What started as a simple cab ride (the execution of operation “retrieval-of-forgotten-black-performance-shoes-from hotel” otherwise known as “Saving Anna’s backside”) ended up as an epic journey which included the sharing of stories, an impromptu French lesson on how to speak about love and several near death experiences.
An emergency text message started this odyssey. “Mum!!!! I have forgotten my performance shoes. They will literally kill me” Normally I am the kind of mother that says things like “I don’t do lost property” and “How will YOU solve this problem?” but this time I knew I had to put my undies on the outside, unfurl my supermum cape and fly to the rescue. When your child has travelled to the other side of the world, and has been up to her neck in rehearsals and performances and forgets a key piece of her uniform before an important concert, there’s nothing else to be done.
What complicated the rescue was that my hire car was at the hotel with the aforesaid shoes, as I had travelled with the choir on the tour bus to visit a museum and see the concert. With my limited French I knew there was no way I could organise a taxi over the phone so I enlisted the help of the receptionist at the museum to book a cab. After four phone calls she managed to find a taxi driver who was willing to work on a Saturday afternoon, rather than play boules and drink a convivial wine with friends, and the plan began to fall into place. With the hotel room key in hand after a secret transfer (it was highly important that the conductor and choir manager were unaware of the problem or the solution – having reminded the choristers not to forget any of their performance uniform before the choir left the hotel) I jumped in the cab and we were off.
The cab driver spoke very good English and was keen for a chat. Before we had travelled for five minutes he had found out where I was from, why I was in France, and what I had enjoyed about his country. He knew all about the choir and our concert, and decided because of our long connection he would certainly attend. He told me about how he came to drive taxis after being an executive in a pharmaceutical company; he wanted to help his son, who he and his wife adopted from French Polynesia, and who has faced difficulties getting work because of the colour of his skin, so he set up a taxi business and now works with his son. I told him I thought that it was a wonderful thing to help his son get work and be independent. He told me I had a kind ‘visage’ and he knew I must be a nice person. “Most people,” he said, “do not want to talk with me on their journey.”
As a reward for my kindness, he then said to me, “You must speak French. I will teach you. It is easy once you get started. Speak to me!” I said I only spoke very little, although I was trying to learn more every day, and he took that as a challenge to increase my knowledge exponentially over the course of our trip. And so to love and near death. He began with the difference between love and like in French. “For instance,” he said, “You cannot say that you love lobster, but you can say that you love your husband. But it is confusing, because some people, for instance, they have emotional attachments to their dog, and so they can say they love their dog, because to them, it is like a person in their family. But you can never say that you love a lobster, because lobsters are for eating, not for loving.”
Every part of the lesson required him to gesticulate with both hands to explain the subtleties of meaning, which meant his hands were not on the steering wheel, leaving the cab free to career towards oncoming traffic, road signs, and even a concrete wall, until he eventually turned his attention to his primary role as driver. I cannot say my concentration was at its best, my focus being more on gripping the edge of my seat and trying to look calm. But I certainly will never forget that one cannot love a lobster in French. We pulled up at the hotel and he bade me farewell, promised again to attend the concert, and said he would pray as a patriot for fine weather for Anzac Day.
The shoes were retrieved, and a much more relaxed journey back to the concert venue undertaken, notwithstanding I was only on my third day of driving in France. The performance went ahead as planned, shiny black shoes were worn by all choristers, and in the audience was my taxi driver with his wife.