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Episode One: Finance and Fairytales in France

There once was a woman named Theresa who totally got why Madonna slept with her Blackberry under her pillow. Theresa was sure that Madonna would still have her Berry long after her divorce from Guy. Guys come and go but Berries—well, they're always there for you. Provided you have an extra battery on hand, which Theresa always did. She was a big believer in back-up.

Theresa was busy backing up her files at this moment, while her girlfriends ordered a third round of spiced [Link Removed] 

Her friend Cynthia flagged down the good-looking young waiter and ordered up another round. She turned to Theresa and said, "He's scrumptious enough that I should wrap him up with a bow for your present" and they all laughed. Except Theresa, who was still pecking away.

Barb tapped Theresa the shoulder. She said, "This is a party girlfriend, get your head out of that thing and into the fun."

Theresa's eyes never left the screen. "I'm downloading some [Link Removed] lessons here, almost done."

Andrea said, "They say the best way to learn a language is to take a lover" and Barb said, "I wonder what language our waiter speaks!"

"The language of loooove I'm sure", laughed Cynthia. Theresa just shook her head as she punched the keys.

"I won't be there long enough, you know that. I just need enough words to navigate around in case they don't speak English." She looked up at her French. "I understand they all actually do speak English, they just wanna make us suffer so they pretend not to. Anyway, I only need to speak enough to get in, get the deal done and get out."

Andrea shook her head. "Sweetheart, why don't you stay on a few days? It's your 43rd birthday! It would be fabulous to spend it in Paris."

"Yes", Theresa nodded, "Paris is great, but I want something really spectacular for my birthday. Like closing this deal."

Barb said, "Funny, that's not my definition of spectacular."

Theresa shot her a dirty look. "Anyway, it's only one day in Paris. The rest of the trip is in [Link Removed] – that's where they vineyard is that we're looking at."

"Oh!" Cynthia looked mooney. "The Loire! How magical! It's the land of castles and queen and fairytales!"

Theresa hit save. "I don't believe in magic and fairytales and neither do you. My personal fantasy however is to grab up this vineyard before my competition does."

"That's the only downside to France—no mixed drinks!" Barb said, and they all laughed.

"Yeah, another reason why French women don't get fat" Cynthia said.

"Is that why they manage to keep having sex in their 40's and 50's?" Andrea asked and Cynthia said, "That's the rumor."

"Maybe it's the men", said Barb. "Ter, you should check that out—or let us come with you and we'll sample the locals while you handle the business."

Theresa stood. "Thanks for the offer and the drinks ladies. Gotta go – my flight's in an hour."

Theresa got to the [Link Removed] terminal with plenty of time to spare—she had mapped out the least trafficked route to the airport on her Blackberry and asked the driver to follow it. Given the opportunity, she might have done the same thing for the pilot. But even first class passengers are not invited into the cabin so Theresa refused all offers of food and drink, plugged her, pulled on her eye shade and slept.

Ten hours later she was standing in the queue outside of [Link Removed] waiting for a taxi. Theresa checked her watch—it was already noon. At least she had made it past rush hour, a traffic back-up that made Chicago's crowded expressways look like a country lane. Theresa snorted as she thought of the Paris rush hour, which began at 8 a.m. and ran until 9:30 a.m., an hour the French thought was early. No wonder they were in the shape they were, Theresa thought. Though what shape exactly that was, she wasn't exactly sure.

The cab driver pulled up and Theresa scrolled quickly through her French phrases and gave him the name of her hotel. She wished she knew enough to tell him which autoroute was the fastest but she was unable to communicate that many words and gave up. The cabbie, mistaking her attempts to direct him for a desire for conversation, began a mangled monologue. "Americaine, yes? New York? Yes?"

Theresa rolled her eyes. Why did everyone outside the U.S. assume everyone from within the U.S. was from New York. She said, loudly and clearly, "Chi-ca-go" and dug her Blackberry out of her bag.

But he continued anyway. He said "You, um, like ze bikes? Ze [Link Removed] Vous connaissez? Ze bike race?" Theresa nodded vaguely and he kept talking. Her mobile pinged with a text message from one of her team and she returned it as the cabbie whipped along the expressway, approaching Paris and the Eiffel Tower as rapidly as he spoke. Theresa noticed neither.

