hollywood to flood it’s humble shores.  “We need the revenue,” the city would say as it shrugged its shoulders and subserviently ushered stars up the red carpet.  I drank espresso’s all day long to balance the debauchery of the evening parties at clubs that took up whole city blocks.

One party at a giant sixteen-century castle was completely over the top and not just because it was in a castle over looking the water, with Cirque du Soleil performers circulating through the crowd in full character, and Pink Martini playing in it’s ballroom.  It was because I spent all night in the giant bathroom, drawing tattoos on the bare stomachs and thighs of women who stood in line to use the water closet.  It began as one tattoo for kicks; then another girl in line, assuming I was with the hired carnival help, demanded I do her too, and on it continued deep into the night.  I was turning down tips all evening as I gathered numbers I would never call.  I still hadn’t gotten the hang of the country code.

The following morning Doug rented a Citroen for our quick trek to the French Alps.  Had we been able to look back on the day and not forward, we might have realized that the fact that the rental car wouldn’t start was a sign.  It would eventually start, but then shut off again after driving a few feet.  But Doug, the terminal optimist continued for half an hour to get the car to run like a car, and not like a leaf blower.  We eventually managed to get it out of the parking lot and we were joyously on our way.

We drove up the French countryside through tiny windy roads at record high speeds.  The horror of watching oncoming cars slice past us without even enough room for Vaseline was over shadowed only by the extreme nausea that was swirling in my gut.  After two hours of these high speed turns through hills and tunnels we pulled over for some espresso and a vomit.  When we arrived back at the car after several espressos and a cheese plate, the car refused to start.  Doug managed to get a fellow traveler and Citroen owner to take an interest in our plight.  He must have read our instruction manual for an hour before we all gave up out of boredom.

Soon after that, a handsome Gendarme, a splitting image of Jean Claude Van Dam, showed up to rescue us.  He tinkered with the car for a few minutes and then began to explain an elaborate code and locking control system with which all Citroens were equipped.  The Gendarme miraculously managed to start the car and the gathering crowd launched into applause.  Then this authority wielding, dashing Gendarme asked us to turn the car off so we could test the system.  After that we were unable to start the car again.  The Gendarme adroitly vanished, his shame too great.

We waited hours for a mechanic from the rental agency to arrive and rescue us.  While we waited, Doug and I developed a pilot for a series called, “That Darned Gendarme.”  It would star, of course, Jean Claude Van Dam.  Every week the series would visit that darn Gendarme, who through his bumbling would usher people from mild predicaments into deeply disturbing and dangerous calamities.  We decided we would pre-sell the idea in Cannes tomorrow.  Then we were off on another laughing jag.  “Pre-selling tomorrow,” is a distribution paradox that finances film markets like Cannes, while baffling the world.

Hours Later we landed at a French Alps Farm house owned by Doug’s friend Beat.  She was recently divorced with two children.  She spoke French, acted French, and moved through space in French, although she was actually German.  I instantaneously developed deep feelings for her.  She reminded me of Maria in the Sound of Music, but with sex appeal, better hair, and far fewer children.  We danced all night and she flirted with me mercilessly.  Although, I may have imagined it because, she felt so French.

Beat made her own cheese from the goats and cows that slept beneath her house.  The whole herd was housed beneath her family home to keep them warm in the Alpine winters.  She usually escaped to her home in Morocco for the winter, leaving the herd to dine on their own wine and cheese.  She also owned the inn attached to her home where I sadly spent the night, wondering if it would be inappropriate for me to climb into her bed.  I wrote a long letter professing my love to her and inviting her to come live with me, but had the good sense not to send it.  Sometimes it’s best not to know how things wouldn’t have turned out.


Doug and I traveled on to Italy.  Italy is the most amazing country in the world, except on Sunday.  It’s closed on Sunday.  It’s a Catholic country and Sunday is Catholic day.  Unfortunately we had only one day to spend in Italy and it was Sunday, and therefore shut.  Everyone was at home with his or her families having guilt for dinner.  We drove back to France.  France has no guilt.

Nice was gorgeous, with the magnificent Côte d’Azur, beautiful, all of it.  As I strolled the beach at night by myself, four separate cars filled with French men tried too pick me up as if I were a hooker.  I was surprised that they pulled over at all considering I had too much clothing to be working.  They wouldn’t leave when I asked them to leave.  They wouldn’t even leave when I told them I didn’t have a mouth.  I committed it to memory.  “If ever hard up for cash; Spring time in Nice.”

The following day Doug and I met up with Bronwen and Garrett for our planned drive though the south of France to Paris in a rented van.  We were all ecstatic to be on our way up the Azure coast heading for wine country, castles, and the French countryside.  Garrett had another reason to be excited.  It was a secret kept only from Bronnie that he would propose marriage at after a special dinner arranged in Beaune.  Every turn we took along the coast was a scenic orgasm and we all made sure to make the corresponding noises.

