A version of this blog entry appeared on electricrider.net on June 12, 2011

A hotel on the Left Bank, Paris, France, 2011.

A hotel on the Left Bank, Paris, France, 2011.

I first met Dany after I had bought a disposable French phone. It was the first step in my plan to stay connected with my friends in Dresden, Germany, as well as to contact hotels, taxis, restaurants, or my tour company and insurance company if there were problems.

I had been asking everywhere near the train stations for a disposable phone. I didn't have the right language. Was it a "mobile" as it is in the UK? Or a "telefono" as in Spain or Italy. "Disposable" seemed to be a word no one understood. But I finally found one at the trains station at a REPLAY shop and promptly bought it.

When I got it back to my hotel, I realized that the instructions were all in French. Still, I was able to understand what needed to be done. I must send my application and a copy of my identification to an address and in seven days the phone would be activated. But, then what? All the menus and the messages were in French! It was not ideal, but it was better than nothing. And what return address would I use? I asked at the concierge at my hotel. The owner was presiding. She said she didn't think I should use her address. I would be back there in 7 days if a reply was returned by post. But she suggested I try at the post office to get help. At the time, I thought it was a strange suggestion. But I had been inundated with strangeness. So, what the heck?

The post office was just across the way so no problem. I walked in and bought some stamps for the post cards from a tiny man wearing a t-shirt and jeans. He had huge blue eyes and a expressive face. I hesitated. He shooed me away. "That's all," he insisted.

"Well, I replied. "I need something else that is a little more complicated."

The man's eyes brightened and he led me over to a table. "Let's come over here so we can talk." He reminded my of a small, French version of Hugh Laurie. You know, House M.D.? This man was tiny, but he had all of Hugh's expressions. Snapping out retorts with a languor that was all House. Rolling his eyes theatrically that was reminiscent of Bertie Wooster. But the man came to about my chin (I'm five-foot-six-inches).

"You speak very good English," I said.

"I speak American!" he said. He looked indignant.

"Ah! That explains why I can understand you so well."

He shrugged dramatically and laughed. "Yes. I lived for two years in New York City. I've been to 38 states."

"That's more than I've been to!"

He laughed again, and then got down to business. I explained what I had. "Ah! You bought my rival's phone!"

I apologized.

He shook his head derisively, but then looked through the paperwork I brought with me. "It's no problem. I can help you."

I sunk with relief onto the table (well, my upper body did anyway--there were no chairs to sink into). "Thank you!" I said. As he was reading through the instructions and dialing numbers into the phone, I looked around. Mobile phones hung from the walls and signs indicated "rechargement here." This was serious business here. The French post office was way into rechargeable, disposable cell phones. How weird.

The little man wrote a number down on my paper work. "This is your number." He gestured me over to his computer. "Voice or messaging?"

Huh. It's one or the other? If I had a choice between only those two options... "Messaging" I said. I have no idea why that came out.

"Messaging," he said and continued to punch numbers into the phone.

I immediately felt a crisis. What if that was the wrong thing to do? I had to contact my friends in Dresden while on my way the next day by train, so they would know I was on it and could meet me. I s'pose messaging would work as long as I got their phone numbers and let them know that's what I would be doing.

There were more decisions to make. "How much money to you want to put on your phone?"

Huh. I had no idea. What was the rate? It was such a jumble in my brain. "25 euro?" I suggested.

He nodded and typed it in.

"OK. I will change the menu to English for you," he said.

"Wow! Fantastic!" I said, "You are amazing."

"I know," he said without blinking. "There you go." He handed me the phone.

"Thank you soooo much," I gushed. "What is your name."

"Dany. With one 'n.'"

"Thank you, Dany with one 'n.'"

I wondered if I would see him again on my return to Paris after visiting my friends in Dresden. I did. I needed to recharge my phone, so I went back looking for him upon my return to Paris. He was nowhere in sight. I asked the beautiful black woman at the counter if Dany was available to help me with my phone. "Yes," she replied and gestured with her head to the door behind her.

Dany burst out of the swinging glass door in black trousers and a blue oxford shirt with black tie all the while talking earnestly to another young man. Then he approached a couple who had been waiting patiently by the door. He seemed all growed up from the Dany I had seen before. I could see he was the experienced one in the shop. Perhaps even the manager. He was very busy with these two, so I wandered off waiting and hopeful that there would be a break in his business.

There wasn't. But the beautiful young woman who had first waited on me was quite competent herself with setting up the phone. She added 35 euro for me and changed it from just messaging to both voice and messaging.

Dany, you were special, but our meeting was fleet, and not to be repeated. I will always remember how you got me connected in Europe. Au revoir!