Mother: Well, how was Paris?
Me: I think I developed a keen palate for red wine.
Mother: Great. I send you to Europe for the summer so you can become a wino.
Me: I also bought an incredible pair of leather boots in Milan, handmade sandals in Greece and gorgeous earrings from the Paris flea market.
Mother (sighing): Shopping. Sounds like quite the cultural experience.
Like most 18-year-olds, I was a bit of a jackass. Slab on the maudlin mass of my father dying my senior year year of high school and you’ve got a bona-fide enfant terrible in the making — a Shia LaBeouf in the rough, if you will.
In an effort to assuage the loss of my pilot dad and replace the summer flying lessons he had promised, my mother booked a two-month assault on Europe better known in the 1980s as the Grand Tour. Tack on a monthlong visit with European relatives and you’ve got a graduation present built for two. For mother a Nicole-free summer. For me, a Duran Duran video — at least that’s how my quasi-flaccid teenage brain envisioned it.
So that’s how I found myself at JFK Airport slumping about with a couple of six packs of pimply youths from across the continent.
It was a Canadian tour group led by a booze heiress from Vancouver and a schlub of a man who taught at the Latin School in Chicago.
From the get-go it was apparent that he was desperately in love with the heiress, trying to impress the jet-setter with his prep-school French and immaculate itineraries. Like the teenage jackals that we were, we sunk our teeth into this little drama with bloodthirsty lust. With that chunk of fresh meat to gorge on it didn’t take long for me and my new-found friends to build our strength and — essentially — take over the tour.
By the time we landed at Heathrow a triumvirate had formed. The lovely Sarah, a Taft grad with a steel rod in her spine giving her the posture of a corseted monarch, was our very own “Deenie.” Armed with a patrician nose and bobbed blonde hair that swung like the tail of an Arabian, Sarah was the quiet consigliere of the group.
Then there was Heidi — the tiny Torontonian rebel with a Lauren Hutton gap and a Canadian Mountie’s tolerance for tippling.
Throw in the Molotov cocktail of me — the well-read redneck with her guilt-ridden mama’s credit card and it was quite the elixir of power.
We started with a pub crawl that began in London and ended somewhere in the Greek Isles. We were Benetton-on-our-backs soccer hooligans, only our game was to party like Eurotrash and subtly soak in culture through the haze of our hangovers.
The echo chamber of Churchill’s War Room was rank with our booze-filled pores as we listened intently to docents. We nearly lost our Elgin Marbles at the British Museum save for a quick water closet dash. The Eiffel Tower tilted our whirl after a boozy lunch and the River Seine served as repository for its second coming. We moaned over Mona at the Louvre — only it had more to do with all-night clubbing than Da Vinci.
We leaned-in to the grappa in Pisa and communed prior to visiting the Vatican.
Greece proved to be a challenge once we parted with the Parthenon and headed for the islands.
We sailed the Cyclades and the Sporades and manning our own vessels required sobriety. My Greek family awaited me at the end of a nearly three-week sail and after that, it was off to college and the great beyond.
Some 30 years later as I look into that bold oracle of a mirror, I still see that hell-on-wheels kid who found a way to go to college in Europe for a long stint and become a writer. She’s got a few dents and scratches, but wouldn’t you after such a long and fun-filled journey?
Happy Graduation Class of 2016.
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