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Walking With Fire 2005: Nov. 22-27, Austria
Europe: Part VI

Entries from this trip:
A quick overview of the entire trip
Entry 1 | Entry 2 | Entry 3 | Entry 4
Entry 5 | Entry 6

"Reading Departure Signs in Some Big Airport, Wondering Why We Ever Go Home"

This review only really covers the important things, so not everything covered in other entries will be covered in this one, because some things are a) for those who were there and b) simply unimportant.

11/28/05: Final(?) Day: Wondering Why We Ever Go Home

The morning after our last Salzberg adventure, Monika, Meghan, Duke and I rolled out of bed to head to the airport. We said goodbyes to Mazi, and I knew that Raa-Raa would be mightily unhappy that both Uncle Mike and Monika were gone when he woke up.

But gone we had to be, and we headed out to the airport, preparing to fly out and get home later that day (using the 6 hour time difference to our advantage). The four of us grabbed some breakfast at a small café that made killer sandwiches and expensive doughnuts, checked into our flights, and hung out for a while. We talked about our experiences, relaxed, and then got ready to head through security. Duke saw us through, and then headed back to the hotel.

Monika, Meghan and I were leaving from similar gates, with Monika leaving last, so she walked us to the gate. We sat there and chatted some more about the week, and enjoyed watching the people bustle about in the airport.

And then Meghan and I boarded our SalzburgSpirit flight to Paris.

Once again, I was not disappointed. Here, I thought we'd had a fluke with the hot stewardesses on our first flight, but I was wrong. . . They were better looking this time around! We were served excellent meals, and we chatted a lot, watching the scenery below us as we flew over Austria.

We watched the terrain below us change into French terrain, and once again the landscape was swaddled in ugly, gray smog. We landed in this soup, and were hustled onto a bus and bussed to the terminal. I swear, I felt like livestock for a good chunk of the time I was on French soil.

We had landed in Paris about five minutes late, bustled through the terminal (once we finally got there), and arrived at the transfer desk in good time, actually. Our flight wasn't due to leave for fifty minutes, and I couldn't have been happier with the speed at which we'd gotten there.

And that's about when things fell apart.

It's funny, but sometimes, a single little bottleneck can ruin the most carefully made plans. We listened to a number of people argue and bicker over why they couldn't get onto their flights. Several became quite animated in their anger, gesturing and sputtering in numerous languages (very few of which sounded flattering to the nice ladies behind the desk). They were, primarily, complaining about how long it would take them to get from point A (the transfer desk) to point B (their gate). When I amusedly observed out loud that the fifteen minutes they had spent frantically gesturing could have been spent frantically walking (and probably achieving their destination), I received a rather angry look.

No skin off my back, I figured. Then I looked at the clock. . . These people were taking up our time as well.

There were four people in front of us. We had arrived at the ticket desk with fifty minutes to spare. . . More than enough time to transfer to a flight in any normal dimension, but we were in France. Our flight left at 10:20 AM.

A view of CDG from the front of the transfer line
Check out the clock!

That's right: it took us the full fifty minutes plus five to get to the front of the line. That means each person took an average of about ten minutes to understand that they really needed to go somewhere else and that there was nothing that could be done for them.

I don't think it was possible to make our flight, in reality. But it would have been nice, for sure. Fortunately, the Air France lady was extremely nice, and informed us of our options. While we could not get out same-day, we could get out tomorrow. That meant our one-hour layover was now a 23-hour layover. Dear gods.

Neither Air France nor SalzburgSpirit would pay for a hotel room. We were stuck. In CDG airport. With thousands of other smelly travelers all around us. And a hammer drill going at the tile thirty feet away. And not enough French between us to make heads nor tails of most signs, much less to order food and a hotel room.

It could have been scary, had we decided it was.

