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  • Dad first took me to Europe when I was fifteen. Opening the world to me, it would prove his most lasting gift. It was 1965; Mom had just opened her restaurant that would one day grow into the Ruth’s Chris empire. Dad was not yet the Gorilla Man, a name he earned by running for mayor in New Orleans on the platform the Audubon Zoo needed a gorilla.

    Dad was a well-seasoned, if difficult, travel companion. He had a penchant for carrying oddball props. A golf club -- usually a seven iron -- was one of his favorites. You don’t want to lose your swing, he would say as he stroked imaginary balls in airport concourses waiting for flights. Imagine now getting a golf club through the TSA’s metal detector. Imagine being a 15-year-old watching fellow passengers watch your dad swing for the green.

    Then there was the garlic. As we drove through the Flemish countryside that first day after landing at Ostend, he made me pull over to a farm stand. Garlic, fresh garlic, he rejoiced and repeated the inevitable lecture as he peeled the cloves and popped toe after toe into his mouth. I opened the window, to fill my lungs with the sweet air of the countryside and my ears with the sound of the road.

    Surprisingly, traveling was a way for Dad to close, rather than open, doors. He traveled in order to develop new prejudices. The Irish were this and the English were that and the French, oh my God, the French….

    To Dad, the Scots weren’t thrifty, they were cheats. While I was buying a forest green cashmere sweater at the Pringle Factory, Dad was getting a tip from the sweater salesman on the Derby, the biggest race of the British Isles. Not his usual chalk bet, but a long shot. Dad played it on the nose just for fun. When it won, he was told long distance that his prize was £80 pounds for his £20 “show” bet. He had expected £800. He swore that he had wagered on the nose. I couldn’t convince Dad it was a misunderstanding, caught between the bookie’s Highland and his own New Orleans brogue. He would have none of it. The Scots are cheats.

    By the time we hit Basel, Switzerland, he added a new twist.

    “The Swedes,” he announced, “are very rigid.”

    “Dad, they’re Swiss.”

    “The Swedes are very rigid.”

    “No, Dad, they aren’t Swedes. The Swedes live in Sweden. In Switzerland it’s the Swiss.”

    “They don’t care what I call them.”

    “Dad, what if someone called you an Armenian rather than an American?”

    “I don’t care what people call me. Wait, I’ll show you, I’ll ask a waiter….”
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