Monday, February 2, 2009

Under The Eiffel Tower

We sat on the tarmac eagerly awaiting the forward motion of the plane. The girls buckled their belts, I gripped the side of the armrest, and Austin quickly played the free Sudoku puzzles found in the back of the magazines. Sabra was excited to fly, Moira was excited to be going to Ireland; I was ready for the traveling part of the trip to be finished.

And then, after what seemed like hours, the pilot’s voice crackled over the intercom. He alerted us of the weather conditions in the northeast of the country that would not allow us to even begin the trip. Two hours had passed since we boarded the plane, and without moving more than ten feet, we now had to disembark.

The kids whined and cried, thinking that we would not get to go on our trip at all. I whined and cried on the inside because we had already busted our butts to get to the airport two hours earlier than originally planned. Our first flight was cancelled; our second flight was delayed, and then cancelled. It did not appear that our trip was going to be having any sort of proper start.

The man at the desk looked at us, looked at his computer, and then looked back at us again.

“I can get you out of here on Friday, would that work?”

“Today is Wednesday. No, that would not work. In fact, that is completely unacceptable. I want to yell at the pilot and the storm and the whole airline industry that made me sit in a non air-conditioned cabin the size of a small sedan and try to entertain my kids with games of Go Fish and Old Maid.”

“Um, ok. I can get you out of here tonight at 5.”

“Well, that sounds much better, doesn’t it? We’ll take it.”

“Yes ma’am, but there will be some rerouting involved. You will need to go back out of security, check in with a different airline, and then come back through security and go to your new gate at the opposite end of the airport.”

“Well, seeing as how it is only 2:30, I think we can manage that.”

“You’ll be flying to Atlanta.”

“Oh, ok. So we’ll take a flight from Atlanta to Ireland?”

“No. You’ll be going from Atlanta to Paris. And then you’ll have a 7 hour layover and then fly from Paris to Shannon.”

“Oh. Um.”

Imagine the sound of other passengers who have been waiting the same amount of hours on the same tarmac with the same lack of air and now have been waiting behind myself, my spouse, and my two not so happy children. Yes, the sound was as lovely as you can imagine. And as I heard them twitter and fritter and otherwise make unhappy cluckings in our direction, I threw out this happy little traveler’s woe:

“Sure, sure. Whatever gets us to our final destination sooner. Wow, Paris? Fun!”

And we quickly texted and called our various family members and friends, letting them know our change of plans. We reveled just a wee little bit in the resounding jealous texts and calls. And our excitement grew as we realized that we just booked a few free hours in Paris.

The flight on Air France couldn’t have been better. Seriously, I wish they flew from Nashville to Phoenix. Lovely, lovely flight experience. The kids slept, the food was quite good, the movie selection fantastic. It was even an empty plane, meaning we could put our chairs all the way back (2 inches if that) without feeling the passive aggressive guilt that comes from pushing your chair into someone’s face.

Ahhhh…. I started to breathe easier. Now things are going the right way. Let our perfect traveling experience begin. I could see our bright shiny faces, holding hands and skipping through the patches of clover as a fiddle playing lass played in the background.

When, oh when, will I ever learn?

Well, we arrived in Paris a little sleepy and a bit stiff but otherwise content. We hopped off the plane and walked through Charles De Gaul Airport, which was as confusing as I remembered it to be. It is architecturally designed to resemble an octopus with tangled limbs. However, the French being the helpful people that they are (read into that what you will) there were signs pointing us to the desk of information.

A lovely islander Frenchman told us that but of course we had plenty of time to leave the airport, find a bus (no subways that day due to worker strike) and see at least two of the famous Parisian sights.

After waiting thirty minutes for the bus that comes every five minutes and then waiting an additional hour to get to the center of town, it occurred to me that it was this lovely islander Frenchman’s JOB to tell us that we had enough time and money to see the city. What would he care if I missed my flight to Ireland? Stupid sleepy Americans make bad decisions.

Well, I cannot call it a bad decision. Who could? Paris! Beautiful, lovely Paris. Crepe filled, cigarette smoking, tasty coffee and short skirted Paris. I smiled knowingly at Austin as we passed old buildings....a patisserie…Montmarte…a fruit market…lovers shouting on the street, hands raised in angry gestures. And then…oh then. Our bus stopped at a large building I hadn’t before.

We hurried off the bus and walked towards the crosswalk. And the big building wrapped her lovely large golden arms around us. She certainly wasn’t warm, but she sure was beautiful. The Opera House of Paris. I thought about taking a picture, but as I was holding several bags (we were still toting our carryon baggage) and a sleeping Sabra, I decided to postpone the photo opportunity until we returned to our bus.