Meghan and I set ourselves in order, took our new tickets, and went to talk to baggage. We asked about getting our checked baggage, but we were told we'd have to keep our bags if we unchecked them, and we chose not to take them out. We were given small toiletry packs (which are actually kind of nifty), and I spent about an hour rummaging through mine for treasures (such as an Air France t-shirt, a travel toothbrush, some laundry detergent, deodorant, and some other amusing things) while Meghan tried to figure out what we ought to do next.

We walked out of the departures area, and found the information booth. Meghan sat and waited for the sun to rise in Cleveland so that she could call her parents, and I wandered around the terminal, trying to figure out hotels.

I got a few phone numbers, prices, and other things from the nice gentleman at the information desk, who beckoned me forward from the back of the line. He started our conversation in French, pointing at my head and smiling. When I replied, "Anglais?" (for the life of me, I couldn't put together, "I don't speak French" just then) he smiled even broader. "American? It is a good hat. Can I help, Dr. Jones?"

I laughed, and he smiled broader. "It is a good hat," I said. "Thank you. Do you have hotel prices?"

"Here, we do." He handed me a sheet of paper. I began scribbling the numbers down, as well as the rates and the names. "No, for Dr. Jones, you can keep it, ey?"

I smiled again, saying, "Merci. Um, the hotel shuttles?" I asked, moving my hand unconsciously as if it were a car. "Where do we find them?"

"Gallerie quatre," he responded.

I held up four fingers, to make sure I'd heard right. "Quatre, four? Gallery Four?"

"Oui. Four," he said, smiling.

"Merci," I said again, and went back to find Meghan, who had (by this time) gotten in trouble from airport security for taking too many pictures of random things she could see from where she sat. Apparently, they frown on that.

I brought my findings to her, showing her the options. I struggled my way through the list, trying to figure out how it worked (it wasn't exactly self-explanitory to a foreigner who had little useful French), and we settled on a set of hotels to give a shot.

We wandered down to Gallery Four, me navigating from the big maps that carried no English translations, and found ourselves outside, freezing and waiting for a car to come by.

We grabbed the first one that looked like it was going our way, and rode around the ugly airport for a while. Finally, we came to the cheaper hotels that we were looking for, and trundled off at the first one on our list that was under 150 euros per night.

We checked in with few problems, were given free drink vouchers, and headed to the room. We dropped our things off, and headed down to the Irish pub in the lobby.

We ordered some dinner (not really very good and extremely expensive, but with free bread), and chatted with an American couple who was stuck in France against their will, as well. We told them what we knew about the RER system, where to get off, how to read the subway boards, and how much it would cost. It was a plesant chat, travelers sharing their woes. I don't know if they ever made it downtown Paris, but it sounds like their trip was much worse than ours was.

Meghan and I used our drink vouchers, her for some wine that she didn't like, and me for some not-so-hot whiskey. But the soup was good, once I figured out that dipping the bread in it made it almost seem like a good meal, and with an unlimited supply of bread, I managed to get enough calories to make it through the day.

We then went upstairs, and wrote out the postcards we hadn't managed to yet. I was short on postcards, and so couldn't send one to everyone, but I did get a good chunk out of the way. I sort of picked people who weren't family out at random to send to, but I wrote out over twenty of them.

We both called around, I called Tina and left her a message, and Brian as well, who was set to pick us up that night. I also called my office, and they had little sympathy for my plight, but told me not to worry about it. We got the word out, and then went back to our postcards.

Following that, we fell asleep in a terribly uncomfortable bed, our alarms set for early the next morning.

11/29/05: Actual Final Day: Paris

We woke up the next day feeling pretty bad and not having slept well. We got our things together, went down to the lobby, and tried to check out. There were problems with our payment, though, and we finally got them to agree to send us the bill through the mail.

