Remember Yves, the French boyfriend who claimed to be a millionaire but lived in spartan, washing his clothes in the sink, miserliness? He also implied darkly that he had been a spy and had had some run-ins with the Russians when I asked him about what appeared to be cigarette burns on his arm. Then there was the hereditary English title of which his family had unjustly been dispossessed.
Whatever. I just rolled my eyes when he went on about this stuff. Like, I'm an American. I couldn't care less about hereditary titles. As in, England might want a queen but I would never bow to her because I AM AN AMERICAN and WE BOW TO NOBODY.
Plus if he was so rich, why didn't he have a washing machine? And a full-sized refrigerator? I know it's France and they are so superior and all, but my idea of superior leisurely living does not include washing my clothes by hand. I had enough of that when I was in the Peace Corps.
Still, he was interesting to talk to and there was a certain glamor (and convenience) to having an overseas boyfriend. Although I should have learned my lesson with him and not made the Gomez mistake. For dumb.
After meeting at work and dating for a few months, we had decided to be "just friends" after coming to the conclusion that this intercontinental dating wasn't really going to work. Then we decided that as "just friends," it might be fun to take a trip together to the south of France. We would split the expenses as "just friends" and he would do all the driving and hotel finding and speaking to the locals, as my French is abysmal. A French teacher once told me in exasperation that I spoke French "like a Spaniard," which is undoubtedly true, as Spanish is my first foreign language. I started learning it when I was six and my brain knows two accents: American and Spanish. Those are the accents I apply to every other language, including French, Italian and Portuguese.
I was to fly to Marseilles and meet Yves there. His birthday happened to fall during our trip. I wanted to get him something special. I knew he liked American bourbon - he had even toured Kentucky visiting distilleries.
I researched bourbon, about which I knew nothing. It's booze, right? You use it in Bourbon Balls at Christmas?
I learned that there are boutique bourbons, single malt bourbons, snob bourbons. I learned how they were rated.
I emailed one of Yves' colleagues, whom I had also met through work. What bourbons could one buy in France? I asked. I wanted to get something that Yves could not get through his regular liquor channels.
Only the big names were available overseas, so I was safe with the snob brands.
Then I went to four different liquor stores in Miami before I found one that carried any of the snob brands. Yes, I would have tried calling beforehand, but if you have ever lived in Miami, you will understand why that would have been a stupid idea.
I spent $50 for the bottle. That was a lot of money to me back then. It had taken me a year and a half after the Peace Corps to find work and I had been working only two years. Before the Peace Corps, I was in grad school and I had a year (of temp work) between grad school and the Peace Corps, so I had had five years of barely breaking even, if that.
$50 for booze is too much for me now, as well, but then I don't drink. I'd rather spend that money on shoes. Or a purse.
I couldn't pack the bottle in my checked luggage - I was afraid it would break. Apparently, nobody thought I would try to get the entire plane drunk (ha - as if I would share something so expensive) and I was able to take it in my carry-on bag.
A bottle of bourbon, even the fancy bourbon, is not light. But I carried it across an ocean so I could have a nice gift for Yves.
He picked me up in Marseilles and we had a great trip, even deciding - ahem - to be more than "just friends," at least for the duration of the vacation.
We stayed at a small hotel on the water in Marseilles and were confused by the signs informing us that it was interdit to take non-guests into the room, but then we realized it was a sailors' flophouse and they wanted to keep the hookers out.
Our room was decorated in a jaunty nautical theme that included bunk beds instead of a double bed, but I suppose that would have been no impediment to a lonely sailor on shore leave.
The only rough spot on the trip was when I ran out of the pain meds for my tooth that needed pulling. My dentist refused to pull the tooth right before I left for France, telling me that such a procedure two days before an international trip was not wise. He did give me drugs.
He also asked if I was interested in meeting his single, employed brother. His mother, who ran his practice, and he had discussed this over my two years of being a patient and had thought we would be a good match.
I suggested that waiting until a week before I was moving from Miami to Iowa was not the best timing. Did I mention that? That I was moving from Miami to Cedar Rapids? Well, I was.
Anyhow, I ran out of drugs and my tooth started to hurt so much that I demanded that Yves find a hardware store, buy a wrench, and pull the tooth himself. He refused, but did call his doctor and get me a new prescription. At the time, I did not know codeine was available over the counter in France (it is! stock up when you are there!), otherwise I would have just stayed stoned until I got back to the States.
Back to the bourbon.
Yves loved it. Thought I was so thoughtful to go through all that effort. Of course I told him how much work it was. Wouldn't you?
I went back home, moved to Iowa, and we carried on our emailing relationship along with an occasional phone call. He even visited me in Iowa on a work trip to the States. He did not, however, impress me by deciding to fly back to France out of Chicago instead of Cedar Rapids as we had originally planned.
"I thought you could drive me to Chicago to catch the plane," he explained.
I explained to him that Chicago was over 200 miles away - that just because something is only one inch away on the US map does not mean it is a quick drive. But he didn't care. He didn't want the more expensive ticket (that the company was paying for) - but he was OK with my putting 400 miles on my car and my paying for the gas.
What can I say? This is the same man who drove to Cedar Rapids from Memphis against my advice. "It's a boring, boring drive," I told him, "and a long drive."
He didn't believe me until he got to Cedar Rapids. "It was hours of nothing but corn fields!" he exclaimed in disbelief.
"Yeah. I told you so," I answered.
After we broke up, I emailed him and told him I wanted the gas money.
But that was later. Yves went back to France. I continued to work. As my birthday approached, Yves got excited. Oh, the special thing he had planned for me! It was tres cool! I would like it SOOOO much! He could hardly stand it!
I was intrigued. What could he be getting me that was the equivalent of $50 boutique bourbon? Did he really know me that well? I couldn't wait, either.
My birthday arrived.
Nothing in the mail. Nothing delivered to work. I waited. I waited.
I checked my email.
There it was.
That was the special birthday present he had arranged for me.
Two days later, he broke up with me.
I didn't care.