Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Paris 15: Le prochaine fois

1. Just because the forecast is for the mid-40s does not mean it will not be below freezing almost every day. A cute consignment-store zebra coat might be good in theory, but in practice, the big red Eddie Bauer down coat would have been the better choice.

2. And nobody would have cared because even though Paris might be a fashion capital, the women here are not stupid and they hide their fashionable clothes under warm coats. Warm does not always equal pretty. Except for the fur coats, but that's not going to happen for a while.

3. There is probably no reason to bring emergency Pop Tarts to Paris because it is not hard to get good food here, even in the Hilton executive lounge.

4. I am done with budget travel. Three nights in hotels we had to pay for vs six in the Hilton on SH's hard-earned hotel points? No contest. I like luxury. I like not being able to hear every door open and close on our floor. I want a comfortable bed and thick towels. I do not want the heating system to be the clerk advising SH, upon SH's request to turn on the heat, that there are blankets available in the armoire. OK, that was in Morocco, but still.

5. Doc Martens might be cute and edgy but they need more than a month of at-home breaking in before they go on an international trip. Take band-aids. They sell them in Paris but they are much cheaper at Walgreen's. Or maybe they just need the Good Socks.

6. All those ziplocks? Keep one in the purse so when you don't want to eat the other half of the delicious quiche you ordered for lunch, you can slip it into the bag and then into your purse instead of removing the sesame-anise chocolate from the paper bag it came in, wrapping it in your paper napkin, and using the chocolate bag for the quiche. Yes, even that can be done so discreetly that even the couple sitting right next to you doesn't notice or doesn't appear to notice, such that SH is inspired to do the same thing with his leftover bread. We do not lose our thrifty ways just because we are traveling.

7. No matter how much you work out, walking five miles a day plus nine on Sunday will wear you out. But it will also help you justify dessert every day.

8. Those ziplocks are handy to bring any leftover bread home for bread pudding and strata. What? Oh like you would put it in the trash? Please.

9. Long underwear. Two pairs at home and none here. Dumb.

10. Sunblock. Not really necessary in Paris in November.

11. Parisians walk on the left. Except for on the subway stairs, where they walk on the right. Sometimes.

Paris 14: Le pipi, or, Liberte, egalite, fraternite

I have always counted on McDonald's as my go-to location for le purposes de le toilette when I am traveling. But the McDonald's we passed the other day had le toilettes ferme and what was I supposed to do? Even in Marrakesh, Megan and I were able to use the McDonald's.

I was able to use les toilettes de McDonald's on the Champs Elysees. Nobody notices you because it is so crowded in there with the Parisians who deplore le fast food Americaine that one can slip in unnoticed, even without making a purchase, the way one does in the U.S.

But this McDonald's?


Fortunately, there is a new toilette in town. Starbucks. Le Bucks du Star (L'argent d'etoile?) avec le coffee moins cher than the coffee in the French cafe. Yes, the irony of it all. Starbucks finally being the less expensive option. Who knew that would ever happen? But when a six-ounce cafe creme costs 2.50 euros in the cafe and a venti latte costs 4.40 euros at Starbucks, well, you don't have to be a math genius to figure that one out. (Don't do the $1.30/1 euro translation or you will be too depressed. The EU is suffering a financial crises and the euro is going with it, but not until we are gone, which means we pay the gringo price for the euro.)

So I pulled into the Starbucks. Sought le toilette, pushing my way through the crowd of French people who HATE American business,* which is also so noticeable at McDonald's and at the Poulet Frite du Kentucky.

I got to the back and discovered there was a keypad next to the toilet door, along with a sign advising me that the passcode to le toilette could be found on my register receipt.

As if.

1. In the U.S., it is Starbucks' policy to let anyone use le toilette.

2. I have spent some money at Starbucks over the years. Not as much as some - it is not my daily habit but it is a place I meet my friends to hang out and when we hang out, we buy coffee to pay the table rent - but enough that I think I have earned the right to toilette at will in their stores for at least a dozen times.

3. What is the point of toiletting only to refill?

I ambled through the store, looking for someone American looking: reading a guidebook, wearing tennies. No luck. Then I saw a young woman reading a book in English. "Are you American?" I asked.