We boarded the shuttle back to the airport once that was arranged, worrying about the timing. We knew we needed to get off at the right place, but we didn't exactly know where that was. It didn't help that CDG is so damn confusing in terms of driving. I was trying to read signs, trying to figure out what the hell the driver was saying, and having trouble making out his alphabet (the terminal we were looking for was 2E, and I know enough to know that that should sound like "deux eh" or something like that), but with the noise from the shuttle and the talking behind me, combined with his terribly gruff voice, I couldn't tell what he was saying. It was too fast, and too sharp and gruff. I'd turned off my music a long while before trying to hear him, but one earbud still hung in my ear.

Finally, I asked him. I leaned forward, asking him what terminal we were at.

His response was sudden and certain. I couldn't tell you exactly what he said, but it was fast and quick, but verbose and full of hand motions. The gentleman in front of us said, "American? Do you speak any French?"

"Not enough, obviously," I said. "I didn't quite catch all of what he was saying, but I can tell this isn't our terminal."

"No, this is 2B. He said you should listen better." He smiled broadly.

"Thanks, I'll try," I said, smiling. While I didn't really catch what the driver had said, I knew pretty certainly what he'd said now that I'd gotten a partial translation from the other gentleman, and what his frantic hand motions had meant. If I were to translate it with confidence, it would read something like this:

"Why don't you f---ing American kids take your f---ing headphones out of your f---ing ears and f---ing listen to what I'm f---ing saying? I'm telling you where we're f---ing going!"

His hand motions that snatched at the area below his ears made more sense now, too.

I smiled at the nice man who had been so polite as to translate just the important stuff.

We got off at the right terminal (after the driver had said the name in French and then turned to me and said, very slowly, "Two-EEE".

As we waited in the terminal for someone to be willing to take our tickets (we were very early), I wrote the following in my journal:
Nov. 29, 2005
CDG -> Detroit

Reading Departure signs in some big airport, wondering why we ever go home.

The Departure Sign in Question
Note the 10:20 flight: that's ours

This, of course, is a squishing of two lines from Jimmy Buffett: One from "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes" and the other from "Wonder Why We Ever Go Home". They're songs I know well, and that I sing quite often.

The first song I sing when I'm standing in the airport (and I've been known to take some time and drive out to the airport, just to read the departure signs and dream). I love to stare at the departure signs, and dream of places I could go if I just walked to the counter and bought a ticket.

The second song I tend to sing anytime I'm going home. I sing it as I walk to my car from the office, as I return from trips, and as I leave my friends. The songs speak to me on levels that are deeper than the ocean, more vast than the African plains. I was recently asked, after quoting some lyrics, if I could explain something mentioned in them. I don't think that I can. I can only provide the lyrics, quote them from time to time, and say, "I'm sorry, I can't convey it any other way."

It might be some of this that had me singing another Buffett song as I wandered up and down the terminal: "Far Side of the World". I sang, in particular, this verse:

"Back at home it's afternoon six thousand miles away
It will still be there when I get through attending this sioree.
There are jobs and chores and questions, and plates I'll need to twirl
But tonight I'll take my chances on the far side of the world."

What would it hurt, I wondered, to just walk away from the gates, leave my baggage and my life behind on the plane? So what if the plane took off without me? The one yesterday did, didn't it? I'm no worse for wear.

But, like I said: there's a deeper truth than just the lyrics. There's something further that speaks to me, that no one can ever understand from reading the words on the page. You can only hear it if you internalize them, memorize them, and live by them.

We checked ourselves in when we were allowed to, and made some special requests. I spent some time waiting around, impatient, while those requests were fulfilled.

Me, impatiently waiting for someone to be polite

Finally, Meghan and I managed to get passed through customs quickly, get bussed over to the middle of nowhere terminal (this terminal took about 15 minutes to drive to, and literally felt like we were being pushed to the "little kids" table of the airport).

We sat and waited in the terminal for the plane to board.

The Girl in Paris

The problem with waiting, of course, is that you get bored. You start to think of things, and the thing my mind latched onto was that I really, really needed (for my personal sense of completion) to kiss a girl in Paris.

