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Lange: French Samaritans

11/02/12 5:55PM By Willem Lange
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(Host) Willem and Ida Lange have been traveling though France, with the help of many Gallic samaritans.

(Lange) At the absolute low point of the first day of our recent vacation, along the high-speed autoroute from Nice to Marseille, I had just poured 20 liters of gasoline into the tank of our rental car - our diesel rental car. They say it's darkest just before the dawn, but at that moment I couldn't see how.

Whenever Mother and I tell friends we're going to France for a romantic getaway on our October anniversary, somebody almost always pipes up, "But the French are so rude! How can you stand them?"

Well, I'll admit we've met perhaps only five hundred of them, with over 65 million to go; but so far we've always been treated with courtesy and warmth. That doesn't extend to the highways, where Frenchmen fantasize themselves Grand Prix race drivers. But that day, at the low point of our holiday, as I searched frantically for anyone who spoke English, a samaritan appeared. He listened to our predicament, escorted me inside, and had the clerk in the restaurant call for help. Then he stayed with us for over half an hour, till the flatbed truck came to take us away.

That evening, after hours of waiting and filling out paperwork, we took off again in a replacement car. I have to hand it to Mother; she knew how chagrined I was at my mistake, and emitted only positive vibrations. We spotted a Formula One hotel - you've gotta stay in one to appreciate true genius - but because of divided highways and one-way streets, we couldn't get to it.

A Frenchman pulled up beside us. Mother, observing, as she always does, the formalities of the dance, greeted him and very politely asked how to get to the hotel. He started drawing a map, but it was too dark. "Suivez moi! Follow me," he said, made a U-turn, and led us through back streets and a construction company yard to our destination. We got the last room.

A few days later I got lost, as usual, on a hike over the mountains. At the other end, a woman I asked for directions piled her black Lab and me into her tiny car and drove me back to our hotel.

There were samaritans everywhere - the tiny, gray-haired lady who grabbed our luggage and ran like a red squirrel with it up to the third floor; Michelle, the delicately beautiful head of the hotel dining room, who at breakfast on Mother's birthday brought her a chunk of Edam cheese with a sparkler candle sputtering away on top.

But the most memorable was an elderly man who approached Mother as she was sorting through scarves on sale at a department store. She was choosing her usual blue, when he said, "Oh, no, Madame, take the red. It is vibrant. It is you!"

She thanked him for his advice and was about to take the blue, anyway, when he said, "You aren't going to buy the red, are you?"

"Umm, no."

"Well, then, I will buy it for you." He paid for it, and disappeared. She's worn it ever since.

Vive la France!

This is Willem Lange, home again in Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

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