"No," she answered in English. British English. Ooops.

I tried to recover. "I'm just looking for someone to lend me the bathroom code," I explained. "I've spent enough money in this place over the years."

"Cha!" she said. "Here you go." She handed me her receipt. I got the code. I toiletted. Starbucks France, let that be a lesson to you: women will not be denied their liberte to toilette. Men can have their fraternal droit to pipi on the main drag in Aix-en-Provence; women have their sisterly right to les toilettes Starbucks.

* Disclaimer: Almost everyone we have encountered has been really nice to us. I am basing my "the French hate McDonald's" on what I have read in the newspapers over the years. But in person, they are quite lovely.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Paris 13: Le big steak frites meal

This is the lunch courtesy of my mother, who sent us a nice check for our anniversary, even though as far as I am concerned, nobody outside one's marriage is required by any kind of rules of polite society to recognize the passing of yet another year of that marriage, but who am I to argue with a nice gift? When she sent the check, I told her we would use it to have a nice meal in Paris and today, we had that nice meal.

We ate at Le Relais de Venise, a steak frites restaurant recommended by our college friend Boris, who lives in Paris. He warned us to get there early because there is always a line to get in. We arrived at 11:57 for the 12:00 opening and were seated immediately.

There is no menu for the main meal. There is a dessert menu, which is shown above. But they serve only steak frites. The only questions they ask are how you want your steak cooked and what you want to drink. The waitress scribbles something on the tablecloth and away she goes.

She returns in a second with the salads. No choice of dressing because THIS IS FRANCE and they don't ask such silly questions, plus the salad comes with only their dressing, which, fortunately, is very very good. So good I used some of the bread that comes with the salad to soak up the leftover dressing.

When you are through with your salad, she brings the steaks and the fries. Only she gives you just half of the steak because the other half is being kept warm over small candles. That's how fancy it is: they keep your meat warm while you are eating the first part of your meat.

When you are done with the first half of the meat, the waitress brings you the rest of it, along with more fries. Don't even think about refusing extra fries, as the guy next to us did, because THEY ARE HOT! THEY'RE GOOD! EAT SOME MORE!

You have to pull the table out to get to your seat, so go to the ladies' first.
Eat dessert. They have delicious chocolate cake.
Merci, Maman. xoxoxooxx

Paris 12: Le pain

A scene from our delicious, Big Factotum paid for lunch at Le Relais de Venise, with the steaks with the fab sauce that I identified the anchovies, the tarragon, and the chervil. We will be trying to duplicate the sauce at home. Buy stock in butter.

SH: This bread [that we bought at the producers'/farmers market on Sunday] isn't very good.

Me: No. It's kind of dry. Maybe they baked it [on Saturday]. I guess we should throw it away.

SH: But that's wasteful. Shouldn't we give it to a beggar instead?

Me: I think French beggars are a little more picky about their bread.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Paris 11: Le dimanche

Not the falafel place where we ate, but the competing falafel place across the street. Neither were open yesterday when we went in search of lunch with a college friend.

The snails guy at the producers' market.

Patient dogs at the butcher.

This is the tartiflette we had last night. Potatoes, cream, cheese and bacon. Unfortunately, the bacon was a little gamy for my taste, but the idea was excellent.

On our walk to the producers' market. We are all about the food. BTW, it is 15 degrees colder here than forecast, so I am really regretting my thin (but funky) zebra coat. I did bring my down vest, thinking some days might be too warm for the coat but hahahaha. I have been wearing the two of them together, along with two camisoles, one t-shirt, and a cashmere sweater. I have still been cold. Teach me to trust a long-range weather forecast. Next time, I bring the long underwear and the full winter coat.

Les lapins for Laverne.

The wandering minstrels at the market.

Lots of dogs in Paris. This one, poor thing, was shivering. Skinny little dog with sparse fur. I used to laugh at those dumb dog sweaters, but this poor dog needed a sweater.

I am not a dog person, but I have to say that all the dogs we have seen in Paris (and there have been many, for they go to the restaurants and the grocery stores with their owners) have been very well behaved.