The [Link Removed] Theresa had found it with her Blackberry. The hotel was almost a pensionne really. But Theresa had told the travel department they were only in town for the day, so why waste money on expensive digs? It was convenient to the station from which they were taking a midnight train out to the Loire and enough for a nap, a shower and a change before the Paris meetings.

Theresa grabbed a shower and met her team in the lobby; they had taken an earlier flight to do some sightseeing and they filled Theresa in as they all walked to the meeting.

Around 8 o'clock that night the French team suggested dinner. One of the French women said, "Madame Gregory, we would like to take you and your colleagues to a nice little restaurant, near by. It is the [Link Removed] It is tres bien connu, how you say?" One of Theresa's team members said, "well known" "Ah, yes! You have a wonderful accent" she said, and launched into rapid fire French, which Theresa's colleague responded to in an equally rapid fire fashion. Theresa was astounded—who knew Heather spoke French?

The conversation continued over dinner at La Tour—continued for everyone but Theresa that is. It seemed as if everyone else on her team had taken French in high school or at [Link Removed] Theresa thought.

The hotel was a short walk from the restaurant. It was high summer and the streets were as packed as [Link Removed] on a Friday night. In the lobby Theresa congratulated her team. "Things are going really well—nice job everyone. And Heather, nice touch with the French." Heather looked amused and Theresa suddenly wondered exactly had been said during the unintelligible dinner conversation. She continued, "Meet in the lobby in an hour. I've booked two taxis to take us to the station. Everyone has a first class compartment, so you'll be able to stretch out and sleep on the train."

Theresa had barely unpacked, so there wasn't much for her to pack. She showered again, changed into traveling clothes and flipped on the TV but everything was in French—except the soft-porn channel, which was in German. She sighed. As if the language mattered.

She pulled out her Blackberry, logged on to her [Link Removed] and wrote a long entry about the inefficiencies of doing business in Europe and how much easier it would be if they didn't all speak different languages. Theresa was logged off the blog twice because the Internet connection was so slow. Talk abut inefficiencies. She reconnected and logged on again, determined to finish her post. She finally hit "upload" and logged off.

She wedged her suitcase into the tiny elevator and sent it down, while she took the stairs. There was simply not enough room for both Theresa and her baggage and she wondered if this was another reason French women did not get fat: they had to take the stairs because the elevators were too narrow.

The lobby was empty. "Great", she thought to herself, "They're all sleeping off dinner." She checked her watch and did a double-take. She looked around the lobby for a clock but there was none. The desk clerk was watching her. She said to him, "English?" He nodded. She said, "What time do you have?" and he said, "Eat is 23 30, how you say, 11:30".

Theresa said, "That's impossible!" He pursed his lips and shrugged his shoulders. He said, "Maybe so, but it is 11:30 Madam, I assure you".

Theresa swore. Under her breath, but she swore like a sailor. She said, "Did you see my colleagues? The people I was here with?" He nodded yes. "Were they looking for me? He nodded yes. How come no one called me?"

He shrugged again. She wondered, what was it with that shoulder shrug?? He said, "You did not leave me a message to call you Madam."

Theresa looked around, as if the lobby held the answer. She said, "I've missed my train. Can you call me a cab and get me on the next train?"

The clerk said, "I can call ze cab Madam, but zair is no other train. Zat was the last train zis evening."

Theresa said, "That's impossible!" He pursed his lips again but she stopped him. She said, "Please don't shrug at me like that again. He pouffed out air through his pursed lips and was silent. She said, "I need another train". He said, "You can have one tomorrow morning". She said, "That is too late! I will miss my meeting! I need to get there! Can you hire me a private car?"

Before she could stop him he shrugged again. He said, "Madame, at midnight begins the [Link Removed] It is a national holiday. There are no car services zat will be available. I am very sorry" and he pouffed again and turned away.

He obviously did not believe in back-up the way Theresa did.

She dumped her luggage on the only sofa in the lobby, whipped out her Blackberry and swore again under her breath.

The clerk watched her from behind his desk, her nose pressed to her screen. "Oh, God, I'm going to lose this deal", she muttered to herself. "I wish I had a way out of here".

An older man in his 60's appeared the lobby, pushing a mop and bucket. He had a full head of gray hair and was wearing a deep, French blue work man's jacket over his clothes. He looked at Theresa and then looked over to the clerk, who nodded back ever so slightly. The janitor began cleaning the floor, swishing his mop, making smaller and smaller watery circles until the mop finally landed at Theresa's feet.

To Be Continued...

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