Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Paris: a final spin?

Monday. It’s a dark world out there, at 6 in the morning. Or is it? More like white. It’s snowing. I call Air France a minute after their office opens and I confirm that nothing can be confirmed. Stand-by for the Tuesday flight. We will be told exactly 60 minutes before the flight if we’re on or off. What if we're off? I can almost feel the shrug over the phone. Who can tell... What about accommodations for the night? Is Air France providing another night (at the Best Western at Roissy)? Yes, sure. Go back to the airport and wait in line to get a voucher. In the alternative, send us receipts.

Well there’s a challenge! It’s not easy to get to the airport, even from the Roissy Best Western. The airport is now officially closed (again) and so the shuttle has stopped running. Still, there are always very kind people floating around if you look around and sure enough the doorman is happy to give us (and a handful of others, with equally terrible and fascinating travel stories) a ride to the airport.

I have never in my life seen lines as long as those at CDG on this day. TV cameras are there to record it. From one end of the terminal to the other (and it’s a monstrously long terminal), each person presenting a complicated travel situation. We decide on option number two: head for Paris and ask for (promised) reimbursements later.

We return to our reliable wee space at the Jardin de l’Odeon, where they welcome us with the kind of welcome you like to see after you’ve spent too many hours overcoming hurdles of one sort or another. And, delightfully, they give us a room at a special “this is a calamity” price – a fraction of their standard rate. People can be so very very nice.

We were told by at least one Air France agent (in tough times, it helps to demonstrate airline loyalty) that we had a budget for replacement items (because our bags are officially irretrievable: stuck in some inaccessible and indeterminable spot) – clothes, personal items, etc. – of 100 Euros each. That’s sort of lovely. We’ll combine a walk through favorite neighborhoods with light shopping.

And so we're back at the RER train station, waiting for the (delayed) train into town, boarding it finally, passing now the drab outskirts of the city, transformed by the delicate snow...


The starting point is, as always, an encounter with Jardin de Luxembourg.


Then, by metro...


...we head out to the Marais neighborhood...



...where I’m so happy to see that some are in fact tickled by the unexpected appearance of snow in Paris.


...with a pause for lunch at a café facing the Square. Croque Madame for me (brioche with ham and grilled cheese and a fried egg)...



... and then we do a long, beautiful walk. It’s a soothing place to shop and window shop. Even though it’s the week before Christmas, it’s relatively quiet here. Holidays come and go. The Marais remains un-flustered by it all.

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We challenge ourselves to find the perfect shopping bargains. A camisole at Maji, A shirt at the closeout sale at Et Vous, and so on. I tell my daughter that these items are, for me, special. To be worn only if we’re forced to stay beyond this day. There’s a bar of soap and warm water at the hotel to help care for what we’re wearing and a wonderful hissing radiator that’s almost as efficient as a dryer.

It'is a blissful moment in Paris. My girl says it’s like playing hooky from school (now, how would she know how that feels, I wonder...). We have no work now, no burdens, no lines to wait in, nothing to do but enjoy this day in Paris.

It’s above freezing. Parisians are out and about. A line forms, here on the right bank as well, but it’s for innocent (and free) pleasures – skating, the merry-go-round. Things that spin you around and toss you out as a happier person.

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No spinning for us. A quiet walk, now past the Notre Dame, but in the fading light of the day. The snow is nearly melted in the center of the city. Wet sidewalks, nothing more.

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We pause again for food. A crepe from a stand near the Place de l’Odeon.

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...nd a glance at the delightfully modern buches de Noel at the food halls of Bon Marche.


A lovely day. A good weather day now. We’re hoping that planes are flying again. That people stuck in lines, or sleeping on mats under blankets provided by the airport are finally able to get home.

Home. My other daughter has Ed to help her put up the tree in Madison. We’re getting closer to the holidays and yet it’s amazing how all the stresses of the season can disappear if you’re forced to do nothing at all.

Evening. I’m thinking that it’s the last one in Paris. There is a mist creeping in, enveloping the Eiffel Tower in the distance, but Paris is used to fogs. Planes take off into misty skies here often enough. Surely we’ll be on one of them?

We eat dinner at Rotisserie d’en Face. A simple meal, a meat and potatoes kind of meal. With chestnut soup and creamy desserts that I’ve seen on the menu here and elsewhere for years and years. Paris Brest. Tart Tatin. Forty years from now, they’ll still be on menus throughout this city.

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One last walk in the light drizzle of a December night. Surely tomorrow we’ll be home.

there's always Paris

On a trip that was to have only one RER train journey from the airport into Paris proper, so far, we're into our sixth.

It's early in the morning. Five maybe? We don't have suitcases (where are they?) and so it feels slightly odd to be gathering our things at the hotel, hoping for a flight home today.

We're on stand-by on a flight that has many, many stand-bys. It's this flight or no flight at all. I'll post about our last day in Paris (am I being overly optimistic?) when we have news as to what's next. Of course, you can read about Europe's air travel this week elsewhere too. In the New York Times for example.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with one photo. Paris, somewhat misty and surreal.