Wednesday, June 16, 2010

France, Part I

We went to France. Here's the story, in short installments.


Numb airport gate agents, almost robotic in their countenance. Unlike robots, these terminal denizens are not emotionless. Instead, they are sunk deep into melancholia. However, there was a curious glimmer—almost joy—in this specimen's eyes as she told us we had missed our flight to Paris.

Charlotte, North Carolina, is no doubt an excellent place. Its leaden skies on this occasion, however, did not invite further exploration. We wanted to be in Paris, immediately. I won't spend time describing the horrible experience of cajoling an airline into getting you on another plane. Somehow, we managed to get tickets to London. There, hopefully, we will transfer to another airport and thusly to Paris—most of a day latter than planned.

John, our erstwhile companion, was booked on a different flight, from Philadelphia. Ironically, he missed his flight as well—the plane was delayed. We will see if tomorrow brings a safe reunion of the four of us at Paris—Charles De Gaulle.

The loudspeakers on planes hardly merit the term. They failed altogether as the stewardess on this flight tried to talk. When they did work, they were hardly more effective. The pilot, however, was finally able to advise us to avoid “conjugating in the aisles.” I could barely resist jumping into the aisle and yelling “Amo! Amas! Amat!” at the top of my lungs.

The head stewardess was also able to tell us about the “flirtation devices,” handily placed under our seats. Seated between two pairs of grandparents, I didn't find this particularly useful. Besides, I have one built in that works perfectly well.

This is an Airbus A330. I only fly Boeing, so I asked the stewardess for a parachute with which to exit the plane, hoping for a soft landing on the pillowy Atlantic. She wouldn't supply me with one! I tell you, airplane travel is going to the dogs.


Eventually, we will get there. Will our baggage be waiting to meet us, however. THAT is the question.

What journey goes smoothly? Few. Life itself is a journey, if you'll pardon the cliched sentimentalism. We cannot avoid its obstacles—and nor can we make every plane. Obstacles are part of the journey of life. But how do we surmount them when encountered? Without sounding like a televangelist, we should rely on God. He is map, compass, and tour guide. When we are saved, the journey of life still has its ups and downs, but the destination has radically changed. I'm going to heaven, via Paris, France. How about you?

I don't really feel like getting my iPod out right now. So I plugged my 'phones into the in-flight entertainment console. Hey, they have Alejandro by, erm, well, you-know-who. Ah, even better, they have a whole station devoted to Radiohead. Bliss.

The whole tragedy of errors that has thus far characterized our journey brings all too readily to mind the excellent comedic sketches of Brian Regan: the arrogance of first-class passengers, the food which adjectives fail to capture, the message of harassed gate agents: “Okay, if I could have passengers in Zones A and B being to approach the gate, please,” which, to many people, sounds like, “Okay, Everybody rush the gate RIGHT now.”


It is indeed strange that during a single seven-hour flight through Earth's atmosphere, we can see the light of two days. We have shortened the night—I will pay for it with tiredness. Dawn begins sooner above the clouds. It is 5:45 AM and bright as day.


After three different estimates, we now find that weather has lost us 12 hours of France. John was, for some reason, sent to Oslo, Norway. He won't be in Paris till 7.

I have been sitting near the spotless McDonald's in Charles De Gaulle airport for hours now. My designated task seems to be muse, scratching post, internet enabler, and baggage watcher, while my betters troop about this massive airport. Tiresome crises, too tiring to go into, come and pass as we try to get our fractured party together and leave this teeming rabbit warren and strike out into France in our “Renault Espace or similar.”

Charles De Gaulle is massive and convoluted, but astonishingly clean and new, albeit with frequently non-functional escalators. The McDonald's and Pizza Hut are located back to back, as if set defensively against the waves of “foreign food” that threaten to overrun them.

We ate, this morning, at a delicious place called “Costa” at Heathrow Airport. It was like an upmarket, deli-style Panera Bread.

A short plane ride later, Air France delivered us to CDG, where we sit, waiting for John's flight from Oslo.


125 kilometers an hour through the dusky French countryside. It is past 9:30, but the leaden skies still bear enough light to write by. No one really knows where John's luggage is. No one knows when we will get it back. But we do count our blessing that John packed an extra change of clothes into his carry-on. None of us did.

Nor our black Mercedes, aided by a GPS, oozes quietly across the countryside.


Honfleur is a miniature town—parking even the tiny B-Class was a chore. The houses are ancient—half-timbered and brightly painted. It is dead silent right now in our hotel room with the windows thrown wide open. No downshifting trucks, no 24-7 gas stations—this town at night is much as it has been for centuries. La Cour Saint Catherine is a little jewel of a hotel right from Rick Steve's guidebook. The landlady promised us good weather tomorrow, and having lost a rainy day to the airline, we resolve to start early.