Hacking our way through France
We must have sounded like barbarians at the gate, stamping their feet and blowing rams' horns.
Actually we weren't at the front gate. We were at the back door, as in "Europe Through the Back Door" tours from Edmonds.
It was several years ago when our guide William led us up to the Font 'D Gaume for a tour of the prehistoric wall paintings.
We were reminded of that tour recently when we saw a screening of Werner Herzog's documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" at the Crest Theater.
Our ETBD tour had taken us around France, from Paris to Nice, from the Alps to the Rhone and Normandy beaches.
It was a memorable trip for several reasons.
One factor that made it memorable was that from the time we landed in Europe, we all seemed to come down with a version of a 16th century plague.
We coughed. And we coughed some more. We coughed for minutes on end, in the bus, in restaurants, in hotels where the hacking could be heard from room to room and halfway down the hall.
William was our nursemaid or rather our appointment secretary.
Because at each hotel we were met by a local physician who was willing to examine us individually in our rooms and to prescribe medications, all for an extremely modest fee.
Invariably, after each examination, the physicians would repeat the same mantra. "This is not a French disease. You brought it with you."
Maybe we did, but it was not listed among the items Rick Steves advised us to pack into our one small piece of luggage.
But we soldiered on, a bit more cautious than we normally would be.
One Big Ten football fan I got to know asked one question each time I returned from a roadside comfort station.
"Would I want to go in there, if I had a hole in my shoe?" The answer was usually negative.
But he tip-toed cautiously behind the rest of us, right up to the entrance of Font 'D Gaume.
We were informed that only visitors with advanced reservations could be admitted to the cave.
As we were forming up, a young couple from Salt Lake City ran up from the parking lot to buy tickets for the tour.
They had no reservations and were crestfallen.
Obviously this was to be one of the highlights of their French vacation and they were being shut out.
At that point William recalled that two people in our tour group had decided to spend the day in their rooms, for medical reasons.
He offered the tickets to the Salt Lake couple.
They couldn't have been more appreciative if William had offered to carry them up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, on his shoulders.
"But remember," the ticket-taker warned at the entrance to the cave, "to preserve the state of the wall paintings, we all must enter together. We will be inside for an hour. And nobody can leave before that time. We must all exit together."
No problem. Except that once we were inside somebody had a coughing fit and was soon followed by another, then another member of our group. It was a non-stop chorus of hacking.
You should have seen the expression on the faces of the visitors from Salt Lake.
They didn't expect to escape alive. And if they did, they would probably be hacking their way around France for the rest of their vacation.
I didn't ask whether they were enjoying the cave art.