Meghan was unwilling, so the easy route was closed. As departure time came closer and closer, I became more and more certain that if I did not do this, I was going to have to come back to this hellhole just to find some girl to kiss. It would eat at me until I accomplished this task.

But, I make no excuses. That's how my damn brain works.

I'm not quite sure how this worked out (either Meghan got sick of me being antsy about it and told me to take care of it or I finally decided to do something about it myself), but I shot off ten minutes before boarding time and went looking for a suitable candidate.

Now, when I say "suitable candidate", I'm not really talking about any set of criteria that has to be met or anything like that. I'm really just talking about finding a female who appeared to be about my age or younger (if she was older, then I'd have kissed a woman in Paris, and that didn't have the same ring as kissing a girl in Paris) who seemed like she might be willing.

I don't know much about picking up women. The female species is a terrible mystery to me, but I go with my gut and I have this strange, ineffable knowledge of what I need to find, so strange that it's almost a premonition. I passed a number of very good-looking girls who weren't good choices, and was back at the beginning, at the café near the duty-free shop, when I finally caught one out of the corner of my eye.

I don't know what it was about her. It could have been the way she was sitting, absent-mindedly stirring her coffee, leaned forward slightly over her book, one elbow on the table, wavy hair falling around her face. It could have been the way her mouth twitched when I had taken that initial glance at her. It could have been the way her glasses had slipped slightly down her nose, and how she put down the spoon she was stirring with, pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, and then pushed her hair back from her face. It could have simply been the fact that the book she was reading had an English title.

Whatever it was, that was the girl I wanted to kiss.

I chucked my self-consciousness out, knowing it wouldn't help in this particular situation. I walked up to her, and said, "Excuse me."

She looked up at me. "Comment?" she asked, in flawless French. My heart skipped a beat. I'd chosen wrong. "I'm sorry," she said. "I've been here too long. I think in French half the time." My heart started beating again.

"Mind if I sit?" I asked. She gestured to the chair across from her. "Thanks."

She leaned back to place a bookmark in her book, and then leaned back in a bit. "What can I do for you?" she asked.

"It's that obvious that I want something, huh?"

She smiled. "Sure is."

"Well, you see. . ." I stopped, and then dove in, speaking with a hint of urgency. "Here's the deal. My flight leaves in about ten minutes. . . Probably closer to five. I've just come off a 23-hour delay, and I'm going home. But I realized, as I was waiting to board, that I had missed something horribly in this city. I wanted to know if you could help."

"What are you missing?" she asked, and I saw something dance across her eyes. I'd chosen right.

"I need to kiss a girl in Paris."

She was quiet for a moment, and I saw her eyes flash again. "And, with ten minutes left, you chose me? You're a bit out of breath. How far did you come to find me?"

"The other end of the terminal. Gate E-50. It's a bit of a ways."

"In the whole terminal, you didn't find another girl you could kiss?" She was looking at me with a touch of coy (or, what I hoped was coy) skepticism.

"There were others I could have tried to kiss. There weren't any that I thought were the right one."

She thought for a moment. "You chose right. This time. You're lucky I'm feeling generous. Just a second." She put her book into her bag and looped the bag around her foot, standing up. "Sorry to seem untrustworthy, but you can't be too sure around here."

I smiled. "Well, it's a strange request, and there are scoundrels about. Good thinking."

"You have a plane to catch."

"Right you are," I said, standing up. I reached around her back and pulled her in, and our lips met.

It was a very, very good kiss.

I released her, and she released me. We both sat down hard.

I smiled. "Thank you. You've just completed my trip."

"Go, you're going to miss your flight."

I stood up, smiled again, and took a few steps away. I stopped, turned, and grabbed a business card from my pocket. I handed it to her without a word, smiled yet again, and started walking as fast as I could back to the gate.

When I collapsed next to Meghan, I just said, "Well, you're off the hook," and closed my eyes with a smile on my face. She asked me what happened. I didn't get much of the story out, before she said, "You're going to have to tell that story when you write this trip up." I imagine, though, that my stupid grin probably told most of the story.

