So I’m in London, meeting up with my friend Jackie this afternoon for some museum-going followed by dinner and the Meeting of the Significant Others, but right this minute my leg hurts, I’m sweating under way more jacket than I really needed to bring today, and in sum I am just not feeling like a terribly adventuresome tourist this morning. So I decided to stop and catch up on my electronic life.
I should begin this by mentioning that as excited as I was to rendezvous with David in Paris for Phase II of the “Jay Porter International Gimp of Leisure European Tour 2003,” I could easily have stayed in Moscow another week. A great city, a great trip, and (as I have long kown) such wonderful and amazing family. I was so sad to say goodbye to Rick and Lisa and have Lisa and Pavel drive me to Sheremetyevo. Once there, I faced an entirely chaotic check-in area and a long line at Passportne Kontrola-where my wish to stay in Moscow was almost granted!
The woman (who bore an alarming resemblance to Bert from Sesame Street fame) in the kiosk looked at me, then looked at my passport photo. About 100 times. Then she called over another officer. More comparison. I am commanded (I finally figured out) to turn in profile. None of this satisfies them. I should point out that although the passport photo shows me in my Dr. Evil shaved head phase, it’s still a pretty good resmeblance-only two years old, unlike the aged photos of many people I know. Anyway, they call over a Russian Army officer, with what I can only assume was a Kalahnikov in tow, and parley with him for a moment. He looks at me, they talk some more, he inspects my passport thoroughly, and then walks off. Bert-woman holds up her index finger in the universal signal for, wait a minute. I’m now completely freaked out. Two more minutes pass, bringing my time at the kiosk to easily seven minutes. The enture queue is now scrutinizing the perspiring American in leg brace and with cane who is, by all appearances, trying to travel with forged papers. I’m standing there, wondering what the problem could be, when Bertevna miraculously just waves me on through. I look sheepishly for Kommandant Kalashnikov but it’s clear that she’s decided I can go. The though passes through my mind that my Russian hosts might just pick every 10th American for a little sport harrassment.
Anyway, my Aeroflot to Paris was lovely-again, a great meal, a good seat, and nobody next to me. Landing at Charles de Gaulle, just as when I arrived in Moscow, the Russians on board broke out in applause. I cannot overstate how disturbing this is, as if they all knew how tenuous our in-flight survival had been-as if there had been an all-Russian announcement mid-flight: “This is your captain speaking. Please do not scare the American in seat 26D, but we forgot to fill up the plane and we’re going to run out of gas any minute. This is our lot in life as Russians. The flight attendants will now bring you vodka. Thank you for flying Aeroflot!”
Anyway, I cleared immigration and got my bag without incident. Given my leg, the vagaries of getting to Paris, and the romance of arriving together, David felt strongly that I should just wait for him at the airport-which was quite sensible. I arrived a little before 3, and he was due in just after 6 from Basel. But his plane kept getting delayed, 5 minutes at a time, and gate information was never available. So I waited. By 6:20, I was a little freaked out-like they didn’t really know where it was, or something. Perhaps Air France was secretly as iffy as Aeroflot? Anyway, when the gate information did appear, it was “1”-which looked a lot more like a terminal than a gate to me. In one of those errors one could only make after obsessing about something for too long, I decided that he was arriving at Terminal 1, not Terminal 2 where I had been waiting. So I jumped on the next shuttle for Terminal 1. Arriving at Terminal 1, where no Air France arrivals were in evidence, I realized my own stupidity. So I hastily called David’s phone and left voicemail apprising him of the depths of my ignorance of the ways of Roissy Aerogare Charles de Gaulle. Then I immediately caught the wrong shuttle, prolonging my journey a good 10 minutes, requiring a hasty change to a terribly crowded tram, and generally frustrating myself to an astouding degree. I finally arrived back at Terminal 2, redfaced and sweaty, to see David calmly waiting for me. Being the prince that he is, he didn’t even laugh at me. Well, maybe one chuckle, well earned.
As I see my Internet time dwindling on a handly little count-down bar, I realize that I should really just compress the whole stay in Paris into a single impressionistic sketch. The colors are sky blue, wine red, and the amazing range of slates and greens and creams that is the inimitable architecture of Paris. Every meal was amazing. Our first night David took me to his favorite place, just blocks from our charming hotel-I kept wanting to go back! Our last night I instinctively recognized that a little spot I passed by coming back from the Centre Pomidou would be great-and it is now tied for the title of “favorite restaurant in Paris.” Of course Paris is every bit as romantic as promised, and David and I had a wonderful time. We did the Orsay and the Picasso museum and I caught the truly stunning Philippe Starck retrospective at the Pompidou. (Link to come, I promise!)
Lisa and Rick will understand what I mean when I say that I really missed Pavel in Paris! Having a full-time driver will REALLY spoil you! (Right Miss Welch?) The Metro is great, blah blah blah, but it is a huge pain in the ass with a bum knee-so many little flights of stairs, with hurried Parisians buffeting me on all sides. And I emerged with a strong opinion that children should not be allowed on the Eiffel Tower. Getting around without my leg brace is nice and all, but it offered visible evidence that I was not in full working order; one might assume that a cane would convey the same message, but no. About 20 kids almost knocked me over, and one bumped into my leg with such gleeful abandon that I was tempted to lobb his yipping American ass over the side. (David is only too happy to hear me speak ill of children, as he tends to hear the phrase “well-behaved child” as an absolute oxymoron.) I did learn to do the city busses pretty well-and they have the added benefit of showing you the sights. I probably could have saved 20 Euro and not done the silly tour bus. When I go back, I look forward to walking Paris just as thoroughly as I did Rome.
Oh, and just as dicky as my knee is my French. As with my Italian in Rome, I can speak fairly well if I consider carefully what I want to say. But my listening comprehension is terrible. Of course I could read Le Figaro in its entirety-which is really great if you want a first-hand perspective on how much the French hate and fear America Rex Mundi, but just not as useful as being able to carry on a conversation in a bar. As promised, I avoided using my French any time David was in earshot. It is really, really nice to be in London after first Moscow-where even decoding the alphabet was a challenge-and then Paris where I was mocked by my former mastery of the language. I really should have cemented my high school studies (I was, after all, awarded “Best French Language Student in Oklahoma” in 1991, for what little that is worth) with a visit to France back then. But as I told David at least once (OK, four times), the joys of seeing Paris for the first time with such a wonderful guide made it absolutely worth the wait.
Well, my time is up and a sunny London afternoon beckons. I’m off!