Friday, December 09, 2005

from Paris: comfort and joy

My pre-departure checklist is long. It is always tediously long. By the time I cross off the last line, I am late for the taxi. I go down and o9Miraculously, the cabbie looks in the rearview mirror and notices me. Can we make it to the Union before the bus leaves for O’Hare?

I’m on time. But just barely. The bus pulls out. My traveling companion is not with me. He’s chasing his passport somewhere on the back roads of Oregon. People really do forget to take their passports. I thought that only happened in movies.

The bus driver is taking a circuitous route. There has been a major accident on the freeway. I am not surprised. It is snowing lightly. The roads are smooth and slick from the freezing wetnesses.

At O’Hare, we face near white-out conditions. A foot of snow is expected. It’s hard to believe that some flights are coming in. Not everything is canceled.

We sit in the lounge waiting. Everyone is quiet, mentally making contingency plans. The Air France plane has yet to land.

But suddenly, there it is, inching forward toward the gate as the ground crew pushes away masses of snow.

Paris Dec 05 004
surprisingly, it landed in the storm

Paris Dec 05 008
at the gate; a sigh of relief -- we'll leave tonight

When flights are precarious, passengers begin to sense the need for cooperation. We board quietly, apologizing for blocking aisles, fitting into our seats without complaint, making no demands on those around us.

A baby cries. How old? Just three weeks. First trip to Paris? I ask with a smile. My companion, with passport safely tucked in his duffle bag wonders if it is always like that: one mother sees another with a child and the heart melts with tenderness. I say yes, but I admit that I am relieved when the mother moves toward the rear of the cabin.

Two hours of deicing. The minute the snow is hosed off, with a milky yellow substances that flow like bile across our windows, new snow covers the plane.

But deicing means we’ll take off. And we do. We lift off, immediately entering the white nothingness, floating in swirls of clouds and snow. Airbus planes are notoriously quiet. This only adds to the feeling of being smothered by the snow storm.

We land in Paris. A crowded train takes us from the airport through the northern districts of the city – those same neighborhoods that were so much in the press the past few weeks. And what happens now? Do the discussions continue? Will they ever turn into something other than endless debate and denouncement?

My companion is traveling with a sprained ankle. He hobbles behind me bravely, but at the hotel he collapses.

Me, I set out. I don’t wait another minute. It’s past noon – people are already sipping their vin rouge and eating their salades and plats du jour. I head toward the handful of cafés around the corner. I pick one that still might allow me to order what I want (on the promise that I wont linger too long):

Paris Dec 05 014
comfort and joy. with chocolate

If I had to now turn around and retrace my steps, returning immediately after my café moment, I would still tell you it was worth it. There is no greater comfort than the joy of having a café crème avec un croissant, made with the sweet Normandy butter that gives it its incomparable flavor.

But I don’t have to return. I am staying here with the bare chestnut trees. And it is warm enough. In the forties, just as predicted.

Paris, as she was when I left her, two seasons ago, a lifetime ago.

Paris Dec 05 001
winter song