BTW, well done Paris on (mostly) solving that dog poop problem. Until today (maybe on Sundays the law doesn't apply?), SH and I have not had to watch the ground as we walked.

This vendor and his wife at the producers' market are eating their Sunday lunch, complete with green salad and wine. To do otherwise would be uncivilized.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Paris 10: Le voitures

Oh yes. The Nutelle crepe guy. Maybe he'll help me overcome the heartache of the galette bretonne.

You might think, Oh, driving in Paris how hard can it be? It's just a city.

But those of you in the know do that French lip thing, look up to the sky, and say, Ooh la la! Le driving en Paris! C'est fou!

But why? you ask. You are from a midwestern city with a grid layout. The streets are at right angles to each other. The highway system? Pah. Exits everywhere. If you miss a turn or an exit, you take the next one and circle around. It might take you a little longer to reach your destination, but if you turn up Ninth Street instead of Seventh or Oak instead of Main, you'll find your way back easily. And if you don't - if you must consult a map, then you just pull over into a parking lot and peruse your cartographic information at your leisure, returning to the street when you are ready and being guided by the street signs on every corner.

We had this for supper on Friday. It's fatty pork and onions stuffed into a pita topped with a white sauce made of more fat. Tonight, we are eating at the booth where they were mixing potatoes, cream, bacon and cheese.

In Paris?

Imagine a street layout that looks like a spiderweb.

Laid on top of another spiderweb. Many spiderwebs, laid on top of each other. One-way spiderwebs. Acute angles.

Without street signs.

Well, that's not exactly true.

Discreet street signs, mounted on buildings, that you can find only once you are on the street and have made your commitment. Not lit. So not visible in the dark.

Now imagine traffic so heavy that you move only one car length at a time and stop after each advance. Throw in motorcycles zipping next to your car because lane splitting is legal in France.* The lanes are narrow and they might hit and damage your rental car but tralalalala! they don't care!

We were in stop and go traffic for the last two miles of trip back from Mont St Michel. (We had snow in the hilly town of Caen - slushy snow that did not yield to summer tires. Also a lovely experience.) From La Defense to Porte Maillot, the huge traffic circle we had to enter to get to our street, was a straight line of four lanes of bumper to bumper traffic. We inched along. We saw cars changing lanes and wondered why anyone would do that, as there did not seem to be any cross streets or gas stations** to distract anyone.

Just zipping along, changing lanes.

We were in our original lane. Because we couldn't move. Not that we thought we needed to. Because we wanted to go straight. Why would we change lanes to go straight? That's crazy! Crazy!

Guess what?

The lane we were in split to go to the Paris Peripherique, which is the "highway" loop around the city.

We didn't even know this loop existed.

And yet we were on it.


With no way to get back to the lane for the Porte Maillot traffic circle, which was the only way to get to our road that we knew of, based on the horrible Hertz map.

SH freaked.

"Oh s***! Oh s***! Oh s***!" he exclaimed, each "Oh s***!" louder than the last.

I grabbed the map and tried to figure out what had happened. It looked like we were stuck on the loop going away from our destination, which closed at 9:00 p.m. and offered no provision for late dropoff.

"Oh s***!"

He took the first turn possible, making a 180 so that we were now perpendicular to our destination but going (in the broadest sense of the word, as we weren't moving very fast at all) north instead of south.

I tried to figure out where to exit and if there was even an exit and Darn you, Hertz, and your crummy crummy maps!

"Take the first exit you can," I said, as I tore off my expensive bifocals so I could see the map.

We inched along and ten minutes later, we pulled off the Peripherique. "Which way? Which way?"

"Right, I think."

But there were three ways to go right. All angles. Oh sheesh.

It was dark. Full of cars. Pedestrians demanding the right of way. An ambulance came up behind us with that French ambulance sound. I couldn't see the street names. SH was panicking and furious and I was stuck navigating in a city I did not know, in the dark, with a lousy map, with a series of streets that appeared to be un-named but even if you know the name of this block, the street changes names on the next block, so street names aren't useful navigational tools anyhow.

