Sunday, April 05, 2015

Déjà vu-Talking History

When I went to work in Switzerland, my first stop was the UK to meet Mike, the manager of that branch, who was to explain to me the basics of the company database and how the two offices related to one another.

He was an ex-RAF Colonel, who thought of women as "dolly-birds" and most Americans as "ignoramuses" at best. 

It didn't help that my plane came in just as traffic was at its worse when he picked me up. The drive back to Windsor, where the office was based, did not bode well. I expected that his chain-smoking might be the best part of the journey as the car inched forward bit by bit toward our destination.

Little did I know I had the magic key to be removed from the dolly-bird and ignorant American categories. 

I not only loved history, I knew British history having studied and adored it university. 

In 1990 when I moved to Switzerland, I could name all the English kings and queens in order (don't ask me to now), the significant part of their reigns, and the major events and some of the minor ones between the Anglo-Saxons setting up camp in the 700s and present day. 

The atmosphere in the Vauxhall changed immediately when I dropped some historical nugget about where we were. 

During my stay, he gave me a tour of the area, skipping Windsor Castle where I'd been twice before, doling out morsels of history like fine chocolate.

Instead of leaving me alone after work, he and his wife, a lovely woman who made me wonder if he'd always been a curmudgeon, took me to dinner in a pub that went back centuries. 

On subsequent visits, he found hotels or BnBs with a history behind them, took me to see an oak that had provided shade since the Tudor Kings or so the locals claimed. It certainly was thick enough with branches imitating octopus arms.

Fast forward to the marché in Argelès.

Rick and I stopped for our "cuppa" at La Noisette.  A British couple of retirement age chose the table next to us, half because most patrons were crowded inside rather than sit in the Tramontane and there were only a couple of tables free. Only the most ardent smokers faced the wind.

He had that public school accent, which I recognize far better than I do the regional ones.

Within minutes we were discussing King George III, William IV and I held my own, although I did do a bit of brain-racking on significant events during each of their reigns. Afterwards, I wished I'd remembered that George was king when England united with Ireland, and William of Orange was of William and Mary.

That I was currently reading about the Spanish/Dutch war during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and plucked the name of a 7th century saint from Ely, seemed to give me enough cred.

Like the oak tree, that Mike showed me, history is a complicated subject. There are the great events: wars, reign changes, disasters. But there is also the lovely local histories to be gleaned from the present.

I hadn't thought of Mike in years and I assume he is long dead. No one could survive another 25 years with those smoke-damaged lungs. Small details flooded back. Even if they hadn't historical topics sometimes just makes for a great conversation with people you meet by chance.

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