France Was Always A Bit Special



On the road…again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek


is for France

If you watch closely, you can see the French countryside taking shape in stark contrast to the Swiss countryside along its common border, as you clear the customs station at Pontarlier. The neat fields, the tidy houses, and the precisely stacked piles of firewood alongside Swiss barns are replaced almost immediately by shaggy fields with ragged boundaries, fewer well kempt houses and barns; and haphazardly stacked firewood that all send out clear signals that this is not Switzerland, so it must be France. The land itself can speak of national characteristics, just as people themselves are stereotyped. Perhaps it is not fair to generalize, but within limits it can be said that there truly are national or cultural characteristics. Off in the distance you can see where the border is, marked not by a fence or barrier, but a landscape of contrasting fields and farms. So it was that Footloose Forester decided that he was probably more French than Swiss in outlook and mode of dressing.

The live-and-let-live attitude of the French carries through in most aspects of daily life and the Footloose Forester counted on that as he drank his wine at Paris bistros and outdoor cafes. Sit as long as you want and watch Paris life go by, that seems to be the French way. That is not to say that life is slow and serene everywhere in France.  The Train de Grand Vitesse from Nice to Paris travels at speeds over 125 miles per hour, and taking that train was one of the objectives that made the last trip to France so memorable.  On the most recent trip there, the normal operating speed had been upgraded.  In some places that Train de Grand Vitesse hit speeds up to 320 km/h.

There were a few earlier and a few later sojourns to France. Some were marked by laughter at the time but later became saddened memories after the passing of brother Joe. As an airman stationed in England, Joe joined up with Footloose Forester, then a G.I. from Germany. They reveled as pretend bon vivants on the left bank, drinking cheap wine and hoofing it or riding the metro around the city to see the wonders of the most beautiful city in the world. On our agenda were Montmartre, the Moulin Rouge, to attend Sunday mass at Notre Dame, to ride the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower; and to eat fresh baguettes from corner street venders.  Not bad for a week-end squeezed in between a road trip through the Black Forest, the Swiss Alps and sunny Rome, via Genoa and a quick ascent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.




At another time, the Footloose Forester made a brief stopover to visit Thu’s cousin who lives southeast of Paris. She mentioned, ever so casually, that her neighbors across the street were always shouting at each other. The woman was an African that her husband married during his travels. He was the man who led the takeover of the Comoros Islands, at the behest of the French Government. You can read about him in the forward of the novel, “The Dogs of War.” It may be a novel but he was real and he really did take over the Republic of the Comoros in that historical novel, and in fact at the behest of the French Government. The Footloose Forester was later briefed about his exploits by a resident Canadian whom he met years later in the Comoros.  The Canadian pointed out some of the places that the famous mercenary, who called himself Col. Bob Denard, had landed, disarmed the opposition and established his headquarters. A fuller historical account of his actions can be found in the Chronicles of a Footloose Forester:  C for Comoros.

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