Back in 1971 I was 20 years old and spending my junior year of college studying French language and culture at the Institut Catholique in Paris.
There was at that time in Paris a Latin American Student organization, UNICLAM, (where I would later become one of a number of regular hanger-outers at their office/hang-out) run by a couple of fun Peruvian guys named Cato and Lalo. I'd heard that this UNICLAM was organizing a 2-week bus tour to Italy over Christmas break to visit Rome, Florence, and Venice. I decided to go.
Though most of my fellow travellers were from Central and South America there was a pretty good representation on that bus from all over. There were kids from France, Cambodia, Spain, Israel, Jamaica, and about half a dozen Americans, a couple of whom I knew, though not well, from my classes at the Institut.
Everyone on the bus was friendly, and I found myself sitting next to a funny, outgoing Jamaican girl named Janine and across from a Parisian girl, Guenaele, and her Chinese-Cambodian boyfriend, Sin. We became a travel-buddy group during the bus ride, though it seemed that when we arrived in
our youth hostel in Rome the groups sort of reconfigurated, as groups will do on trips.
Janine, Guenaele and Sin joined up with Cato, his French girlfriend Dominique, two cute little American twin sisters from California named Jean and Joan, and Michel, our bus driver, who, when he wasn't driving, was a lively, funny member the group, sort of the life of the party.
I, on the the other hand, somehow defaulted to the official American group, three kids who'd come to Paris together on the same junior year abroad program (I'd come over by myself and wasn't with any college program) and who stuck to themselves, spoke English all the time, were jokey and cynical and by the end of the first day kind of boring.
I remember our first day touring around Rome my group ran into Janine, Sin, and Guenaele’s group a couple of times and, though I was having a good enough time with my little group, their group always looked like they were having a better time. Plus, being of a variety of nationalities, they all communicated in French, which was what I wanted to be doing. I really wanted to jump ship but wasn’t sure of the correct procedural for ditching one’s group and latching on to another. I didn’t know if the others, already a good-sized group, had room for one more tag-along.
On our second day in Rome I plotted my defection, which I vowed to attempt as soon as the next opportunity presented itself. And it did late in the morning that same day when we were in a museum and I saw the other group again.
I didn’t rush right over to them, but kept an eye on them and hoped for a natural-seeming segue to materialze.
And by luck one did.
It turned out that my compatriots were ready to leave the museum while the other group was still looking around. I seized the moment and with razor-quick-thinking told my group that I wanted to stay and look around a while longer. They didn’t respond as if they were going to miss me.
So I stayed in the museum and sort of trailed my target group at a plausible distance for a while, then gradually lessened the distance between us until I was next to Dominique. She said hello and I said hello then without any addtional conversational hors d'oeuvre I meekly asked, "Est-ce que je peux etre avec vous?" (Can I be with you all?)
Dominique's expression turned serious and she replied. "Non, tu ne peux pas etre avec nous." (No, you can't be with us).
Then she broke into a big laugh and said, "Bien sur, tu peux etre avec nous!" (Of course you can be with us!).
Sin and Guenaele, who'd watched the scene, came over smiling and stood on either side of me, each putting an arm around my shoulder.
"You looked so cute just now, like a little rabbit," said Guenaele.
Though I think she meant to a big rabbit, since this is how I looked back then: