Gothic Travelogue: How to be Abducted (True Story)

When traveling to Paris, it is important that you do not get abducted.  

Or, if you do nearly get abducted, you can at least put it into a book!  I speak, both times, from experience.

In Nachtsturm Castle, Catherine Tilney is wise enough not to go to Paris alone (well, she and Henry are on their honeymoon!), but while at Notre Dame, she sees an American woman who's being cornered by an over-amorous Creole man.  Now, the truth is that I was that American woman, and the man was actually  Nigerian.

Round and around they ran, and if the child was nimbler, then Henry was more determined.  He cornered the boy at last at the edge of the Seine, interrupting an over-ardent Creole gentleman and an immediately grateful New England woman...

The gypsy thus satisfied, she once again resumed her game of tossing the eldest child at likely victims – which now included the amorous Creole, much to the long-suffering New Englander’s delight. 

 ~ Chapter III, Nachtsturm Castle, "Wherein Our Adventurers Encounter the Foreign and Familiar"

Unfortunately, no gypsies came to my rescue at Notre Dame, but that's the fun of fiction: you can right realistic wrongs.  

There are a few ways to make sure you are Not Abducted:

1) Do not go to Paris alone.

When traveling from Avignon, after a wonderful trip through southern France, accompanied by classmates, a professor and a priest, no matter how many dogs you see hopped up on cocaine, no matter how feverish members of your party are becoming, no matter how badly it's raining, and especially no matter how long it takes the train for Louvre (where your party is going next) to arrive, do not go to Paris alone.

Even if it's six in the morning and you've been waiting all night with the drugged-out dog, and a bunch of sketchy looking people, and your quickly-sickening party.  Even if the train to Paris comes first and you're in a bad mood because the people in Avignon have been correcting your too-Parisian pronunciation all night.  For example:


FRIEND. Hey, Emily, can you ask for more butter?

ME. Yup.  (To the waitress.) Oh, pardonnez-moi, plus de beurre s'il vous plaît? (Buhr for butter.)

WAITRESS. Buuuuuuh-ruh.

ME. Quoi?

WAITRESS. Buuuuuuuuuh-ruh.

ME. Buh-ruh.

WAITRESS. Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh-RAH.

ME. Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh-RURH?

WAITRESS. Non non non....  (And so on.)


ME. Bonjour!  (Pointing to the train schedule.) C'est le train pour Lourdes? (Stumbling a bit on the pronunciation for Lourdes, since I'm not quite sure.)

TICKET GUY. Loooooou-druh?

ME. Loooou-druh.  Merci, oui. Est-ce que le train pour Loooooou-druh?

TICKET GUY. Non non non.  Looooooooooou-druh!

ME. Oui.  Looooou-DRUH!


ME. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU-druh!  C'est le train?


The next morning, when the ticket booth re-opens, and the train for freaking LOOOOOOOOOOU-druh hasn't come, and I am wet, and feverish, and freaking out over that cocaine dog.

(The ticket booth opens.  I attack it.)

ME. (Slamming down the train schedule.) Pardonnez-moi.  Ou est-ce que le train pour Lourdes? L-O-U-R-D-E-S comprendez-vous?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?


Somewhere in Avignon, that fellow is telling the story of the morning a crazy American woman attacked him before he even had his coffee.  Regardless, no matter how pissed off at the southern French you are, the fact remains the same: do NOT go to Paris alone.   

2) If you do go to Paris alone, remember that the bathroom is your friend.

Actually, just remember this whenever you're traveling.  Especially when you have no money.  The bathroom is your friend.  Rather like the Muppets had their lockers in Muppets Take Manhattan, so the savvy traveler finds the nearest bathroom and stakes their claim.  It's better than a flag.

Having not the first lesson of how not to be seen  abducted, I at least knew the second, and as soon as I got off the train from Avignon to Lourdes, much the worse for the wear, I went in search of a bathroom. 
I paid my money and claimed a stall, where I could regroup.  I had 80 francs, which is not very much - especially since I still had to buy a ticket on the Orient Express to get home to Austria.

I had a map (point Emily)...

But I hadn't slept (point abduction).

Far from really studying the map in the relative safety and privacy of the bathroom, I made the mistake of going out on my own.  Carrying a big map.  And looking lost.

3) Sometimes it's better to play the dumb American card.

One of the first things we were taught when we went to Europe was that it was important to learn foreign phrases in order to say "Hello" and "Thank you" when you went in and out of shops.  It was considered polite.  I have a fairly good ear for languages, and so despite southern France determined to change my Parisian accent, I got along well lingually (if not grammatically) in France.

However, when I was attempting to go into the brave new world from the train station, I couldn't find the exit (sortie).  I did find an information booth, however, and so I stood in line to ask where the exit was.  By this time, I was thinking in French but getting a little tired of it.  So, when I got up to the disgruntled information woman, the conversation went like this:


ME. Bonjour.  Pardonnez-moi...parlez vous Anglais?
DISGRUNTLED WOMAN. (With a grin that suggests otherwise.)  Non.  Nous parlons Francais.
ME. D'accord.  (In my best Texan speaking French.) Ooooo!  Esk-eh la SORE-tee?

