Saturday, October 9, 2010
In a whirl of travel, I have arrived. The swirl of emotion as my psyche tries to connect with what we’re doing, and where, is trumped by the need to focus: watch out for terrorists, and navigate through the labyrinthine Charles de Gaulle airport—one of my least favorite places on the planet. I need to get to the train station (probably at least a five-mile trudge through the airport) and catch my train to Grenoble.
The kiosk from which I am to obtain my electronic ticket won’t accept my Visa card; I have to join the very long line of travelers at the ticket counter. Ugh. The despicable task is made easier by the helpfulness of the ticket agent.
A two hour wait for my train is filled with people watching, drawing, munching on biscuits and drinking Evian. I inhale a familiar smell—the train station at Charles de Gaulle. I wonder how many times I’ve sat here…
I find myself sitting straighter. No slouching. No smiling. The strict code of public etiquette. The quietness of public spaces, the soft voices, the discretion, things I always appreciated. My French personality spurts out in spasmodic reflexes as familiar patterns lurch into consciousness, triggered by the sights, sounds and smells.
The lady sitting next to me asks me something forbidden, with a worried look on her face: would I watch her luggage while she goes to buy a bottle of water? “My flowers need it,” she pleads, indicating the bouquet wilting on her suitcases. It takes me a minute to respond; she is the incarnation of someone I know in the North—even to the cadence of her speech, and her word choices. She must be a nordiste, I think, and I want to give her a hug, faire des bises, and I stifle a pang of homesickness for Lille. She is not who I remember; and I am pretty sure she is not a terrorist; I assure her I’ll watch her things, if she will watch mine while I find a toilet.
What will it be like to return to France? I have a few hours on a train ride to ponder that question, if I don’t sleep through the whole trip. I settle back against my suitcases and rehydrate with great gulps of the Evian water.
This is going to be a different kind of journey…