We barely missed pedestrians. We guessed and hoped that we were on the street that we thought we were on. We braved a left-hand turn. We braved a right-hand turn. We went around a traffic circle. Twenty fingernail-biting, sweaty, swearing, marriage-breaking minutes later, we were at Hertz.

Some couples bond over shared stress.

SH and I are not those couples.

We sulk and fight over shared stress.

We got out of the car and glared at each other. He told me I had not navigated well. I told him that he freaked out too easily. I flounced to the ladies' room. He got mad when I returned, telling me I had abandoned him to unload the car by himself. I pointed out that he doesn't like how I unload the car anyhow so what difference did it make? He said I should be nice to him because he had had a stressful day. Oh, like I didn't? I asked him.

Then we grabbed our bags and stomped the mile to the Hilton, where we drowned our sorrows in the executive lounge snack bar with cheese, Bailey's, and brandy, and made up. The end.

* My friend Heidi lives in Germany and wrote, Did you survive the kamikaze motorcyclists??! When we drive through Paris, everyone is assigned a window to watch for crazed cyclists.

** The service plaza where we filled the tank had a minimum gas purchase of five liters. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. Are there any French readers who can explain this practice?

Paris 9: Du vin

Serrano ham at the Paris wine show. Yes, we went to the wine show* at the convention center and yes, of course there was also serrano ham there. Everywhere we turn, reminders of the serrano ham tragedy of Ought Six.

The very cute Alsace ladies at the wine show with their delicious gewurlitzer wine that I actually liked, but really, getting liquids to the US is such a pain that I think I'll stick to diet Dr Pepper.

You thought the accordion player on our Charles de Gaulle-Paris train was a one off? Oh no! This man is the third transportation system accordion player we've seen. A trumpet player boarded the subway car across from us. This guy, Accordion Player #3, played several songs, including "When the Saints Come Marching In," and he sang, so we gave him money.

* Even better than going to the wine show is that we got in free. Yes, gratis. All those times of giving away our extra tickets and passes to events to people waiting to get in paid off. Our ticket karma was good. As we were walking in, some scalpers tried to sell us some cheap tickets, but we had no idea if they were counterfeit, so we declined. The man in front of us overheard and said that he had an extra free pass. He handed it to us and voila. We were in.

Paris 8: Le snotty waiter

We have had a great trip so far: excellent food, nice people,* not horrible weather.

But on Wednesday, we ate on Mont St Michel.

The trip there was fine, although I was exhausted from the stress of being the passenger in a rental car that SH was driving. In France, you yield to the person on your right unless that person has a stop or a yield sign and how are you supposed to know if they do? It’s constant vigilance, looking out for someone zooming into the road from the right, possibly arriving just as we are passing. It’s a lot of work.

We went to the D-Day beaches and the American cemetery at Omaha Beach, which is lovely, although really, people who run the place – you make us go through a metal detector and look in my bag? It’s not like we’re at an airport.

I asked one of the four men manning the security booth for the ten visitors per hour that they appeared to get in late November just what they were seeking.

“Weapons!” he told me. Because that’s exactly what someone takes to a place where most of the people there are already dead. A weapon.

It was getting dark and then it started to rain as we left the cemetery. We still had 70 miles to go. On small country roads. In the dark. In the rain. With a map designed to fool les Boches, should they dare another invasion. SH driving, me navigating under these conditions – we have not had the best of experiences with that.

Suffice it to say that we emerged unharmed. We got to Mont St Michel at 7:30, just as the rain was really starting to come down and the wind was picking up. We had to walk 200 yards from the car to the base of the mont and then we couldn’t find the entrance because it was dark and who can see a wooden path that sneaks around the side in the dark and the rain?

We dropped our bags at our hotel and went in search of food. The few open restaurants maintain good price discipline: moules frites all cost about 17 euros, so we went with the place that also had galette bretonne, which was what I wanted. This was La Confiance Bar Restaurant in Mont St Michel, if anyone is googling for restaurant advice. Do not eat there!

When we went inside the restaurant, the snotty waiter informed us that the fixed price menu, which was what we wanted, which was what was promoted on the window, with moules frites for SH and galette bretonne for me, was no longer available. We should have walked out right then.

“You can order a la carte,” he continued.

