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LAUGHING IN THE GOLDEN YEARS

MAKING FRIENDS WITH A STRANGER
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A few years ago, my husband and I decided to take a final trip to Europe.  We chose a river trip which started in Switzerland and culminated in Paris, France.  I was really excited to be able to tour around Paris as it had long been my dream to spend some time there.  Unfortunately, just before we left on our trip, I developed an excruciating sciatica attack, which left me barely able to hobble around.

On the ship, my inability to walk without pain was not a problem.  I simply stayed aboard during the walking tours, and while seated in the main lounge, read books from the ship library.  But upon arriving in Paris, I wanted to see all the famous sights and participate in a real Paris outing.  My husband contacted the tour director, and we managed to see most of Paris by bus.  Meals at sidewalk cafes were a delight because there must have been twenty-five restaurants within a short walking distance from our hotel and using a cane, I could limp to most of them.

One evening, my husband suggested that we take a boat trip around Paris on the Seine River.  That sounded great to me and with his help, we walked down to the pier where the tour boats were moored.  To my dismay there was a long set of stairs, maybe about twenty steps down to the docks.  I was in miserable pain from simply hobbling there, so I sat down on one of the steps, while my husband went down to the ticket office to get some seats on a tour boat.

Below me and up against a stone wall, a young man was selling paintings of Paris Street scenes and the Eiffel Tower.   To be generous, I am calling them paintings, but what they really were were photographs with some paint daubed on to accent the important part of the picture.  To be absolutely honest, they were some of the ugliest, tackiest pictures I have ever viewed.

While I was attempting to get some pain relief, the young salesman approached me and asked if I would like to buy one of the pictures.  I could honestly answer him and say I had no money, because I was not carrying anything to keep my load light with the burden of the cane.  In a moment of curiosity, I asked the man about his accent, because I liked the sound of it.  And he replied that he was Algerian.

“What are you doing selling pictures here in Paris?” I asked him.  “Don’t you have a market for them in Algeria?”

“No,” he explained.  “Not so many tourists in Algeria as here and anyway, no one there wants to buy pictures of Paris.”

“I understand that,” I said.  “France pulled a dirty trick on your country.  During World War II, they promised Algeria independence if your nation would help them fight the Nazis.  Then after the war, they reneged on their promises, and Algeria had to fight for independence in an eight-year guerrilla war.  Your country didn’t get independence until 1962.”

At that the young man broke out in a smile that lit up his whole face.  “You know my country’s history,” he said.

I nodded maybe a little ashamed of myself, because an Algerian taxi driver in New York City had actually given me those few facts.  However, the young man began speaking about his country and his family, and all I do from then on in was listen, smile and nod my head.  At one point I did ask him about his wife and children and he replied that he missed them, but he was sending money home, and he would be returning to them when cold weather set in.

While we were talking, my husband returned with tickets to the boat and helping me down the steps and across the pier, we were soon seated in great accommodations which were set up for handicapped people.  It was a lovely tour, and I was happy not to have to walk anywhere.  All too soon it was over and as I was doing my best to get back up the steps from the pier, my husband said to me, “Honey, that man is calling you.”

When I turned to look, the Algerian salesman was holding a picture of the Eiffel Tower out to me.  Trusting it into my hand, he said, “For you because you know my country and listened to me talk about it.”

After I had thanked him, and expressed my appreciation for his talking to me and sharing his life, I thought I am going to keep this picture forever.  It is a real treasure.

Now I have hanging in my living room in a prominent place, a picture of the Eiffel Tower that anyone who sees it says something like, “Wow, that is an ugly picture!”  That opens the conversation and I can tell the story of the Algerian salesman who wished to give me a gift to commemorate the day that we became friends, if only for a few hours.

 

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About the Contributor
Maryann Nunnally
Maryann Nunnally, Contributing Writer
Maryann Nunnally is a retired high school principal and professional comedienne. She writes the regular column Laughing through the Golden Years for Cape Fear Voices.

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  • J

    Joyce SzemkowApr 3, 2024 at 8:33 pm

    Dear Maryann,
    It is such a gift to listen to one another but especially so when it’s a complete stranger. It warms my heart that you brought such joy to him.
    Your loving neice,
    Joyce Szemkow

    Reply