I like to think that my dad would make the perfect spy. With his cover as a nerdy American tourist, no one would ever suspect him of having an agenda or even being “on the ball” about anything. Here’s a pic of my dad under his cover of an oblivious American tourist, secretly taking pictures for the CIA.
The reality of traveling with my father in a foreign country, however, is that my dad does match his cover — he does a lot of kooky things when he leaves home.
When lost in Istanbul, buy whatever they’re selling
We had just one day in Istanbul and the cruise ship had sent a pickup shuttle every half hour to pick up passengers and bring them back to the ship. The pickup spot was at the Grand Bazaar. We spent a good morning at the Grand Bazaar but were more interested in visiting the Spice Market where the locals shopped. After following the rudimentary map the cruise ship provided, we found the Spice Market and bought a lot of candy and apple tea.
As we were nearing the time of the last shuttle pickup, my mom and I were worried about making it back to the Grand Bazaar in time. My father, on the other hand, was not concerned at all. It was starting to rain and we were trying to figure out the way back to the Grand Bazaar. Getting lost in a foreign country is no fun. Getting lost in a crowded city in a foreign country when it’s starting to rain is even less fun. What was my father doing while we were trying to get back to the shuttle meeting point? He was chowing down on all the savories of Istanbul street food. While my mom is asking a shopkeeper for directions, my dad bought a gyro sandwich. After making our way up an alley that put us in the right direction, my dad made us stop so he could buy some orange juice. (It’s still raining all this time.) And then, someone is selling bottled water so my dad makes us stop so he can buy bottled water too. I have to admit, it was a little gratifying to know that my dad had to use the WC at the Grand Bazaar, which was inevitably stinky and nasty.
Why am I so clumsy?
My friend Deanna and I once had a heated debate over whether that was the name of a chapter of a book we both love. (It isn’t.) It does, however, describe the danger of traveling with my dad in a foreign country. For some unknown reason, my dad’s coordination and balance are suddenly thrown off when he’s not on U.S. soil. As we were wandering the streets of Istanbul, trying to find the shuttle meeting point at the Grand Bazaar, my father almost tripped over a series of 2 foot poles on the sidewalk (they were barriers to prevent cars from going down a part of the street) and bounced down the street. The kind people of Istanbul were too serious-minded to laugh.
When we were in Italy, we learned that 22 meters of hot spewing ash from Mount Vesuvius killed all the inhabitants of Pompeii. There was, however, another lesser known lurking danger that almost killed my dad in Pompeii — the steps of the entrance. For some unknown reason, my father lost his footing on the very shallow, unslippery, undangerous steps of the entrance to Pompeii and almost made one of the most dramatic and comical entrances that would merit a pat on the back from Jerry Lewis. For a second there, I was wondering if the cruise ship could make arrangements for us to bury my father at sea.
Following the German Family
When it comes to hearing, my dad is a bit like a cat. He doesn’t hear a thing my mother and I say. It was a miracle we managed to stay together. On a crowded train departing from Rome, an older German woman sat in the seat next to me across from my parents. When her daughter told her in German it was time for them to get off at the next stop, my dad woke up, leapt out of his seat and was ready to follow the German family off the train. The German family’s stop was not, however, our stop. I told my mom several times during our trip “I wonder what would have happened if we let Daddy walk off with that German family?”
Let’s see Downtown Mykonos
Our boat tendered us to the island of Mykonos one bright sunny day. On Mykonos, there are about 6,000 year-round inhabitants and about 20,000 more in the summer. We wandered through the white-washed narrow streets and alleys and found a pleasant sunny restaurant for lunch. We had amazing seafood there. During our meal, the resident giant pink pelican, Petros, came in to visit the restaurant owner. The restaurant owner gave Petros a drink of water and patted him on the head. We took pictures of my dad with the pelican and when my dad tried to pat Petros on the head, Petros tried to bite my dad’s thigh with his beak. After our meal of incredibly fresh seafood, we were all so satisfied and happy. My dad stretched out his arms and then said “Okay, let’s see downtown Mykonos!” I told him “We’re already in downtown Mykonos!” My dad couldn’t believe it. Downtown Mykonos was a series of tiny whitewashed streets and alleys and we had covered it in about 30 minutes.
Here’s a picture of my dad with the bird who tried to eat his leg.
The Hunger Signal
Like a small child who cannot articulate what’s bothering him, my dad rants and raves and get really grumpy when he’s hungry. On our first day in Europe, my parents exchanged money at the change bureau at the Charles de Gaulle airport which included a high commission fee. My dad was so offended by this commission fee, he used words like “How could they do this to me? I can’t believe the French government allows them to legally rip me off like that!” These people think they’re better than me!” Throughout our trip, my mom and I heard repeats of the CDG exchange bureau rant up to a week after the indicident originally happened. We soon realized that every time my dad would rant about the CDG exchange bureau, it meant that he was hungry and it was time to grab a snack or a meal. It became my dad’s hunger signal.
My dad’s imaginary cup of coffee in Monte Carlo
One really redeeming thing about my dad is that even he can laugh at his own ridiculousness. Dovetailing on his rant of the exchange bureau experience at the Paris airport, I made up a story about my dad trying to buy a cup of coffee in Monte Carlo, one of the most expensive cities in the world. We learned that in order to get into the casino in Monte Carlo, one must first meet the dress code and second, pass the credit check. One’s credit check determines how far you get into the casino. On that note, I played out the following scenario which my dad and mom really enjoyed:
Monaco Cafe Owner: Hello sir. Are you here to fix the leaky sink in the back?
My father: No, I’d like to have a cup of coffee in your cafe.
Monaco Cafe Owner: I’m deeply sorry to inform you that you are only appropriately dressed to fix our sink. If Monsieur, however, desires to drink our coffee, we can arrange to serve you on the sidewalk.
My father: Okay, I’ll drink the coffee out here. Can I sit at this table?
Monaco Cafe Owner: Monsieur’s credit rating does not qualify Monsieur to sit at the table. Would Monsieur kindly stand away from the tables, perhaps in this area below the sidewalk that you Americans call “zhe gutter”? And now, sir, what kind of coffee would Monsieur like to drink?
My father: I would like a cafe machiatto.
Monaco Cafe Owner: It is our deep regret to inform Monsieur that your credit does not qualify you to purchase a cafe machiatto. Your credit, however, does allow sir to purchase some pleasant instant coffee — we call it “Nescafe.”
My father: Okay, that’s fine.
Monaco Cafe Owner: Very well sir. I must also inform Monsieur that your credit does not qualify you to drink the Nescafe in our porcelain cafe cup and saucer. You may, however, enjoy it in this styrofoam cup. Also, there is a small cover charge for standing on the Monte Carlo sidewalk and an additional language translation fee because Monsieur does not speak the language of the Monaco. Your bill comes to 75 euros. We normally accept credit card but because of Monsieur’s credit rating, we must accept payment in cash only.