The Moto Diaries

By Laurie Lesser
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 3, 2005

It had been almost a year since we last saw each other -- 11 months and 13 days, to be exact. After living together for almost 25 years, my husband and I had decided to try living separately -- first in the same city, then in separate countries, and finally, separate continents. Last September I left Paris, tentatively packed a few bags and arrived in Washington, sure that the distance would do us both good.

We'd met at a party, in the third week of what I expected to be a six-month adventure in Paris. I was hooked the minute he opened his mouth -- he sounded just like Paul McCartney, though I later learned he was from nowhere near Liverpool. All Brits sounded like Paul McCartney to me in those days.

As I was leaving, he whipped out a pen. "Give us your number, then," he said, writing on his open palm. He called later that week, and told me to come by after work "so we can pick up me bike."

Then it hit me. The "bike" he was talking about -- I don't suppose he meant a bicycle built for two?

When I showed up at his place, he asked where I wanted to go for dinner. "I'll let you decide," I said, adding: ''Listen, I've never been on a motorcycle before. If I don't like it, or am too scared, you don't mind if I take a taxi home, do you?"

He gave one of those grunts that I came to know so well. Acknowledging that he'd heard what I'd said, but prepared to totally ignore me.

He lived near Montparnasse, and chose a restaurant on the other side of the river. I dutifully put on my helmet, got myself on the back of the bike and put my arms around his waist. We drove through the Latin Quarter, bustling with commerce and people. We wove in and out of other vehicles and, when he felt like it, drove up onto the sidewalk to avoid pesky traffic or annoying one-way streets.

"You see, never a traffic problem when you have a bike," he turned and said, grinning. Nor, evidently, a parking problem, as he later parked on the sidewalk, next to the restaurant's entrance.

When we got to the river, illuminated by the luxurious apartments along each bank as well as by the bateaux-mouches , we crossed at the Pont du Carrousel. If I wasn't already hooked on his accent, that first motorcycle ride across the Seine clinched it.

Each time after that when he'd ask where I wanted to go for dinner, I had one response: whatever is farthest away.

We had some of our best moments on motorcycle trips, and of course some of our most spectacular fights and dramas. Like the time high on a Greek hillside, when I'd somehow let the map -- our only map -- slip through my fingers. I cried and cried and was sure he'd never take me anywhere again. (A good lunch of moussaka and ice-cold retsina remedied that problem.)

Or the time we were headed to the ferry to England, canvas bag strapped on the motorcycle. Some people in a passing car pointed, laughing. I turned to see the bag in flames, inches from my back. We managed to get it off in time and salvage most of the clothes -- though the smell lingered for days. My husband's precious address book, tinged brown around the edges, survives to this day.

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