Came as I emerged from the M4 line at the Simplon stop an hour or so after collecting my bags. I felt like a pregnant mole traveling in the metro, 70lbs of luggage weighing me down, blind to the morning light as I emerged on the sidewalk. I’m back, I thought taking in a deep breath of the city. I stood at the top of the steps feeling dreamy-eyed and nostalgic while people hurried past. Le bon pain, le vin, tout ça m’a beaucoup manqué…
I was there to meet my friend Andrew from Georgia and his girlfriend Maria from Italy. We had all met two years ago while studying abroad in Tours, France, and since then, Andrew has remained in the country, teaching in La Rochelle the year before through the same program that I am enrolled in, TAPIF (Teaching Abroad Program in France). Currently, the two of them share a quaint apartment together while attending La Sorbonne and working odd jobs around the city.
As Andrew said, I must have come up the stairs while he was heading down towards the metro because we completely missed one another. I made my way to their apartment at 41 Boulevard Ornano and set my belongings just outside the door. After borrowing a kind woman’s phone coming out of the complex and involving another at the market who offered her pen to us, I saw Maria making her way towards me from the other end of the sidewalk.
“Je suis très très contente de te voir!” Maria said while embracing me in a hug. She was radiating a happiness and exuding an energy paralleling how it felt to be back in France. Wow, how strange it is to see someone you haven’t seen in two years, to revisit a place that feels exactly the way you left it.
I placed my things in their apartment, its walls lined with pictures in crayon that her younger brother had drawn for her. Aside from the main room where their bed was, their was a tiny, two-burner stove, a small table with an electric kettle, and a beautiful balcony overlooking the street.
As we met Andrew on the sidewalk, I embraced him in a hug. It felt so nice to see him again, one of the closest friends that I made during our semester abroad. We walked to a café where I was able to hear Maria negotiate with the bartender to allow us to bring in food from outside, his selection of baked goods thin.
We walked to a boulangerie next door where I ordered a pain aux raisins and took it back to the café for a café au lait while Andrew drank an espresso. I had never spent a lot of time talking to the two of them together in-person before, and two years ago their relationship was just beginning. My interaction with them as a couple of two years was quite a bit different than anything I had before experienced. It was cute to hear Maria tell Andrew to go grocery shopping so that he could make me lunch when I woke up from my nap, and to be sure to eat something for breakfast.
Maria, reluctant to have to go to work, voiced frequently during our conversation how much she would like stay, that we should come visit her during work, and that she would get off early if she could. Andrew gently pulled her hair in to her face telling her that she needed to be sick today so that she could stay with us.
After a kiss on the cheek from Andrew and Maria and I did la bise, she left reluctantly for work, waving goodbye through the window until she was out of sight. Andrew and I talked about our lives since we last spoke, reminiscing about our time in Tours, if we had heard anything from our other friends from Germany. After my eyes couldn’t focus any longer from exhaustion, we retreated to the apartment where I passed out for a few hours.
When I awoke, Andrew came back having purchased some chicken after I commented on the smell on our way back to his apartment. He prepared a simple but delicious meal of rice, lettuce, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, and grape juice that we shared before we left for the train station.
Maria got off work and made her way immediately to La Gare du Nord, right before my train pulled up to take me to Orly Sud for my flight. One last hug from the two of them, she handed me a bag containing a container of pasta and an orange drink before I boarded the overcrowded train.
The space I occupied was the smallest anyone could have taken up with the luggage I had. I piled the two bags on top of one another in the corner using the handrail next to the door to keep them in place while I stood as small as possible, elbow-to-elbow with all the Parisians. It was so crowded people nearly fought their way in and out of the train during the brief time that the doors were open.
Having missed the first train due to an extended goodbye, I had two hours from the time I left the platform at La Gare du Nord before my plane took off for La Réunion. Oh my god! I’m going to miss my flight! As I stood in my space near the door, I began to panic. I couldn’t miss that flight! It was $900 and it would bankrupt me to have to buy another one-way ticket from Paris to the island.
Parisians fit their stereotypes. They’re polite but rude, everyone parenting each other and informing everyone else how to behave. Most are extremely well-dressed, neat, composed, and soft-spoken in public settings. They look good doing just about anything, except dancing. As I stood in that train I had to say to myself, do what you gotta do to make that flight.
As the doors opened for the Antony stop, I threw myself and my bags out the door, heaved the large backpack onto my shoulders, and moved as quickly as I could to the train leaving for Orly. Shit! My ticket! It was in my back pocket. I awkwardly pulled out my wallet, grabbed the tiny ticket to allow myself through the gate, dropped it on the ground, bent over nearly tipping, and squeezed myself through to the edge of another completely full train. As I paced back and forth nervously from one stuffed doorway to another, I asked desperately if there was any more room.
“I am sorry, but it is impossible to pass,” a woman told me. Luckily another pulled up two minutes after, but I looked down at my watch as it read 4:30pm. Flight registration closed at 5.
Looking at the map of the terminals, Orly Ouest et Orly Sud, I pulled out the sleeve containing my flight information within my laptop case within the laptop sleeve in my backpack beneath a cardigan and a pair of shoes in my backpack. Orly Sud it read.
Again, as I saw the platform approaching from a distance, I put my backpack on and prepared myself the same way I did waiting in the starting blocks for the 400m event. I ran to the escalators awkwardly like a 5-year-old running with an oversized backpack taking the steps as fast as I could, nearly falling down the escalator. Rounding the corner, my eyes searched frantically for Corsair. All of the dividers were up, so I zigzagged ten times back and forth to cover the length of a hallway to get my boarding pass and check my bag.
“Another two minutes, Monsieur, and you would have missed your flight! . . . Okay, here is your boarding pass, you must run!” 45lbs lighter, I felt like I was flying. I stood in line for 10 minutes through security as families of French people somehow more pressed for time than myself cut to the front. I’m fine at this point, I thought to myself. I drank the Orangina that I had shoved in my bag, thinking sadly at the container of pasta that got left behind on the train, not because I was that hungry, but because it was so thoughtful of Maria to bring it for me.
As I walked towards my gate, I stopped in a bathroom to get stumped by the hand drying system they had going on. It was a weird stall with a vent above, but for the life of me, I could not figure out where the sensors were to detect my wet hands. Confounded, they dried in the time it took before I gave up.
“B, B, B.” I walked the length of the hallway looking for A12, but there were no A gates to be found. “Excusez-moi, Monsieur, mais je cherche A12,” I said to a man with a badge. He looked at my ticket and laughed, not in a polite way, but in a what-a-complete-idiot sort of way. “Come wis me,” he told me. If the words had been “Your backpack is really dumb,” the tone would have been exactly the same.
We walked back through security and to hallway A (Voilà!), but not before stopping to tell his friend about my mistake. He literally stopped to make fun of me to his friend, and then another time as we reached hall A. I’m going to be fucking late! I wanted to scream in frustration. I was clearly the best part of his day.
Long story short, I was late because that Frenchman was evil and I ended up missing my flight. I’ve bought a one-way ticket to Minneapolis, and I’m writing to you from Charles de Gaulle.
Just kidding. I made my flight. All is well! I’m in the best of spirits sitting here a row behind the nose of the plane, eating a complimentary 3-course meal with white wine.
Goodbye, Paris! So long asshole security guy! See you soon, Andrew and Maria. I’m sorry about the pasta. There was no time!
Next stop: Reunion Island