But the galette bretonne was not available a la carte. We should have walked out right then.

I didn’t want the other kinds of crepes. I wanted this one. I didn’t know how to ask the proper questions about the other crepes because my French has gone south along with my ability to eat half a jar of pickles without looking like a blowfish the next day.

I thought maybe the fish soup, but I wanted more information. I wanted a description of the soup, like the kind found on the menus at home that seem so mockworthy when I am at home but now seem like a really good idea: Fish soup – a hearty broth with overtones of fennel and tarragon filled with chunks of cod, shrimp, tomatoes, and potatoes. Wouldn’t that be what you would want?

Now. What would you say to Fish soup: a bunch of stuff that may or may not be fish thrown into a blender and pureed but with no salt or other flavorings?

You would have said “non” if that’s what you had been offered and that’s what I would have done if I had known that’s what fish soup from the land of bouillabaisse was.

Yet I ordered it because the waiter was hovering over me and I didn’t know how to ask him what I wanted to know and he was rather dismissive of the questions I did ask and I can’t believe I let myself be intimidated by a waiter! How dumb was that?

Don't be fooled. Good moules, but bad soup and bad bread.

SH got the moules frites, which were delicious and that had great broth, which was how we softened the more than day-old bread the waiter brought us. We should have demanded fresh bread but we are both out of French.

His French fries were bad: soggy and cold. An American hippie couple on the way out of the restaurant had told us the frites were excellent. Now I know not to trust the taste of a man whose gray ponytail is pulled through the back of his gimme hat.

Rather than actually do something about the situation, I sulked. I ate less than half my soup. When the waiter came to clear the bowl, he asked if I wanted dessert. “No thank you,” I told him.

“Un cafĂ©?”

“No thank you.”

“Just the check?” he smirked.

Oh he’d had unhappy customers before.

We paid, left, walked back to our hotel. Found our cute little clerk outside smoking a cigarette. “We ate at La Confiance,” I pouted.

“Oh no! Pas La Confiance!” she said as she shook her head in sympathy, taking her cigarette out of her mouth and doing that French thing with her lips. “Pas La Confiance!” She knew. She knew.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Paris 7: Le Tour Eiffel

Turkey for sale at the butcher shop near our hotel.

SH and I went to the Eiffel Tower, because what else does one do in Paris with an engineer? Well, besides go to the Sewer Museum, which is really interesting and from which I wish I could have found a souvenir for my college roommate, Rene, who is a civil engineer and who talked a lot about watersheds our junior year of college. Rene, their gift shop is lousy, which is a shame because there is so much opportunity with a Sewer Museum gift shop. As in, everyone poops.

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to the tower with SH was to purge my memory of my trip there with Gomez, the Moroccan millionaire with whom I spent a wasted week in France in 2005, one month before I met SH and saw the boyfriend light. Gomez did not want to do any tourist things in Paris. He had done that. Eet was boring.

Go to Chartres? How dull would that be? Far more dull than drinking a bottle of wine, changing into PJs, taking a four hour nap, and then going to The Gap. Four times.

But I insisted that Gomez go with me to the Eiffel Tower and then walk down the Champs, which he did, even though that is so boring.

Which meant I had to do all of that with SH to record over the Gomez memory, even though it cost $30 or so to go to the top. We’re in Paris! When is that going to happen again?

We stopped at the wine store on the way because that is what SH does.

Graves at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. I would say, "American" graves, but this morning, SH and I went to a German war cemetery near Mont St Michel, where we discovered that there are German soldiers buried in the English and that American cemeteries.

Full disclosure. SH went to the wine store while I went to the consignment store with the Charles Jourdan shoes for 125 euros ( and Chanel jackets whose price I didn’t even bother to check), which I suppose is a bargain, but is still a bit much for me.

We didn’t want to take the wine back to the hotel because every time we took food into the hotel, we had to be really sneaky, as there was a small sign on the elevator telling us food and drink was interdit dans las chambers. As much as I hate to be a rulebreaker, this was a rule I had to break because Paris, bless its heart, is a wee bit pricey. (Socks cost 6 euros, which is like $7.80, and that’s just cotton/poly blend! Not even cute socks! Not even socks as nice as the ones you et at Target. Why am I looking for socks, you ask? Remember the Doc Marten debacle? Il faut use nice smooth socks with Doc Martens, not rough cotton socks that were stuck in the back of your drawer and that you grabbed when you were packing because you forgot that they wer e in the back of your drawer for a reason. They now reside in the poubelle of our Paris hotel room.)

