I just got back from vacation.

And now I need a vacation.

Let me explain.

I don’t take many vacations, but I had just finished the biggest book I’ve ever written, my first try at historical fiction.

Yes, I’m trying something new, at my age.

I’m not dead yet.

It won’t be The End until my epitaph.

By the way, I turned 64 while I was on vacation.

Will you still need me and will you still feed me?

Please tell me you know what I’m talking about.

In any event, I had finished my magnum opus, and Francesca had finished the edits on her first novel, so we looked at each other and said: Let’s go.

And we love lavender, so we went to Provence.

They say that vacations are relaxing, but not if you rent a car and drive it around. Because what I learned is if you rent a car and drive around, you’re going to live the same way you do here.


If you’re me, anyway.

Our story begins when we rent the car, at the airport. I told them I wanted the safest car and I was willing to pay anything to stay alive.

So they gave us a Mercedes-Benz sedan.

I’m not complaining.

We picked it up in Nice, and that car was nice.

Big, black, and beautiful, with frosty air-conditioning, a GPS system in English, and the wheel on the left side.

We were optimistic.

But we were wrong.

Five minutes later, I was on the French highway, and everyone was whipping around me while I was still getting used to the new car, the new highway, the new jet lag, and the fact that I tend to be a nervous driver anyway.

Francesca asked: “Why are you going so slowly? The speed limit is 120.”

“I don’t care. I’m not going 120 for anybody.”

“You know it’s kilometers, not miles, right?”

Oh. “Still, it’s a high number.”

So you get the idea.

Something about 120 seemed really high and the cars around me were going 160 and maybe five billion. I tried to get the nerve to drive faster, but I couldn’t. Drivers were honking and flashing me dirty looks in French. Still nobody gave me the finger, so I was ahead of the game.

Francesca taught me the phrase “Je suis désolé,” which means, I’m sorry. In no time, I was désolé that I had rented the Mercedes and was going on vacation at all.

I thought I would get used to it.

I didn’t.

We finally got off the first terrifying highway and onto another terrifying highway, the D6185.

Even the number is scary.

95 is as high as highway numbers should go.

Maybe my fear is of high numbers?

Anyway we were heading for Mougins, which is a tiny, medieval town, but when we finally got there, the plot got thicker.

Because the streets got thinner.

They were made for donkeys, and I felt like an ass.

Amazingly, the Mercedes had a button to flatten the side mirrors, which is just what a pretentious car needs in Provence.

Still, even that didn’t help.

The Mothership was too wide for Mougins.

The road to our small hotel was a single lane that twisted through picturesque cobblestone streets, but I saw none of it because I was making sure I didn’t scrape the castle walls.

Then I took a right turn onto a street so narrow that the car couldn’t fit at all.

And we got stuck.

I tried to reverse, but I’m bad at reversing.

I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go back.

Also I couldn’t quit. I was trying to show that Americans do not give up.

Except for me.

I wanted to quit so badly.

I would have left the car and given the keys to the first stranger, but there wasn’t enough room to open the door anyway.

Luckily there was no other traffic, because nobody else was stupid enough to drive through town in a Sherman tank.

I don’t know how the Allies did it during the Liberation.

Finally a handsome and charming Frenchman took pity on us and directed us out of the street.

And so the French liberated the Americans.

No, he wasn’t single.

I checked.