Written on the road
Terminal 2, Charles-de-Gaulle Airport
Thursday, May 1, 2014
We have hours and hours to kill on our first day in France. We left Croatia before the dawn had roused anyone into the streets, but still there was an incredibly taxing line at the airport. However, a mere hour and a half later, we landed in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Terminal 1. Though old, it is very picturesque, a circular concrete structure four stories tall, hollow in its very center and transfixed through by two or three elevators which are encased in large plastic tubes.
Our train on the TGV to Lyon is at the deplorably late hour of 5:58 pm or 17h58, as I may well get into the habit of thinking. We arrived in Paris at 10:30 am. Even after going through immigration (which took a blessedly brief 15 seconds) and getting our luggage, it was barely 11 am, and we lounged around in comfortable white armchairs for an hour or so before exiting to take a shuttle to Terminal 2, where the TGV station is also located. We also paused to exchange the bulk of the rest of our kuna. The currency exchange was buying our kuna at the soul-crushing price of 8.68 kuna to the euro, which meant that our formidable looking 880 kuna came back to us just short of 100 euro, given the 6.5% commission rate they charged. Rats. Looking at the change in our hand and well aware of how much things were going to start costing us in France, we trudged onward.
We are now sitting comfortably at some low and neat looking seats in the SNCF station. There are men and women and families of all extractions waiting around for their trains. A floor above us is the entrance to the Terminal 2 of the airport, sporting a truly impressive departures and arrivals board that is at least ten meters tall and curves to hang over the viewer not unlike an awning. We stood there for a while, admiring departures to Shanghai Pudong, Copenhagen, Geneva, even Chicago O’Hare. Now that we have been trekking around the world for seven months, we have visited a few more of these locations. However, seeing all those destinations blinking and changing on the boards doesn’t give me the same sense of wanderlust and possibility as it used to. Maybe because we’ve seen that same intoxicating sense of potential and lands unknown turn into brown flooded streets in an unseasonal downpour and a simple trip out of the airport become a comprehensive, grueling, oral exam in bargaining. Yeah, obviously, I’m still sore about paying 300 rupees for a 15 minute car ride into Amritsar. I know it’s 5 USD but it’s a 300% markup! India has left some beautiful experiences but also some traumatic scars on our memory, so… back to Europe.
Steve has gone exploring for food and sandwiches, maybe even soup, armed with our meager supply of euros. A few meters away, there is an upright piano hidden under one of the elevators that stretch from floor to floor here. Five minutes ago, a man who looked remarkably like Jesus, with clothing of rough quality, long brown hair in waves, and a mustache and beard, sat down there and played a simple three note song before being tugged away by his wife, who had hair just as long. Beyond the piano is a sign that says “Rechargez vos batteries!” stretched over a stand at which one can plug in one’s phone and at the same time, fuel it by sitting down and pedaling the wheeled stands. Next to us, a family with at least two small children (evidenced by the two strollers) have a mound of luggage piled on a hand cart up to my shoulders. On all sides, we are surrounded by vending machines, promising cups of espresso and coffee, Snickers, Twix, M&Ms, and soft drinks of all colors and sizes.
Suffice it to say that I have been dreaming about visiting France. I started learning French in 8th grade under the vigilant eye of Madame Insanally, a petite French Guiyanan woman who had exactingly high standards for her students as well as an erratic, fervent passion for language (she also taught Latin) that left her dark face or skirts sometimes streaked with chalk, after a furious tirade about how these unthinking 13 year-olds could not place “lui” and “leur” before “y” and “en” and after the helping verb. I also watched some French movies that made a huge impression on me, including “Amélie,” which has in no small way shaped our itinerary in Paris later this month. I first visited France the summer after my sophomore year of high school, chosen as a part of a three-week study-abroad program in Strasbourg, Alsace. It was an interesting time, but more packed with sight-seeing and cultural exchange than an actual way to practice my language skills. In 2008, I studied abroad in Vienna, when I probably should have gone to Paris, and simply failed to work up the motivation to visit France at all. This time, I was determined to finally get to France and spend some time trying out the vocabulary and grammar I stored away for almost six years.
Now for a short fortifying lunch of baguette sandwiches and a shared drink and cookie, and then Steve and I are off to kill the rest of our time in waiting (approximately four and a half hours) with a vengeance.
18h16 (6:16 pm in Normal Land)
TGV to Lyon Part-Dieu
The French countryside is lovely and pristine-looking, covered with an astounding amount of large low-lying clouds! Steve and I are watching it whiz by from our second-class seats on the TGV heading toward Lyon. I feel miraculously drowsy, and that could be that it’s actually comfortably warm since we made our way into Terminal 2.
Our four and a half hours passed relatively quickly, since I started reading “Under the Dome” by Stephen King. It’s a terrifying book. One of its main characters summarized it as “the New England version of No Exit,” and I would add that everything has gone downhill with the terrifying speed of the Stanford prison experiment. So reading a book like that does keep a body occupied. During our last hour or two, one of our fellow passengers took a seat at the piano and began pounding out Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Steve keeping up a soft running commentary to let me know when he moved on to the second and third movements. It was really pleasant to listen to, and when he finished, a few of us offered our scattered applause. He did a few other pieces, and by the time he finished, there were more than a few admirers standing or sitting around listening to our impromptu concert. I felt like I had been listening to a Pandora station. Other peoples’ attempts were also pleasant, but we heard Gymnopedie twice from two different people! Not to mention Yann Tiersen (Amélie and others). It must be boring to be such a piano.
TGV to Lyon Part-Dieu
Within another ten minutes, we will be in Lyon. The train has slowed, though we are still passing through farmland, our path feathered by trees on both sides. To the left, where the sun is close to setting, it is lighting up the clouds that have gathered in the west. On the left, there are now more houses close to each other, no longer divided by squares of green or brown farmland. I’m still getting used to all the French around us, and being able to understand bits and pieces of the conversations. It’s the first time I’ve felt this way since Taiwan. Soon, we will be in Lyon, disembarking at Gare de la Part-Dieu, and making our way to our new apartment. I’m hopeful for a bite to eat at a local restaurant this evening and a toast to the beginning of what will be a spectacular two months in France.