Finally I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to walk along the beach and survey the beauty with my feet.  Actually my ulterior motives were much more nuanced.  I am almost militant about physical exercise and that particular day was leg day.  I saw a set of stairs that came from the sand below us up the sheer hundred foot cliffs and I thought, “The perfect leg workout, stairs and lunges!”  Also it would give me time to write in my journal and meditate overlooking the ocean.  Why anyone needs a view while meditating is a question for the Himalayan monks to silently answer.   My thought is eventually even monks open their eyes.

I asked if we could pull over and they agreed.  We pulled off at a perfect parking spot on a cliff.  I grabbed my journal and we all cascaded the million steps to the sand.  I disappeared to be alone.

When we got back to the van we were suddenly reduced to the tourists in the American Express commercials.  Some clever highwaymen had broken the front passenger window and made off with most of my friends belongings.  They hadn’t touched my stuff, and I had traveler’s checks with me inside my journal.  They stole my friends’ passports, plane tickets, money, and even clothing.  They were understandably upset and though it was an absurd notion, I could see them eyeing me suspiciously as if to say, . . . “It was her idea we descend from the car at that spot.  How well do we really know her?”

Now the trip took on a totally different agenda.  It involved problem solving, and negotiating through the various bureaucratic French hoops that would present themselves.

We drove to the nearest Gendarmerie station, where of course we laughed remembering that darned Gendarme.  There were no police inside the wide-open station.  They were at lunch.  This is when we discovered the wonderful truth about the French.  They don’t work.  They are all on the dole from the government and they take more holidays than they work, a great reason to become and expatriate and move to France.

A secretary finally strolled in two hours later, took down all the pertinent information about the theft giving us all three copies, neglecting to keep any.  Apparently the location of the robbery was a notorious tourist theft area.  In fact, upon further reflection, each of us remembered cheerfully exiting our car, stepping gracefully over piles of broken safety glass and naively continuing on our jaunt.  Tourists.

We took turns enduring the wind from the broken window as we drove to our first Château to spend the night.  I occasionally asked whoever had the passenger seat to roll up the window and we’d all laugh as they moved for the window control panel.  Periodically Bronwen or Garret would don a French detective persona to interrogate me on the whereabouts of my French cohorts.  I would retaliate by pointing out that I had never seen any of them with actual money.   It was obvious they clearly devised this theft to extort money from me.

Garrett was visibly shaken.  At first he thought the engagement ring had been stolen, but then remembered he cleverly socked it away in a briefcase the crooks had overlooked.  Obviously, the bandits were distracted by having to show up for something that vaguely resembled a job.

We finally arrived at the Château De Roussian in Saint-Remy-De-Provence at one in the morning.  The place was beautiful, “all of it,” as Meg Ryan kept stating in the film French Kiss.  Once I had unpacked I wanted to stroll through the grounds, but the sounds of wild bore slaughtering pheasant made me reconsider.  In the morning, it was a different story.  I wanted to live there with the frogs and the ground hogs and fall in love with the French Lieutenants Woman.

The next night Doug was driving 160 kilometers per mile.  I asked him to slow down but he replied, “Not a chance, I haven’t been laid in weeks.”  He later whispered to me that Garrett was proposing that night at the restaurant and our reservations were at eight, we only had twenty minutes to get there.  “Oh,” I replied, “in that case then in that case, kill us all.”

We arrived at the restaurant and parked the car illegally out front so we could keep an eye on our luggage. We could never leave our van far from our sightlines.  If someone wanted to amble through town, others had to keep watch over the van.  Our van may have been lonely once before it was violated, but after that turning point it was never without attention.  This could be a metaphor for life, but alas, isn’t remotely.

As soon as we were sat at our table Garrett whispered in my ear.  “Keep my briefcase between you and the wall.  Slide it to me when I ask.”

“Fine.”  I said lost deep in a food coma trance while staring at the best menu in France.  Every menu and every meal through the South of France was the best.  It wasn’t as if each meal improved either.  Every pristine castle or quaint village, with live farm animals living on site served the best meal I ever had.  Every meal, every bottle of wine, each piece of bread dipped in freshly churned butter with a dash of salt on top, was culinary perfection.  I went to bed at night thinking, “God, if I must die now, I will go willingly.  That meal, that wine.  Although, being in love, . . .  okay wait, . . .”

We sat for hours at that table and drank four bottles of Châteaneuf-du-Pape.  We had a divine five course meal and devoured a cheese plate that would never forget me.  Doug and I kept wondering when Garrett would propose to Bronnie, and when she left for the ladies room he informed us he would wait for a more romantic moment when they were alone.

Then we proceeded to climb into a bottle of Port.  After we paid the tab we poured ourselves loudly from the restaurant into our van and drove to the Château in Gevrey-Chambertin, an hour outside Beaune.

Almost to our destination, Garrett and I sobered at the same instant at the realization we had left his briefcase.  The ring!  We would have to wait until they opened in the morning before we could retrieve it and Garrett would not propose without the ring.

