Friday, October 1, 2010

what's outside your window?

This is what's outside mine! The apartment is on the corner of the building, on the 6th floor (7th US) and I can see this iconic pile from every window. Even a tip from the kitchen. As the daylight fades the tower is gradually illuminated until the whole thing looks like a sparkler. They even have those random lights going at intervals. Truly a dazzling sight.

Now let's get back to the saga of how I got here. All I can say is that it was exhausting. No wonder I slept a solid 12 hours. I had begun to believe the gods were sending me a message that I should not come but then things started to fall into place and I decided they were just trying to detect how much I wanted to be here. I really wanted to be here.

I left Sact'o at 6:40 on Wednesday morning, headed for Minneapolis. I got seated way in the back in a row all to myself. Splendid. Up went the arm rests, down went my body, using my jacket as a pillow and that's all she wrote until about 20 minutes before landing. I sat up, rearranged what had gotten mussed, hit the loo, drank about a quart of water, and was ready for the next arm wrestling match. BEST SIGHT ON THE PLANE: A young woman, probably early 20's, came walking toward me, obviously headed for the WC. She was wearing jeans and an interesting lace top, with long sleeves. As she got closer I realized she had on a sleeveless T-shirt and that her arms were completely covered in colored tatoos. An interesting look. Wish I could talk to her when she hits 50.

Next task was to get onto the flight from MSP to JFK. It was a small plane and the waiting room was pretty full. I checked at the desk and they thought there would be a seat, but . . . So I sat down, ready to do yet another juggling act to find a flight to JFK so I could make the Air France flight I had reserved. As luck would have it, two people did not show up by boarding deadline so I got one of the seats. A few minutes later, along came someone to sit in the second seat, a jolly Englishman on his way home, also flying Non-Rev. His brother-in-law is a retired Delta employee. Since my blood line is more direct than his, I got to board first. Plane absolutely full. Off we went to JFK.

Arrived in New York at 5:30 and immediately headed over to the Air France terminal via a series of escalators, trains, elevators, street-crossings, etc., for the 7:05 flight which had been delayed until 7:45. Good, I thought. I need the extra time. When I got to the counter I was asked, "Where is your suitcase?" It had been checked through to de Gaulle from Sacramento. "Oh no. You have to bring it here, have it screened (again) and wait-listed." Ok, I can do that. Lugging a carry-on satchel and this very laptop I followed the instructions given to me, went downstairs and tried to figure out how I was going to get my luggage. I asked a security chap and he told me that I would have to go back to the Delta luggage place, pick it up and bring it over to Air France. So back on the escalator, elevator, train and whatever else I did to find the Delta carousel where my luggage should have been, but it was not there. I went to the Luggage Service department. "Oh no, your luggage will be automatically transferred over to the AF luggage department. You can pick it up there." Meanwhile, my blood sugar was soaring (stress will do that) but I was staying so calm I was almost catatonic. OK, so I went back to AF via those same, now familiar elevators, trains and escalators to the Air France terminal and back down to the AF Luggage Services. No, my bag hadn't arrived yet but would be there soon. By this time the 7:05 flight had left (I wouldn't have gotten on anyway; overbooked by 3). In lieu of having a nervous breakdown I found a seat and waited until about 8:30 PM to see if I would get on the 9:45 PM flight. Of course, this all depended on whether or not I could find my errant bag. That flight was a no-go too. Around 9 PM I went back down to the AF luggage spot, and the bag had finally made its way through the JFK labyrinth to the AF office. I fetched it, went back up to the counter and finally got myself officially wait-listed. I was assured I would get a seat so come back about 11 PM for a seat assignment. I found a nice, quiet spot with some metal benches, piled my stuff around me, lay down and fell asleep. I woke up at 10:50, walked over to the counter, and actually got a boarding pass~ seat 19B, Premier Class! Then it's down the terminal to the luggage drop off where it is inspected, screened, sniffed, whatever, and taken off to be loaded. I then went through an elaborate security check and came out on the other side without having to be "wand-ed" or patted down, my usual fate because of my insulin pump. I got to the waiting room, checked the board, found my name, and relaxed. The plane, due to leave at 11:30 PM was delayed until 12:30 AM and finally got off the ground about 1:00. A note about Premier Class: AF has four classes (how French of them, non?) First, Business, Premier, Coach. Premier means hot meal, free booze, one of those little goodie bags with sox and a toothbrush, etc., nice over-the-shoulder reading lamps, ear phones, a better reclining chair, a leg support, but really no more leg room or seat room. But the idea was nice. Again, I slept most of the way, did enjoy a really quite good dinner at about 2:30 AM, and a little petit dejuener (mais sans croissant!) around 10 AM (Paris time). My seatmate was a woman from Manhattan who flies to Paris about once a month. She looked about 17 years old, sort of a Mia Farrow type with pale brown hair. Come to learn she's a plastic surgeon and will turn 60 in November. (Physician, heal thyself!) We landed at CDG at 1:15 PM and I could have kissed the tarmac. I restrained myself, but not without trouble.

