Last day in Paris

In 1968, I signed up for a work-study viticultural and winemaking program which was designed for students of the craft to visit and work in various wineries around France.

I found a temporary job at a cooperative winery in the heart of Paris and found myself as the delivery boy on what looked to be a golf cart, filled with wire racks of cheaply made wine. My driver was a tough, streetwise Marie, who had grown up in Paris and seemingly knew everyone in the city. Above the winery, which had once been an enormous bus barn, lived Alice, who was an ex-pat who hooked me up with the job.

This would be my last day with the winery as I would be heading out, by train, to the Midi of France reporting to my first winery assignment. The transportation strike, which had crippled the country, was over and the streets of Paris were beginning to be clear.

Marie was in a foul mood, slamming her clipboard against the dash of the cart and grunting at me to hurry up and down the stairs. We were being paid by how much we delivered and she was looking for at least three loads before lunch. She tore through the streets recklessly. Finally, I had had enough and yelled at her to stop. She looked almost like she had come out of some kind of trance and very shortly, began to cry. It seems that she had broken up with her partner of many years and she was devastated. She was almost inconsolable and shook with tears. It was then that a little Renault pulled up and out stepped two gendarmes, both of who knew her. They began to joke with her to move the cart from the middle of the lane when she jumped from the cart and took a swing at the lead cop!

The swing was the real thing, aimed to do some damage, but the lead officer simply willowed back, missed the punch and the two of them subdued her quickly. It was almost as if the entire thing had been choreographed. Without much fuss, they began to load her into the back seat of the police car. She motioned for me to come over and handed me a wad of francs with the command, "Allez!"

What? Was I supposed to finish the route? I did not know Paris at all nor could I find my way back. Watching all of this unfold was a guy standing on the sidewalk. They sped off and I pulled the cart to the sidewalk blinking. Great. Now what was I supposed to do? The man came up to the cart and we spoke. He was a Parisian in grad school. I told him my dilemma and he nodded. He spoke fluent English and had lived in America as a child. I pleaded and begged with him to help me find my way back to the barn. He listened, told me to move over, looked at the clipboard and we were off. We delivered the load like champs and made our way back with a cart full of empty bottles and quite a few francs. He went off, after a "merci," a handful of francs and two bottles of wine from the foreman. I was assigned to a new driver who said nothing to me the rest of the day and only pointed at the addresses on the clipboard before each delivery stop. It was a bit of a letdown for a last day but I was on my way to a new adventure with new francs in my pocket.

As a "thank-you" for letting me stay in her apartment, I took Alice and her boyfriend to dinner in Paris. It was the first time I had met him and he was a good man and not at all jealous or upset that I had stayed in the apartment with his girlfriend. He simply shrugged and said that it was (whatever this meant) the "French way" of hospitality and felt "nothing" of it, whatsoever. In the morning, bright and early, I got on the train for my ride to Beaujolais, which is south of Dijon, to report to work. The train ride would turn out to be quite an event in itself.

Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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