DISGRUNTLED WOMAN. (With a very sour expression.) Derrière vous.  (Behind you.  This was embarrassingly true.)

ME. Mercy.

Moreover, had I only feigned ignorance of French, I would never have understood my abductor who came up to me as I stood on the street corner with my map out and a confused expression on my face.  As it was, he fell into pace with me just as I had chosen a direction and asked (in French) if I knew the way to the Gare de l'Est.  I told him that I was headed that way myself, and he said, "Well, let's walk there together!"  And I, seeing him as an angel of mercy (besides, he was black and black people are good, because white people have oppressed them), said, "Sure!"

My abduction began.

4) Just because you're fat, doesn't mean you're invulnerable.  Or Stop Thinking Like a Westerner!

As an American with more to love, I've spent my whole life sure that since my body does not conform to our current Barbie-ideal of beauty, that I am therefore best used as a meat shield.  Coupled with a natural inclination to pig-headedness, I knew that while I had heard tales of amorous Latin gentlemen, I would not prove tempting to them.  I'd forgotten, however, that Rubens liked himself a large women, and there are all those fertility goddesses running around modelling the latest in globe couture.

So, those of you women looking for an ego boost!  Get thee to a Parisian street corner, whip out your map, wear your dumpiest clothes, and just wait for would-be abductors to pick you up!  If you have 80 francs on you, and speak a little French, you can also get to sight-see with your abductor, who does this for a living.

Which brings me to a corollary: 4A) If the women in your family have a history of being abducted in Paris...freaking learn from them!!!

It's true.  When my mother and grandmother traveled together to Paris in the 60's, they got fed up with each other one afternoon, and decided to go their separate ways.  My grandmother, who has always been a model of grace, was approached by an amorous Parisian whom she easily deflected.

At the same time, on the steps of Sacré-Coeur
my mother (see left) had a Spaniard pestering her.  He kept asking her what she was doing later, and she kept trying to deflect him in her broken French.  Finally, she screamed, "I must pray!" and rushed up the stairs to the Basilica.

Did I learn anything from my maternal line?  Nope.  I learned that I wanted to see Sacré-Coeur for myself.  So when my abductor asked me whether I was really going to go back to Austria right away without seeing anything of Paris, I answered him, "Well, I have always wanted to see Sacré-Coeur."

5) If he isn't running off with your luggage, be wary of what he does want to run away with.

Now, when I foolishly said, "I've always wanted to see Sacré-Coeur," what I was most worried about at that point was that he wanted to steal my luggage.  If only.  You can trust a thief.  So, thinking I was very clever, I trudged along carrying my really heavy bag.  We got on a bus; I paid for both of us.  And suddenly, I found myself at Notre Dame.  Not Sacré-Coeur.  This was the first moment that I realized something was wrong.

"This guy," I thought, "has done this before."  However, since we were already at Notre Dame and I did want to see it, we went in.  I admired the rose window, he attempted to whisper something about how "anciens" everything
was (which is how I learnt the French for "ancient"), and then I took a page from my mother's book and threw myself down in front of a pieta and prayed.

"Dear God," I prayed, very much in English, "I have no clue what's going on, but I'm pretty sure that I just fell into something incredibly dangerous.  If you could just make this man go away, because I can't be rude to him because 1) I wasn't brought up that way and 2) I'm not thinking straight and 3) the only swear I know in French is very rude and I've been trying not to swear and 4) he's black and I'm white so I have to be nice to him.  But You can just make him...go away.  Please please please?"

My abductor reappeared.

I glared at the statue with an accusatory eye, that said, "I'll see you in a few at Sacré-Coeur, and then we're really going to have words, You and I."

We went into the courtyard of Notre Dame, where I was met by my first gypsy (see this post) who was absolutely no help at all.  We got on a bus; I paid.  We came at last to Sacré-Coeur, where by this time the fellow was holding my hand and kissing my cheek.  I thought: "Oh, hell's bells.  He isn't trying to take my luggage, I have no idea how to get to the Gare de l'Est now...the least he can do is hold my bag."

We saw Sacré-Coeur, I snapped his picture under the pretense of taking a photo of the basilica, and once inside and again firmly and determinedly praying to keep him away from me, I started doing the first vaguely sensible thing I had done all that day: 

6) Don't just pray about it -MAKE A PLAN!

This was my pickle: I didn't know where I was.  The man had my map and all my belongings.  I was running out of money, which I needed to get home.

I found my backbone and declared that I was going home.

He said: "Let's just sit in this park, first."

It was a beautiful park, and since I have asthma and there are a lot of stairs, I decided we could sit in the park.  We sat on a bench, he still holding my hand, and then rubbing my neck, and then suddenly kissing my neck.  I whirled around and yelled out, "NON!"

I didn't slap him.  I wish I had.

He looked startled.  Remember this ladies, the power of "Non!"

ME. Take me to the Gare de l'Est.