Where was I?

Right. Carrying the wine because it would be easier to sneak past the night clerk, an inattentive college guy, than the day manager, a very sharp, on the ball woman of a certain age.

As we got into line, which was about 78,000 people long, SH saw a sign above the cashier: No glass bottles.

Well, that makes sense, I said.

Then he pointed out that he was carrying a glass bottle.

What to do, what to do?

I suggested we just hide it in the bushes, but he resisted that idea because 1. It was my idea and 2. He was convinced a security camera would see him and one of the many French soldiers strolling around porting machine guns would grab him and send him to Devil’s Island without even a trial. The French aren’t as big on due process as we are, which sometimes is OK, at least when it comes to blowing up those annoying Greenpeace ships. I kid, I kid.

He finally relented and we walked far from the tower and found some dark bushes.

Then we rejoined the line, where we waited and waited. I did enjoy watching the three guys behind us hitting on a beautiful young woman who was listening to her iPod. They tapped her on the shoulder, one of them saying, “We have a bet. Are you Russian?”

She turned, stared, removed her earbud, said, “No,” and replaced the earbud.

They said something else. She went through the same thing again.

I told SH, “She is totally not interested! Do they not care?”

They tried talking to her again. She finally turned her back. They got the picture. I was right hahahahaha.

When SH and I were finally waiting for the elevator, I felt someone brush against my butt. I turned and saw the guy who had hit on the maybe Russian girl.

Omaha Beach.

“Excuse me,” he said.

I knew as soon as I saw who had done it that it had been an accident. Men who hit on gorgeous 18 year olds do not grab the butts of women of a certain age. Oh well.

SH and I got to the top without further incident. We walked from the second stage to the bottom, which was stupid because why pay all that money if you are going to do the work yourself? Then we retrieved the wine and went back to the room, where we lived happily ever after.

Paris 6: Les bains

This is the downstairs bathroom at the Hilton, where we are staying with SH's hard-earned hotel points. No paper towels. Just cloth. And toilet seats.

SH: I would rather have paid 50 euros more to get a better room.

Me: Better how?

SH: With a toilet seat.

Me: Not me. And with the money we saved, we paid for the rental car.

SH: Or wine.

Paris 5: Les fleurs

SH: You and your photos.

Me: Someday you’ll thank me.

SH: When?

Me: When we’re old and in the nursing home and want to remember our trips. You’ll look at this photo and it will remind you of when we went to Paris.

SH: They’re just tulips. We have tulips at home.

Me: These are French tulips.

PS I need to add that that very evening, SH looked at the photo of our bistro lunch and signed, "That was a good lunch." I pointed out that my vacation photo was already bringing him good memories.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paris 4: The food

Our lunch of steak tartare and of faux filet, rare, which is almost tartare except not nearly as tender, which was fine because I ate the cooked edges and gave the rest to SH. Who needs 7 ounces of meat at lunch anyhow?

But maybe some raw beef will help my skin grow back on my heels, where it was removed in just one mile of walking in the Doc Martens, which I thought were broken in, but apparently were only Milwaukee broken in and not Paris broken in. Unlike at home, though, I could not remove them and walk barefoot as 1. it is very cold here and 2. we were in the sewer museum (which is nowhere near where google maps says it is, not that I should be surprised at the poor performance of google maps, given the England Disaster of Ought Nine), which does not seem like the best place to be barefoot.

Paris 3: No more budget travel

Me: But there is a TV and a phone in our room.

SH: I don't care. I'd rather have a toilet seat.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Paris 2: Hello we're here let us in

The Christmas lights on the Champs Elysees.

After an uneventful but food-filled flight (oh, the joys of business class! If I were richer than God, I would pay for it, but for now, I am in that big seat only when the frequent flier miles permit), we arrived in Paris. SH and I walked really fast to get to the head of the passport line because we had places to go, food to eat.

