Editors' Choice

A Double Surprise

by D-L Nelson

"I've a surprise," Christian said as soon as I stepped off the train In Lyon, France. He drove me up to the hills behind the city pointing out the yellow buildings and telling me the history of Charlemagne. His wife was at the door of their home. She ushered me into a meal that only the French can whip up with little or no effort. There was a salad with a walnut dressing with self-picked walnuts, a chicken with olives, rice with seasonings, and green beans with tomatoes and onions and an herb I still have to identify.

"Voilà," Christian said as he brought out a bottle of Nouveau Beaujolais with a flourish that would make a wine steward weep with envy.

"How wonderful. A great surprise," I said feeling like a real insider to be offered the Nouveau Beaujolais three days before the official unveiling of the wine.

"That's not the surprise," He said. "It comes after lunch."

After the last morsel of home-made tarte des pommes, the three of us piled into his car. Exhausted from my trip and too much good food, I feel asleep and woke to discover myself in a tiny medieval village in Provence. Christian parked the car and we wondered through the streets that a normal-sized American car could not get through without scraping both doors. At the church, he stopped and threw open the door.

The Church, which had been built sometime in the 1200s, had been converted into the Salles des Fêtes. Most French towns and villages have such a meeting place for any local event. The inside of this Salles des Fêtes was as modern as the outside was old. Frank Lloyd Wright would have been proud of the design.

But it was not the architectural ingenuity that left me gaping. The entire village was inside, all dressed as cowboys and all line dancing.

"Surprised?" Christian asked.

"Flabbergasted," I said and then tried to find the French that expressed my shock. I couldn't.

The word quickly spread a "real" American was there. One man came up and handed me a Budweiser. Another came to ask if I could teach them some steps. I blushed as I admitted I'd never lined danced and explanations about being from New England didn't seem worthwhile to make. However, the man quickly offered to correct this. Within a few minutes I could sally and keep my hands in my back pocket as well as the next person.

While I was eating a saucisson, which was billed as an American Hot Dog but much tastier, several people came up to tell me about their visits to the States. Those who had not been there, asked about this and that place, mostly the west where I'd been on business trips, but did not know nearly as well as I knew Europe or the East Coast. I found myself talking about Greyhound buses, car rentals, and the Grand Canyon, which I had seen.

The live Country and Western band was from Perpignan, a city near the Spanish border. They were good. They were also very loud. The leader began a series of announcements to thank the organizing committee and talk about where else they would be appearing and then came the fatal words, "We've an American with us tonight, and she's going to sing for us."

I knew I was the only American in the room. I also knew that when I sang my small daughter lullabies, she asked me not to because it hurt her ears. And she was my kindest critic. The door was too far away to run to. Even running would have been impossible because the crowd carried me to the stage.

I looked down at a sea of eager faces. All my life I have fantasized being a singer as only a tone deaf person can. I imagined cheering crowds.

"What would you like to sing?" the leader asked.

"Me and Bobby McGee?" Maybe he didn't know it.

He did.

"What key?"

Key. I knew keys existed in music that had nothing to do with doors. I racked my brains for one that sounded real. "C?"

"C it is," he said, handed me the mike and picked up his guitar.

I looked at the mike. I imagined tomatoes being thrown, big flavorful, juicy ones that deserved local pressed olive oil and fresh picked oregano not the expression against bad singing. I imagined the end of any decent Franco-American relations based on the auditory torture of the entire population of a small French Village. Then I saw the little button on the mike that switched it off. I did just that.

I indicated that band should start and I started belting out that "I was busted flat in Baton Rouge waiting for a train." I waved for the audience to sing with me. I strutted up and down that stage like I had in a million earlier fantasies, smiling as I went. The band was great.

The crowd went wild with applause. I bowed.

The band leader came up to me. "I'm sorry, did you know the mike was off?"

"Ce n'est pas vrai?" I lied, hoping my acting of shock was as great as my fake singing.

"Do you want to sing again?" he asked.

"I'd rather dance," I said.

Christian lifted me off the stage. "You were great. I was surprised. I didn't know you could sing."

D-L Nelson worked in public relations with major US Corporations before moving permanently to Switzerland. She holds a masters degree in creative writing from the University of Glamorgan in Wales. Her novels and short stories have won awards and her short stories and poems have been published in seven countries and read on BBC World Radio. She is the overseas correspondent for Credit Union Times and teaches business and creative writing courses as well as coaching individual writers of fiction and non-fiction.

About Editors' Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we've received from travelers around the world and present it here as our "Editors' Choice." For an archive of these stories go to the Editors' Choice link on The Flying Carpet; for more about the editors, see About Travelers' Tales Staff.


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