In Paris, I got off the train and set off on the fateful walk that many a legionnaire before me had taken. Psychologists are right when they talk about the “phases of man.” I had gone through being a student, a professional, and a bohemian to become a soldier. So far, so good! My heart was beating faster with every step. At one point, I asked an elderly man for directions. He shook my hand and croaked, “Honneur et Fidelité!” before pointing me on my way. The Fort was cold and grey, its heavy stone walls suggestive of a medieval keep. It looked like a place that kept people in as well as out. With a sense of impending doom reminiscent of Dante's “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” I passed through the gates and knocked on a large oak door. A hatch was drawn aside.
“I want to join the Légion Étrangère.”
“Passeport!” the guard barked.
I slid it through the grille. I expected that to be the last time I ever saw that precious document, property of the United States government with its small-print warning that joining a foreign army was grounds for loss ofcitizenship.
“Américain?” said the guard in astonishment. “Ready to give everything up and sign away five years of your life?”