I felt like the whole thing had been my fault.   I was the keeper of the case.  The MacGuffin had been in my possession!  I’ll explain.  The MacGuffin is a plot device used in fiction to drive the story, motivate the characters and create drama.  The actual MacGuffin however, is purposefully glossed over and inconsequential.  The audience never cares about that microfiche, the painted black bird, or what is inside that damn briefcase.   People only care about love, if you want to get technical.  God, I hope you want to get technical.

In the morning I decide I will take our van to a bicycle rental shop, rent a bike, ride to Beaune, grab the briefcase and be back before anyone notices.  Then Garrett could propose and everything would be right with the world.  More Wine!

I awoke at six a.m., took a hot bath, headed downstairs, and I ran into Bronnie in the lobby.  She was seated on the plush couch addressing and sending letters to friends like the person I would never be.

“Where are you off to, Lauran?”  She says with a flirty French accent.

“I’m going on a very lengthy bike ride.”  I respond sounding even more French.

“Très magnifique!”  She exclaims.  “Can I come?”

What could I say?  She was my enthusiastic traveling companion and I had to be careful not to appear too distant just because I knew about the MacGuffin.

Ecstatic that I accepted her on an adventure, Bronwen bounced off the couch, thoughtfully scribing a note for Garrett and Doug to receive when they slept off their wine hangovers.  We hoped in the van and headed for the bike shop.

We rented fantastic mountain bikes and flew steadily down miles of a giant hillside toward the famous N74 highway, destination Beaune.  Suddenly we stopped in our tracks.  Bronwen froze as massive trucks tore up the interstate dispersing hunks of gravel and debris off their human size tires.

I have ridden bicycles all over the world.  I rode for seven hours a day in the South African heat up giant inclines made of fire.  I have often ridden up PCH from Santa Monica to Oxnard, had beers and shots and rode home.  But Bronnie admittedly only bicycled on dirt paths bordering the Thames.  Not anywhere near cars or tanker trucks.  It was also at this point she chose to reveal that her thyroid pills had been stolen in our heist and she was suddenly circling the drain of a hypoglycemic funnel.  I knew she wouldn’t make it back up that epic hill we had just leisurely coasted.

Losing Garrett’s briefcase was one thing, killing off his potential fiancée would be quite another.  I knew I had to bring Bronwen to safety first, then rescue the ring.  I steered us toward the nearest town, riding in what seemed like circles trying to find food.  It was a good thing we were lost in circles because French towns are laid out on a circular grid and once we wound our way to the center, we found a café.

Bron was too weak to ride any further and we agreed I would ride back up the hill, grab the van and fetch her.  I found a nut machine, threw some nuts down my throat, hopped on the bike and rode back to the highway and up the monstrous hill.   I was almost to the top when I realized I had given Bronnie my backpack when I left her. She still had the keys to the van.  I rode all the way back down to Centre Ville where she was still sprawled out, exhausted in the little café.  I ate more peanuts and prepared myself mentally for another ride up the hill when a big truck delivering fresh towels pulled up.

Bronnie and I looked at each other with the same thought.  The strange thing about the whole situation was that neither of us spoke French, but Bronnie looked French and had a fantastic fake French accent.  Somehow she was able to communicate and convince the driver to take us up the hill for 200 francs.  He would only let Bronnie sit in the front and he shut me in the back with the bikes and metal carts of dirty linen sliding into me at every turn.

The whole ride up the hill I kept thinking about the film, “The Vanishing.”  It’s a fantastic French thriller about a heinous kidnapping and murder.  I was sure this French Laundry truck driver was going to torturously rape Bronnie in front of me, then sadistically murder me so I couldn’t tell the tale.  He finally pulled over and forced us out of his truck half way up the hill.  He also insisted we pay him, even as he wouldn’t take us the whole way.

I was content just being left alive.  Bronnie still couldn’t ride, so I rode up the hill, got the van and came back to fetch her.  When we retrieved the van it was nearly out of gas.  The nearest gas station was where we were staying; by the time we got there it was closed for the requisite French two-hour lunch.

Garrett was furious when we returned.  He had decided when he awoke he would propose that morning without the ring and now he was too mad to speak.  I apologized in every language I knew and slaughtered apologies in a few others.  He was committed to his anger.

I had two hours to introduce myself to a magnum of wine and a cheese board.

By the time the gas station opened and we were able to fill up on gas, but the restaurant in Beaune had closed again until dinnertime.  So what.  We were in France.  We all hung out, drank wine, laughed, talked about exes, mostly mine, and took turns watching our van.  The restaurant finally opened, and we did get the briefcase back.

Garrett gallantly took Bronnie to an amazing Church in Gevrey-Chambertin and proposed to her on bended knee.  Bronnie was a woman who had been saving clippings from wedding magazines since childhood, so she wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to say yes to the man she actually loved who wasn’t snipped from a magazine.  She said yes!  The answer is Yes!

We spent the rest of our trip hearing about wedding plans, with a French accent.  Mais oui, bien sûr.