Making it Out of Europe, Smelling French, and the Detroit Adventures

We boarded our plane, and I sat down in the window seat, happy to see that Europe (and, particularly, CDG airport) were about to be another place I've been. There was a mighty long airplane ride ahead, and my trip was complete. Nothing to do now but get back to the States and take some time to sleep off the jet-lag.

The flight was fairly uneventful. I watched two movies, The Jacket (which surprised me as a quality film) and some French comedy whose name translated to "Next!" I actually found the French film to be fun, as well.

I also wrote a bit in my journal, as I flew above the clouds and followed the
sun across the world:

Nov. 29, 2005
Somewhere over the Atlantic
Leaving things out and making them up

I've left some things out of my life for a long time. Friends i had that I lost touch with. Old flames that always smoldered in my heart. New experiences that just seemed too unreal for me to believe in them.

In some cases, leaving things out was one of the best things I had ever done. In others, it was a dangerous mistake.

It isn't so much dishonesty in my eyes as it is a question of relevance. When two old lovers meet, they can remember the pain or the pleasure. Most often, I look for the pleasure. There is no use, for instance, in the pain I felt after that night under the telescope. There is use, though, in the pleasure.

But the problem is always determining what to remember, what to make part of your life's experiences, and what to throw out.

Then there are the things that you don't actually know if they happened or not. These are the dreams, fantasies, and realities that inform your world, whether you picked them up from fact or fiction. These are at least as important as your real experiences.

"The truth and the tellin' are both real to me," sand Jimmy, and I agree. There's nothing fake about your reality.

But maybe you made some of it up.

Perhaps it's time to look at what I've left out and take stock of it again . . . and maybe it's time to remember some things that never actually happened.

The flight was fairly uneventful, and we landed in good time. Meghan and I disembarked, and were taken to baggage claim and customs. My bag came off the plane (not too much worse for wear), but hers never showed. We got a porter and asked about it, and had to wait for the entire plane to be emptied. We spent our time, me running up and down the belts checking for her luggage. Neither piece of hers ever materialized.

Finally, we had to give up, and we headed through customs. No request to search the bags was given, and we breezed through. Would have been nice if her bags had made it, too.

I admit to a real feeling of guilt over the bag situation. I had nothing of real value in my bags, nor did I have any immediate need to have the bags on hand. Meghan, on the other hand, certainly did. There was nothing we could do, really, though, and so we headed up to the terminal after rechecking my bag and waited for our plane. . . The one after the one we were supposed to take. The time spent trying to get Meghan's bag kept us from making our flight.

They booked us on the next available flight to Columbus, though, and so we took the time to call around, in particular to Brian, so he'd know that there had been yet another delay in picking us up. I picked up some medication for Meghan, who was coming down with what appeared to be something similar to Monika's cold, and we waited around for the flight.

Finally, we boarded, and we made it home. Brian was there to meet us, and we were happy to finally see another friendly face. We picked up my bags, filed a lost baggage claim with Northwest for Meghan, and went home.

Meghan's bags showed up a week later.

Epilogue: Final Pictures

What follows are pictures that didn't make it into previous entries and updates. Enjoy them!

outside the Musee de Cluny in Paris | Snapping pics of the Nautes pillar

Our Guides in Salzberg
In order of appearance

On the Sound of Music Tour | Me, all blurry, with John sleeping

A Piratiacal Raa-Raa! | Monika, Raa-Raa and Duke

Me, taking in the view with my camera | Monika and Raa-Raa, together

Raa-Raa taking me somewhere | Waiting on the girls to catch up

Everyone, in front of the Abbey from the Sound of Music.
L to R: John, Meghan, Mazi, Jessie, Craig, Raa-Raa, MJD, Monika, Duke


Entries from this trip:
A quick overview of the entire trip
Entry 1 | Entry 2 | Entry 3 | Entry 4
Entry 5 | Entry 6



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