Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Touring Europe

on November 13, 2013

The best part of living in Paris, for my father, was the opportunity to travel all over Europe on his holidays. Every year, the three families, plus whoever wanted to tag along, packed up for the two weeks they had off from the embassy and drive off.

One year, it was Holland/the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg. The next, it was Germany, and the next, it was Italy and Switzerland. That year, I didn’t make it for I was ill, again. And Mama stayed behind to look after me.

Our last year in Paris, the annual trek was to Spain and Portugal.  It is interesting to compare my travel memories as a child to those of my children and to mine as an adult. We remember different things and in a different way.

map of portugal and spain

For children, the whole trip is rather a blur, with just a few episodes standing out for reasons that are important only to a child. I see a few weeks bathed in sunshine, and out of the mist appears a hotel. Not an upscale one, but very picturesque, Mediterranean architecture, old yellow-coral stones. The adults tell us they are going to a bullfight and we are too young to see it. We should all stay in the hotel.


Do we stay in the rooms? No. We were probably told to stay in the room, but that command is not there in my memories.  So all of us run up and down the hallways and staircases, and squat down and stick our faces on the railings and observe the goings and comings down in the rather small lobby. One uniformed doorman, obviously bored with his statue-duties, starts waving at us. We run away.  Then we sneak back, to the lilting melody of Melina Mercouri’s Never on Sunday.  We peek down again. The doorman waves at us again. He talks in Spanish. We only speak Chinese and French. The bravest of us, George, decides to go down and ask him what he wants.

We are terrified. George, come back! What are we going to tell your parents? But he approaches the doorman, who pulls out something that looks like a fountain pen out of his pocket. He gestures to us, “Watch!”  We are mesmerized. He pushes the pen into George’s left cheek, and pulls it out slowly from the right cheek.  Our eyes grow big and our jaws drop. Is he alright? George hops back to us. We ask him with concern, does he feel pain? why isn’t he bleeding? He laughs and shrugs. We are totally impressed.

Another hotel, a large bedroom. I am in pain, I cry. I cannot pass bowel movements and they hurt. Papa says it’s called constipation. Mama tries everything and finally uses the key of our hotel room to help dig my stuff out. Papa tells me, lo! the greatness of motherly love!

In Chinese, Portugal is called Grape Bud: Pu Tao Ya. I look everywhere for the grapes. Where are they?  Every morning, before setting out, Papa announces our final destination of the day. Whenever we arrive in a city, or to some famous landmark, he announces the name. We all have great fun! One day, he says, “Today evening, we shall reach Paris!”  I fall asleep on the way. Papa shakes me when we arrive. I wake up. What? This is home, not a new fun place! I fuss and cry. “No! No! I don’t want to go home! I want to go to Paris!”

My parents laugh instead of  scolding me. And the “I want to go to Paris” joke entered the encyclopedia of jokes about Fawzia.


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