second text from Paris


October 1, 2014     10:30 P.M., Paris, France

This must be what that “jet-lag” is, although I must say it seems not at all what I had anticipated, quite the opposite, as I find that I am lagged in the wrong direction, going to bed at three in the afternoon and waking up at ten at night?

What time is it where you come from? I am an American in Europe so don’t expect me to know anything at all about what is up or down. My God, is it true the Earth is round? Why don’t I fall off the other side, then? Shouldn’t there we a huge southern continent all around the south pole, to balance the weight of Asia? Go back to sleep.

No. I am awake. I will write while today’s videos upload to yutub.

Of course I have never really “experienced” jet-lag, either or at all, for that matter. Never have I flown for so far, so long, ten hours on a plane traveling nine hours into the future? No.

But I digress into that future, or rather this present, after a long first (second) day, getting up from a six-hour nap, finding myself in the middle of the night, when what I want to do is write down the recent past before it escapes me into weeks and months and finally years and years and years ago.

Still, isn’t that part of what I am here for? To wander off into the past? The history of art and science and culture and western civilization? That is what I thought, or perhaps felt, today, as I wandered with all the Japanese and Chinese and Europeans through the Louvre. Yes.

No. Not yet. When last I tried to write, I left us sitting in Los Angeles waiting for the airplane. I just missed recording the arrival of the flight crew, a mass of uniformed gazelles and buffalos trundling down the hallway toward the gate like horses who smell the barn. Oh dear poetic license. I wish I could have recorded that with my video camera. I barely caught the tail end of that impressive crew parade, rumbling down the hallway with their carryon bags. Sometimes I need to be quicker on the draw. It was a sight to see. The huge plane has like twenty crew members.

Finally, with a vast shuffling and stirring into motion, all six hundred whatever of us passengers began to jockey for position in the narrow hallway that leads into the last gate of Los Angeles, number 123 A and 123 B. As a customer in “premium-economy” I was entitled to priority boarding and thus was able enter the airplane a full hour before we ever began to get ready to taxi out onto the field and take off. I found my seat and gratefully sat down. To wait. And wait. And wait some more.

“Mesdames et monsieurs” they muttered several times in French and English, giving me a sweet taste of what it would be like for the next thirty days, to live in the world of froggy language, “on behalf of all the crew of Air France, welcome aboard.”

I don’t remember how to say “on behalf of” or much of the rest, either, even though I pride myself on my few words in French. Hello goodbye thank you no thank you I am from California you are very kind.

The service was adequate, although I expect practically nothing from airline food. Our flight was so long that they served us two meals, one around five p.m., and another at five or six a.m. Please remember the clock was advancing every hour by another hour. I could not eat my salmon and scallop mousse, I am allergic to scallops – the only thing I have ever eaten that makes me vomitting sick. For the main course I chose goat cheese ravioli instead of the chicken, and had a serviceable Chardonnay to accompany it. There was also fruit and cheese and bread, and rolls (I had two). Coffee afterwards.

Breakfast, many hours later, was some sort of pancake stuffed with sweet cream cheese. I suppose I should call them “crepes” but I ate them anyway, grateful to have something of substance. The applesauce and yoghurt was better, actually.

I must admit I was impressed with how quickly they served us. They appear to have it well-organized, except for one of the carts runs out of something and the attendant must run back for more, over and over and over again.

In the middle of the night they served us fudge ice-cream on a stick. I was asleep and had to go back later to the little galley, where some of the snacks were set out for us to help ourselves.

I kept drinking water all night long. I had bought extra in the terminal after passing though security. Good thing. I needed it all. I quite purposefully drank very little alcohol, only the champagne before dinner, and the wine with dinner. Then I had two, no, three, little cups of coffee (two in the evening, one in the morning). I am certain that that increased my need for water.

Those airline cabins are so very dry. Oh, and we had no peanuts.

But I survived and we landed in France.

The big airport (Charles de Gaulle) is like a thousand miles wide. It seemed we taxied for half an hour before finally reaching the gate and then being allowed to get off.

Baggage? Forget it, my friends, never take checked baggage. It took another half an hour of wandering to find the proper “carrousel” – going through customs was far simpler, a quick glance at my passport and then: Hello, welcome to France.

