Adam and Tommy Rozenbachs’ European Vacation
Adam Rozenbachs is one of Australia’s best comedians. Anyone who’s seen his live shows or followed his Twitter handle have witnessed his on-point observations and sharp turn of phrase. Words — verbal and written — seem to come easy to Rozenbachs, but it’s taken years of graft to get things right. These days he does, in few words, often get it right.
But like many blokes, Rozenbachs doesn’t always get his relationship with his dad, Tommy, so right. So he went about changing that. Wanting to repay his old man for everything he had in life, and with Tommy’s oft-expressed desire to travel to Europe ringing in his ears, he committed him to a three-week trip to the Continent.
What followed was, as he told Mamamia, “the most unlikely trip of my life”, a roller coaster 21 days that diverged from the expectations of both men. Adam discovered Tommy, who hadn’t been overseas since migrating from Germany to Australia when he was two, didn’t like museums, galleries, landmarks, or travelling in general.
Or Paris. Especially Paris.
The trip has been recounted uproariously in Paris and Other Disappointments, Rozenbachs’ first memoir and a written adaption to his sold-out Comedy Festival show.
Adam recently chatted about the trip, the book and the broader issue of father-son relationships with Richard Fidler on ABC Radio’s Conversations podcast.
Adam told Richard that for Tommy, the trouble started on the plane — and that was after he checked in a massive, cumbersome suitcase procured from a miniskip. “He really wasn’t prepared for 24 hours in the air. He’s not good with technology; he doesn’t know how to use his phone.”
Adam set his dad up with the movie Expendables 2, which distracted Tommy for 90 minutes while Adam slept. But when he woke five hours later he noted Tommy was listening to the Kiran in Arabic. “He couldn’t work out the inflight system,” Adam explained.
Aside from an enthusiasm for on-flight “freebies” like hot towels and headphones, Tommy revealed to Adam another method for wiling away the time during a stopover in Abu Dhabi: “I counted people going to the toilet!”
There was a Mick Dundee-esque naivety to Tommy as he peppered his son with humdrum observations. “Dad loves a chat, and when we got off at Abu Dhabi, he was talking to the people around — you know, seasoned travellers who just don’t talk — and they were so stunned by his asking, ‘How are you going?’”
That was nothing, however, compared with the question he posed to one bewildered co-traveller: “How many desalination plants do they have here?”
The second half of the plane trip done with — and countless more toilet-going passengers accounted for — they touched down in Tommy’s birth country. While driving to their lodgings in central Munich after being collected by long-lost relatives at the airport, Tommy asked his fellow family-tree members: “How much is LPG gas here?”
From Munich, they hired a car to Bamberg. Although Bamberg was the town of Tommy’s birth, it was the car that really excited Tommy. “After growing up in a ‘74 HQ Kingswood without air-con, he was blown away. It was a Mercedes, so nothing flash, but for Dad it was like a limousine,” Adam says.
The Merc had features Tommy had never encountered before, including power windows, air-con, and sat nav. Each time the sat nav gave directions, Tommy would actively point with his hands, left or right, in front of Adam’s face as he drove. “He was being polite; the lady was saying something and he had to listen to her,” Adam recalls.
As they continued to live out of each other’s pockets, Adam suspected his father had a touch of OCD. “We were walking back to our apartment one night and all of a sudden he asked, ‘What’s night’s bin night here?’ You know when you’re so stumped by a question because it’s so ridiculous? I was like: ‘One, I don’t know; two, you’ve clearly seen a bin so let’s assume it’s tonight; and three, we’re travellers so it doesn’t matter to us, and it doesn’t matter to anyone who’s ever been travelling, to know what night bin night is!”
This was typical of Tommy’s observational bent throughout the trip. “It wasn’t so much the tourist attractions but the things around them,” Adam says. “When we were in the Cathedral in Munich and observing all the ornate carvings he leant in and asked, ‘I wonder who cleans all this?’
“It was as if they have bin night, like in Melbourne, and they have LPG and cleaning rosters they’re as good as Melbourne!”
What’s night’s bin night here?
But while Germany provided light humour and the cities’ visited aided by sufficient LPG, regular bin nights — and bigger beers — Paris was, as the memoir’s title states, a disappointment. Police with machine guns roamed the trains; crowds swamped the cobbled streets and tree-lined avenues. Tommy ceased pointing anything out. When the two checked into their central Paris apartment Tommy said to his son: “I want to get out of Paris”.
Tommy’s enjoyment levels didn’t leave second gear elsewhere in France, although an anecdote from their visit to the Normandy Beaches is worth sharing. Despite Tommy’s idea of a good meal as being “anything bigger than your head”, the older man insisted they eat at the Michelin-hatted restaurant attached to their hotel.
Upon hearing their degustation menu meant eight courses, his eyes lit up. “I said, ‘It’s not eight parmas, dad!'”
“It turned out to be some of the fanciest, quaintest food I’ve ever had,” Adam continues. “Tiny portions with so much plate around it that could have had food on it but didn’t; incredibly well done and sculptured.”
From the first course of Shrimp Mousseline (“To dad shrimp equals prawns equals Christmas Day“) to the eighth of camembert ice cream, Tommy was disappointed — but “forced it down because he paid for it”.
London was next, and Tommy wasn’t impressed with Big Ben (“I may as well as have gone to the Dimmey’s Clock on Swan Street!”), or Tower Bridge (“It’s the wrong colour”), nor the Thames (“It’s dirty”).
With just a few days left, and with Adam throwing up ideas he knew Tommy would knock back, they had their first argument. “Dad said, ‘You’re annoying me, maybe I shouldn’t have come on this trip, I wish I hadn’t come’, and I was hurt; it broke me. And so I snapped; I’d taken so much time out and did it to show how much he loved him, I didn’t know whether to burst into tears or hit him.”
Neither wanted to back down but Adam ceded. “One of us had to otherwise it’d be a horrible memory. So I went back in and said something I’d never said before: ‘I need you to meet me halfway; I’m trying my best, this is why I did this for you,’ and he said ‘OK’ and that was enough for both of us to back down.”
It highlighted the change in dynamic between father and son that started splintering in Paris. “The older man has to step back at some point,” Adam says. “We hit this point during the trip without really talking about. But we both knew that by the end it was OK for him to not be in control of everything and to trust me that everything will be OK.”
With the benefit of space and time, Adam is grateful for the experience. “We did have fun and there are times we look back on that we laugh and talk about that no one else in the family can share, it’s just me and dad — which is great”.
As for Tommy’s favourite part of the trip? “When we got back Dad told everyone how he was sitting on the plane five hours after leaving Melbourne and hearing someone say, ‘We’re still in Australia’, and he thought, ‘what a bloody place’!” Adam says.
“And I was there thinking, ‘three weeks… for that?'”
Paris and Other Disappointments is available online and can be found in most Australian book retailers.