“Are you American?”
The question came from behind me spoken by a man obviously not waiting for the train to Monaco as I was. For a moment I thought maybe I should reply no, that I was French Canadian working on my American newscaster voice hence the lack of an accent and contempt for everyone else on the planet. Instead I responded truthfully, “Yes, I am from California.” I learned quickly that while overseas after you declare your citizenship to the United States the first question is quickly followed by “where in the…”, so it’s best to just volunteer that information.
The man somewhat hunched over stood up slightly. “Oh bless you. The French are so arrogant and won’t even speak to me they think I am ill,” he said. “but I am not mad, I have a doctorate! But my illness causes me…I am an intelligent man. I speak four languages! You see that I am intelligent, I see it in your eye.” And so this half of a man, this one-man Oakie caravan heading for a better life, rambled on. He was not clean but not filthy and had the look of many years living here or there but not under a singular roof. I replied that I could see he was not from France and this lit a fire in his eyes and gave him the energy to move onto the next act.
“I am not from here, I am from Switzerland you see. I am trying to get home to see our doctors, I have a condition that causes my eyes…they think I am not well but I am an intelligent man! I have been to university but they just think I am stupid!” He gripped my arm and held it for the rest of the conversation. It was then I knew that knew with certainty that I was not talking with just one man but an entire group of friends, a salon in this vagrants mobile world.
“If you would be so kind I need to get back to my country so I can see the doctors who can fix me,” he reached into his pocket to retrieve a few coins not adding up to much, “it will only cost me six Euro but as you can see I am running short. And…” But before he could finished I pulled out my only coin and gave him twice the asking price.
“Bless you sir! I knew you were a gentleman”, he exclaimed while patting my arm still gripped by his other hand. “You are indeed a sir, a sir knight! Yes you are a knight just like Sir Jones, Tom Jones you see. And she,” he pointed to the Rocket Scientist, “she is the queen. Yes, she is the queen and you,” he turned his arm into an imaginary sword and tapped my shoulders and forehead, “are a noble knight!” He chuckled at this while I was still working out which of his personalities I was talking too.
I took his hands and mine and gave him a friends hand shake. “You take care of yourself and be well,” I said with a short smile. He turned, walked through the stone gate and with that my audience with the Duke of Switzerland, for that is what I have since named him, was gone.
The next day we went to Italy.