ABDUCTOR. You are so confusing.

ME. I'm very simple.  Let's go.

ABDUCTOR. Let's take a bus.

ME. No.  I've got to catch my train.  It leaves very soon.

ABDUCTOR. (Picking up my bag and grabbing my hand.) OK, OK, we'll go.

ME. Great.

(We start walking, hopefully, towards the right train station.  After a few minutes:)

ABDUCTOR. You know, you don't have to leave.

ME. Yes, it's very important that I leave.

ABDUCTOR. What time is your train?

ME. (Hesitating, because I hate lying, and I hadn't learned about equivocation yet.) Six.

ABDUCTOR. That's in four hours!  Look, do you have any money?

ME. No.

ABDUCTOR. You can stay at my place.  It's OK.  Nothing would happen to you.  You can sleep with my sister.  But you should stay.  You haven't seen the Eiffel Tower.

ME. I don't want to see the Eiffel Tower.

ABDUCTOR. But you've got four hours.  And Paris is beautiful.

ME. I need to prepare prepare take the Orient Express.  (This is perhaps the lamest excuse I have ever come up with for anything.)

ABDUCTOR. Fine.  We'll go to the Gare de l'Est.

ME. Good.

ABDUCTOR. But you can change your mind at any time.

ME. Uuuuuuuuuuuugh!

7) When you are near freedom, grow a spine and kick that abductor out!  Grrrrl POWER!

When we finally came to the welcome sight of the Gare de l'Est, I nearly wept for joy.  I thanked the man, and reached for my bag, but he took a seat right next to me and said that he would stay.
I would like to point out that if this had happened today (which it wouldn't; because I've learnt from the time it did happen), I would have just kicked him in the nadgers, called the police, and sauntered out of there.  However, there are dangers to being polite.

I attempted to argue that I really needed to prepare myself, spiritually and mentally to make the journey home.

He didn't answer.

I pulled together all my gumption...and told him to leave.

Then the bastard looked at me, and said, "If you give me something."

ME. What.


ME. What?!  (Because I was sure I had heard him wrong.)

ABDUCTOR. A kiss.  Sur la bouche.  (Lit. On the mouth.)

Again, I disbelieved my ears, and patted my cheek.  Word to the wise, ladies, kick the nadgers.  Never fear to kick the nadgers.  *sigh*

He repeated: on the mouth.

I tapped my cheek firmly again, and began babbling about how I needed to be really really zen to get on the Orient Exp....

Which is when my abductor grabbed me by the neck and attacked my face with his tongue.

Fortunately, I had the good fortune to clamp my lips together tighter than the locks on Fort Knox.

He backed away, with a smirk on his face.  He dumped my bag.

ABDUCTOR. Au revoir.

ME. Au revoir.

ABDUCTOR. Donne-moi 10 francs.

I threw the money at him.  He stooped to pick it up and sauntered off.

8) It's OK to cry.

Once he was finally gone, I grabbed my bag and ran down the train station.  Finding a bank of empty seats, I threw myself into one, and my bag onto the other, and myself on the bag, and proceeded to have a good, long cry.

9) It's just as important to laugh.

 At some point during my cry, it hit me that there were probably people watching me.  And that, to them, our scene may have looked like a romantic break-up.

I couldn’t help it.  I started laughing and laughing and laughing.

And then I settled in to wait four hours for the Orient Express.

10) You can also be healed.

After my disastrous trip to Paris, I had no desire whatsoever to return.  But about a month later, a friend of mine asked me to travel to Lisieux, France.  I hesitated, and then reasoned that 1) I would be traveling with someone and 2) we would not be stopping in Paris, just taking the train through. 

I agreed to go.

The trip was really delightful.  We lived on a six-foot baguette and a jar of Nutella.  We found the second cleanest bathrooms in Europe (the cleanest being, naturally, in the Vatican).  My friend even washed her hair in the sink.  We stumbled on a small Mass being said in French, and I was thrilled that I could understand most of the sermon (on St. Mary Magdalene).

But when we travel up to Paris, I began growing nervous.  We would be arriving at night to catch the Orient Express.  Once again we’d have to make our way from Gare du Nord to Gare de l’Est.  And this time, we’d left the map at home.

This time, though, I’d learnt from before.  Since there were two of us, we weren’t accosted.  We took the time huddled up near the bathrooms to snag a map of the metro and a map of Paris and plan our route.  We still had very little money – just enough for transportation – but I saw that the Palais Garnier Opera House was between where we were and where we wanted to go.

I convinced my friend that we could get off to take a look at the Opera house and still have enough time to walk up the Rue de Lafayette to our train.  She agreed.

And when we emerged from the Metro, there was the Opera House, lit up gorgeously, with Parisians in ball gowns and tuxedos and SILK LINED CAPES! and TOP HATS!!! spilling out from intermission.

I threw wide my arms, and cried out: “I AM HEALED!”



  1. Omg Emily, I'm crying and laughing at the same time. You so should have kneed him in the nards. HARD!

    You poor thing!


Post a Comment