But then, the baggage. Take a little train. Go up and down dozens of moving staircases. Finally stand and wait. Fortunately for me, because I flew “premium economy,” my bag was unloaded early in the game. After wandering with the cattle through the labyrinthine bowels of Terminal Two ABCDE and K, I only had to stand near the carrousel for a few minutes before my dusty green bag showed up going round and round and round. No. I grabbed it nearly as soon as it popped out of the toaster door.

And I was lucky. I had studied the terminal layout. Or rather, the layout as it was laid out once-upon-a-time last year before they began the latest rounds of construction. So I knew where we were going, even with the under-construction deviations. I knew about the little shuttle train we had to get onboard, and that was when I realized we had landed, just as we had taken off, at the farthest possible terminal gate in the known world’s existence.

Once I had my bag, I also knew where I had to go to catch the bus direct into the city from the airport. I had decided not to take the train, but rather the Roissybus, which goes straight to the old Opera house, a few blocks from the soon-to-be-my-home apartment that I have rented for the month of October.

I rode into the city, through the same international postmodern architecture you see almost anywhere around the developed world – it might have been the suburbs of Chicago, for all I could tell, except for the signs in French. Then we went underground for a while I am already forgetting when it was, but I believe that it was when we emerged – or sometime near – I saw something that pierced my heart like a golden arrow of delight and pain.

A steep hill, crowned by an almost Byzantine cluster of towers and domes. I knew it, instantly, Montmartre. It looks so much steeper in reality than it does in the photographs. You can instantly identify it as a sacred mountain. It has that… presence.

But then, I am always a sucker for that sort of empathic response. I felt it again, today, looking at the four-thousand-year-old bits and pieces of scuplture and tablets from ancient Mesopotamia.

Anyhow, when I saw the uplifted hill of Montmartre floating in the sunny haze, I knew I was not in some weird French version of Chicago. I was finally here, and entering the center of the great city of Paris. Soon enough, the old architecture moving around us confirmed that impression. Our airport bus had reached the city of grand boulevards and narrow streets.

Another fifteen minutes twisting through the old and new, and we stopped next to the Opera house. Only a few blocks now, by taxi – expensive but convenient – to my apartment and the landlord’s kindly mother, who checked me in and gave me the keys and a receipt for the deposit.

I bade her farewell and took a nap.

In the evening went to the supermarket four blocks away.

Hard to believe it was only yesterday.

first text from Paris

October 1.

I must say I am a little reluctant to even begin this writing, fearing I will get all long-winded and go on and on, when what I want to do is briefly sketch the events of yesterday, which in this darkness before dawn, are already becoming day-before yesterday.

Monday, early, a few minutes after six a.m., I took a taxi from home to the old Santa Fe train station, downtown. At seven I was permitted to board the Pacific Surfliner, bound for Los Angeles. It was an uneventful ride. I dozed a bit. Drank three cups of coffee and one apple/grape juice and ate two sweet rolls.

At L.A. union station, I caught the bus to the airport. After a bit of congestion leaving downtown, we fairly flew along the highway via express/carpool lanes, before getting into slow traffic again at the airport. Checked in three hours early (four hours before my flight was scheduled to depart). Passed through security rather uneventfully, and then spent a while checking out the new Tom Bradley international terminal. Went up onto one of the upper floors to see if I could buy admittance to the lounge I had read I might be permitted to enter. No. No, sir. Sorry. Good bye.

Eventually, back down on the main floor, I settled down to a rather delicious salad and glass of wine, sitting at a small place looking out over the air field in front of the terminal. I saw one or two big planes slowly crawl past toward their gates. There were also electric plugs there, so I was able to transfer the video footage I had shot earlier on the train and bus, scan through it, and even upload one or two pieces to yutub, thanks to the airport wifi.

About an hour before our scheduled boarding time, I wandered off toward our gate: 123, the farthest possible distance to the north, maybe half of a mile and two moving sidewalks and a lot of hiking with my backpack and coat (I had checked my one larger piece of baggage). Then I sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more. For the first time this day, I actually began to feel bored.

I did not know it, but it was a feeling that would disturb me later, many hours later, onboard the plane, half-way through the ten hour flight.