In His Honor-A Memory

Making Like Anthony Bourdain

“You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet,” Bill said.

I replied, “Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.” We were cruising the Holland America website exploring excursions for our Alaska vacation. As always, the conflict between my craving for adventure and Bill’s practical nature had to be taken into account. I added, “Honey, this ATV tour really does look terrific! We can fit it in the day we arrive in Denali. We’ll get to see a glacial moraine and a braided river!”

“Neither of us have ever ridden one of these things.”

“No, but I’ve driven a snowmobile, you’ve driven a motorcycle, and the website shows this is a level two adventure—perfect for us! If it were really dangerous it would be a level three. Please, please, can we sign up?”

My husband nodded. I added the ATV tour to our list of excursions and clicked “buy”. We started counting down the days until our departure for the fiftieth state and the vacation dreamed about for years.

After a scenic all-day train ride from Anchorage to Denali National Park, Bill and I checked into our rustic cabin, grabbed a quick dinner, and hopped on a van for a short drive to the Black Diamond ATV resort. Three handsome young men garbed in mud splattered rain suits greeted us as we clambered off the van and stumbled over water-filled ruts to the resort office. The tallest of the group yelled, “Okay, peoples, first you watch safety film, then you grab helmet, gloves and raincoat!” They herded us into a drafty shed with our twenty or so fellow adventurers.

“See, honey, they obviously have been doing this a while or they wouldn’t make us watch this safety film and oh, uh, read this two-page liability release form…” The mandatory film was a well-produced infomercial for a popular brand of ATVs. There was some mention of things like wearing a helmet, following instructions, using the hand brakes. The liability release form was vague enough that one couple decided to wait in the van rather than experience the adventure.

We donned our gear, laughing a bit at the awkward fit of the helmets and the dirt-encrusted gloves. Chatting with our guides, we discovered that they were college students from Bulgaria working in Alaska for the summer to learn the tourist business. The crew hustled our crowd to the muddy yard to select our ATVs.  “Womens take big machines! Much safer! Mens, little ones goes faster!” shouted one of our guides.

I pulled myself up onto a big, green four-wheeled ATV. Somewhere during our suiting up, I think we were told how to start the machine, but between the guide’s rough accent, his distracting smile, and the muffling of my helmet, I missed most of the instructions. Bill sped off while I was still trying to find the on switch. After a few minutes my guide strode over, turned on the engine, and urged, “Go quick! You are behind!”

I gunned the engine. My ATV roared out of the yard and onto the gravel-strewn trail. In seconds, I was running off the trail and skewing into dense brush. I clamped down hard on the hand brake and shuddered to a stop. I jockeyed my weighty machine back and forth to regain the trail. After a few minutes of strenuous effort, I gunned the engine again and set off to find my group.

The trail took a sharp left turn. I pulled to the left with all my strength. I negotiated that turn only to be confronted by a ninety-degree right turn and an ill-placed boulder. I yanked hard, but the ATV knew I was no match. The big green monster bounced over the boulder and flew off the trail and down the steep hillside. I hung on with an iron grip as the monster sought level ground. We traveled faster and faster smashing over wildflowers and boulders alike.

“Oh, my God, I’m going to die my first day in Alaska!” Suddenly an image flashed before my eyes. Just the week before while watching the Travel Channel, I had seen host Anthony Bourdain in a very similar predicament. Frantically, I recalled his heavy ATV rolling over him twice as he crashed down a steep sand mound. “What did Anthony say he should have done?”

“Jump! Jump! Jump!” I leapt off at the next bounce. The monster galloped downhill. I was airborne for a few seconds and then I hit the ground hard. Opening my eyes, I found I had landed in a large patch of brilliant purple fireweed. The dense foliage and the daypack I had cleverly worn front-wise broke my fall.

I moved my head and each limb in turn. “Nothing’s broken!” I extricated myself from the smashed blossoms and stood up. A head appeared above me on the trail.

My guide looked at me with a quizzical expression and asked, “Why you drive off trail, lady?”

After figuring out that I was not the litigious sort, my dark-eyed escort said, “Lady, maybe you ride with me now. I got plenty room. You have more fun, okay, lady?” Georges and I quickly caught up with our group.

“Honey, I drove off the trail and crashed my ATV, so Georges suggested I ride with him,” I explained to my shocked husband. After a quick hug and a shake of his head, Bill chased off after one of his new buddies. It turned out that Bill took to ATV’ing like a grizzly to ground squirrels. He sped around turns, raced up hills, splashed through puddles and generally behaved in a totally un-Bill manner. I escaped my adventure with only bruises and scrapes. Word of my derring-do soon spread within our tour group and I dined out on the heroic story for several days.

A couple of months later, we acquired coveted tickets to a lecture given by my favorite chef, author, and adventurer. His talk was funny. I bought his latest book and stood in line to have it autographed. As I waited, I rehearsed a fifty-word version of my amazing story to share with him.

I sauntered up to the signing table. “Chef Bourdain,” I said, “Remember the ATV accident you had in New Zealand, you know, the one where you almost got crushed on the sand dune? The exact same thing happened to me in Alaska, only I remembered what you said you should have done and I jumped. So, here I am!”