We got there. Third or fourth in line.

And waited.

And waited.

SH and I ate lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. A big bowl of pho, which was perfect for the cold, wet weather. It is a damp cold in Paris. I had forgotten. I planned to be fashionable but now all I care about is being warm, which means wearing evrything I brought all at once.

In the meantime, the border agents, in the dark-blue uniforms, pants stuffed into black Doc Martens, the word "Police" plastered across their backs in reflective white, sat in the booths looking at their fingernails, playing games on their smart phones, and glancing up meaningfully at the "Ferme" sign any time one of us natives got restless.

Occasionally, more police would arrive and sit in empty seats, raising hopes in the heart of every person waiting to get into the darn country.

Then they would leave again, dashing the hopes of everyone in line.

After 15 minutes, a woman of a certain age in a miniskirt, black tights, a big orange scarf and high-heeled ankle boots walked out of the back. "You all know what is happening here, yes?" she asked.

"No," I, speaking for the crowd, said. "I do not understand." The subtext was I do not understand why there are threes of agents sitting at their posts, staring above our heads with a "I do not see you!" look while we, who have just crossed an ocean to visit, are left waiting on the doorstep, cooling our heels. Is the hostess still bathing? Did we arrive too early? Why are we being punished thusly?

"There is a security alert!" she said. "An unattended luggage situation! We are following the procedures!"

"Are they going to blow up the suitcase?" I asked.

"No! No bomb! No bomb!" she chirped as she went back to her comfortable place where there were chairs and food and toilets.*

Mais pas ouvert!

We, in the meantime, waited.

I was on a trip to Paris years ago. Before the Gomez disaster, I think. There was an unattended baggage situation in the airport with a suitcase that was 50 feet from me. The police very politely and quickly evacuated everyone from right around the suitcase. The storefronts all closed. We heard a boom. Ten minutes later, we were carrying on as usual.

It does not take long to blow up a suitcase. It does not take 45 minutes, which was how long we waited.

It is my belief and should be the belief of all right-thinking people that if you have been warned not to leave your luggage unattended and that if you leave your luggage unattended, it will be exploded, that when there is unattended luggage, it should be blown up immediately so as not to inconvenience the rest of us. Walk away from the bag at your peril, mister, should be the message that everyone gets.

* SH does not understand why the toilets here do not have seats. "Am I supposed to sit right on the toilet?" he exclaimed in horror.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Paris 1: We're AT THE AIRPORT

On the flightline in Minneapolis, waiting to take off for Paris, after

1. We were moved from our initial Milwaukee-Minneapolis flight to a Milwaukee-Cincinnati flight because of weight and balance issues with the Minneapolis flight, requiring that our checked bag be pulled from plane #1,

2. We boarded the MKE-Cincy flight, only to deplane 30 minutes later because the door wouldn’t close properly,

3. We got on the next MKE-Minneapolis flight, which circled around Minneapolis a few times waiting to land,

4. Rushing to the fancy lounge in the Minneapolis airport to try to find something to eat in the ten minutes we had before our Paris flight boarded and discovering that the fancy lounge was being remodeled and our only food options were bad processed cheese, bad crackers, Red Delicious apples (does anyone really eat those cardboard atrocities any more?), nuts and Nutella (Nutella would have been fine if I had wanted a snack but I wanted real food)

5. Running back to the Paris gate only to have to wait for the flight from Canada to deplane at our gate,

6. Pushing back from the gate only to hear the pilot say that the tug had stalled and they needed a tow truck, only the tow truck couldn’t move the tug because the wheels of the tug had locked and a tug that is heavy enough to push a plane is also too heavy for a pickup trip with a winch,

We had this dialogue:

Pilot: Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll look to the right of the aircraft, you’ll see some police cars with the lights flashing. They’re escorting the busses carrying the Green Bay Packers. The Packers just beat the Vikings. [pause] Which is probably why they have a police escort.

Flight attendant, in her French translation: Mesdames et messeurs, the police are over there. They are with the American football team that calls itself “The Green Bay Packers.” They have just been victorious in a game of football here.