I picked up my bag, called the shuttle service, waited quite awhile for the van to show up, finally was fetched by a very charming chap in a snazzy mini-van and arrived in the city, at my apartment, by about 3:30. As we hit the outskirts of the old city everything became familiar; the buildings, the road, there's the Arc, over the river, there's the Eiffel Tower, the chestnut trees beginning to turn just a bit. And the smell; it a sort of auto exhaust-coffee-bread-hint of perfume scent that is only here. The concierge Mme. Danielle, was just coming in to the building as I arrived; perfect timing. She brought me upstairs, showed me the ropes, and left me exhausted, a bit addled, and enormously happy to be here. (For those of you who read "The Elegance of the Hedgehog", Mme. Danielle is NOT René. She's very chatty, very friendly, very helpful, and very French!) I can't explain, even to myself, what being here means to me. I am so content, so settled, so at peace with myself when I'm here. And I'm not a big city girl. I feel that I belong here. I've felt that way since the first time I arrived, 32 years ago. Je suis arrivée.

I unpacked, oogled the view, went down to the corner to the little market to buy a few things ~ soup, water, yogurt, apple juice ~ to get me started. Came home, had a bit of dinner, and went to bed. And I didn't wake up ~ except to hear the "wee-waa-wee-waa" siren of a police car speeding by ~ until 8:30 this morning.

This morning brought a round of questions for Mme. Danielle. How does the shower work or is there only a bath? Mais non! Poussez le bouton ici et le Voilá! Le bain douche! Ok, I'll try that next time. The phone rang and I couldn't figure out how to answer it. Ah, zut alors! Ca ne march pas! Pietro va acheter un autre." OK, well that takes care of the phone. After my breakfast of utterly divine yogurt and some strong coffee I headed off to the supermarché around the corner. Thirty-two euros bought me some staples, some goodies, and the first bottle of French (or any other) wine for a month. September was my "dry" month; I do this once a year just to be sure I still can. Tonight I break the fast with a bottle of French sauvignon blanc from the Medoc. Three euros. I do it up big here, wine-wise. Found the neighborhood boulangerie for a demi-baguette for lunch, along with the left-over soup from last night. I think I'll eat in; don't want to be in a restaurant when my system goes into shock at the inflow of alcohol.

After a sunny morning, it has now started to sprinkle so I'm staying tucked up in the apartment. I have plenty to read, maps to study, time-tables to look into. I fear it will rain again tomorrow; thought I might try the train out to Vernon and Giverney. That will wait if it's too wet.

For now, that's how it is in Paris, France, 75015.


mary ann said...

Oh, thank you for this fabulous post!

Pica said...

Agreed, it's a fabulous post. I think you left off black tobacco in your otherwise perfect smell-description, though.

Alexandra said...

Oh I can smell, taste, see, feel, hear---I am there. The joy you feel to be in YOUR city just oozes off the page. I am so happy you made it! Waiting breathlessly for the next posting. Je t'aime!