Tony favored me with a blank stare.

“You saved my life!” I gushed.

My hero’s mouth turned up in a scornful smile. He scrawled something illegible in my book. In his jaded eyes, I could see the question, “What the hell kind of numbskull middle-aged broad talked herself into driving an ATV in the wilds of Alaska?”

A Springtime Ramble in Paris

As is our habit every first morning in Paris, my husband and I awoke bursting with big plans for the day. This year we decided that topping our agenda in the City of Lights was a revisit to the beloved Impressionist paintings at our favorite French museum, the Musée D’Orsay.

Breakfast at the Hotel Chopin in Paris
Breakfast at the Hotel Chopin in Paris

After a petit déjeuner of baguettes slathered with butter and jam, crispy croissants, freshly pressed orange juice and strong coffee we descended to the Metro at Grands Boulevards. The Paris Metro app on my iPhone directed, “Ligne 8, direction Balard, transfer at Concorde to Ligne 1.” Alighting at Tuileries station we walked through the gates of the Jardins des Tuileries. We knew a stroll through the gardens on our way to the pedestrian bridge over the River Seine would ease our transition into la vie parisienne.

Spring was mature when we left our home in northern California on March 30th. Many trees bloomed early this year; in our neighborhood the plums were in full flower in late January. In Paris, spring was newborn. Rows of trees in the Jardin des Tuilleries were just budding out, creating a pale green haze above our heads. Lipstick red tulips nodded at their reflections in the limpid ponds. Winter-weary citizens lounged in slant-backed chairs lining the paths, their faces turned towards the yet pale rays of sun.

Tulip time in Paris
Tulip time in Paris 

Ah, soleil!
Ah, soleil!

We wandered the groomed avenues of the garden, reveling in the light breeze and fair sky. Soon, we were feeling peckish. It was early for a full lunch, so we stopped at one of the open-air cafes in the park for take-away food. A perfect late morning snack…baguettes with jambon and beurre. That salty-fatty combination of country ham and butter layered in a crusty baguette called for ice-cold cokes. Luckily for us icy drinks are readily available in Paris these days.

Within a few yards was an unoccupied bench where we spread out our picnic lunch. Midway through my sandwich, I asked Bill, “Do you really want to spend the day inside?” He swallowed and considered the question. “Let’s go over to the museum and see how long the line is.”

While he finished his sandwich and mine, I sketched a gentleman sitting near us. Like many older men in this city he was dressed nattily, in a sport coat and slacks. Engrossed in his book, he was oblivious to my observation.

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We gathered our things and strolled away. As always, when we came near the steps to the bridge, our question was “Over or under?” The pedestrian bridge from Jardin des Tuileries to the left bank is relatively new and features two approaches. One involves walking down a shallow flight of steps in a tunnel under the peripheral road, the other up a steep flight of steps from within the park. We opted for the shallow steps and were joined by a dog-walker with a pair of boisterous pups.

Emerging in the sunlight we were swept into a small group of people hurrying across the river to the museum. We slowed and stopped to savor the view from the bridge. The foamy wakes of tour boats traced long arcs on the gray-green water of the Seine. The Louvre stretched for blocks on the right bank, while on the left the mansard roofs of the Musée D’Orsay gleamed.

A dark-haired woman approached Bill and held out a gold ring. We laughed and shook our heads. She looked crestfallen, but even addled by a long flight and jet lag we were on to the gold ring scam. Plus she hadn’t performed it well. To pull it off, she needed to pretend to pick it up from the pavement at his feet before handing it to him. We were not off the bridge where another woman thrust a ring at Bill. This time, I scanned my husband’s attire. “Something about you is screaming tourist!”

At the Musée D’Orsay, the line of art lovers queuing for tickets filled the plaza. We looked at each other and shook our heads. “Today is for walking!” I suggested. Bill grabbed my hand and we turned our back on the Impressionists.

We walked down the narrow street behind the museum and then turned left on a side street towards the Seine. Crossing the boulevard we found ourselves at the line of stalls where for years, booksellers have offered used and new volumes in French and other languages. We ambled along, stopping when a bright cover or words in English caught our eyes.

“Shakespeare and Company!” I remembered that on the list of things we really wanted to do in Paris this visit was a stop at the iconic bookstore. It was somewhere on the left bank, in the direction we were headed. We walked on, crossing the street again to try to find some shade.

At Place Saint-Michel, I shivered a little despite the bright sun. Nearby walls bear plaques with the names of resistance fighters who died on that spot in August 1944. I could feel the bloodied courage of these men and women as if their shades lingered even now.

IMG_0037Traffic in the area was a bit daunting. When a glimpse of bright color caught Bill’s eye, we sidled down a side street to find one of those vest-pocket parks that dot Paris. Cherry trees crowned with blossoms shaded the grass. Four young women giggled as they postured for photos in front of masses of pink blooms. The sounds and smells of the cars on the boulevard seemed far away. We were delighted to relax in this green haven in a bustling neighborhood.

IMG_0035And then we walked on…arriving at Shakespeare and Company where we edged our way through the warren of narrow shelves, jostling other readers to find the poetry section. Bill chose e.e.cummings while I picked a slim book by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and owner of City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Somehow that felt just right.