Well, Moira was freezing and hungry, so we popped down to the metro (which was actually not on strike…at least not totally…it was very confusing) and found a little café.

Now, if you haven’t ever been to a café in a drafty metro station, you will be inclined to turn your nose up in disgust. Not so in Paris. Have you met a real genuine French person? They are incapable of making, serving or selling food that doesn’t meet the national standards of excellence. You are not in danger of having scary or sub par food anywhere in France, I’m quite convinced.

Moira chose a flaky buttery croissant filled with bits of dark chocolate. Yes, it a very healthy breakfast choice. She also asked for hot chocolate. It was cold, and although it has the nutritional equivalent of a rock rolled in sugar, I let her have it. And then, for good measure at keeping the chill out of my bones, I ordered a café au lait.

To say that I wasn’t prepared is a gross understatement.

Sleep deprivation will dull some senses, such as reflexes, color choice, and marriage partner suitability. However, it appears to sharpen those of taste and smell.

The large woman behind the counter wore a white apron and her hair pulled back in a type of messy bun. She looked at me, called out ‘tasse de chocolate chaude’ and then ambled back to take the next order.

I picked up the plain creamy china and tiny silver spoon and walked towards our table. And then I suddenly stopped.

The movement of the drink was slow and unmatched to my gait. Normally I would spill bits of froth onto the saucer before I made it to a resting place. Now, however, the surface was still glossy and clean, like a pile of paint newly poured into a bowl.

I sat the cup down, noting that the shiny thick chocolate cared as little about my jostling it as the Parisians cared for smoking bans. Despite my movement, in complete disregard of my existence, the chocolate seemed to move when and if it felt like it.

I slowly split the waves of brown velvet with the silver spoon and marveled at the swirl of opaque sweetness that enveloped my utensil.

This was so far from ‘Just Add Water plus Marshmallows and Calcium’ cocoa that I keep in my cabinet. I was expecting good cocoa, but this….well, this was Willy Wonka’s river that swallowed Augustus Gloop kind of chocolate. The kind that makes you wonder if the barista just melted a handful of chocolate pieces and called it cocoa.

The steamy spoonful did not disappoint. No, it did not disappoint. I cannot begin to describe it for you, as I still cannot understand the complexity of so common a beverage. There were flavors I had never tasted, and something so very comfortingly familiar.

And when my superb coffee arrived, I added a few spoonfuls of Moira’s Cup of Love and was a very happy lady indeed.

Well, after filling ourselves with sugar and caffeine, it was time to find our way through the catacombs of the Paris metro that was quasi on strike. We didn’t emerge for awhile.

But, as all plucky people do, we found our way and almost bounced to the Eiffel Tower. I saw Austin’s grin when he first spotted it outside the train. I had that grin less than a year ago, and it felt good to remember so recent a memory. We ran (as much as one can with children and 7 bags) past the café where Talitha, Janel, Tracy and I had Nutella banana crepes. My mouth watered at knowing it would taste this marvelous taste sensation in less than an hour, but we kept on moving. We waved off the Turkish teenagers selling small Eiffel Towers on a large key ring. I wondered to myself if we would have time for the kids to ride the carousel that sits close under the tower. The pictures, I was sure, would be lifelong favorites.

And then, we were right under her arches, marveling at the bigness and realness and strangeness of seeing so famous a sight. It really is so very tall that your brain is confused, and excited, and even a bit terrified.

I plunked Sabra down to ease my shoulders and her legs, and put my backpack and purse on a bench. I rifled through my purse, wanting to catch the amusement on Moira’s face before the moment of awed wonder passed. Not being able to find the camera by touch, I finally put my face down into my purse.

Wallet…chapstick…tissue…gum…glasses case….

Still no camera.

And in that way that sometimes happens, I knew that the camera was gone.

We both remembered my putting the camera into my purse so as to have complete picture taking ease. I didn’t want to miss anything by having to set my backpack down and dig for a camera. So I had placed it inside my purse, right beside my left hip.

And now it was gone, and you can imagine the feeling of total and complete stupidity, despair, incredulity, hopelessness, and even a bit of ironic amusement that I felt at that moment.


Moira heard my intake of breath, sharp and concerned. She is tuned to tragic events like a radio dial, and sometimes she picks up things she shouldn’t. I had no desire to make my already exhausted child think that a lost camera was one of life’s hardships. I didn’t want to ruin her memory, however slight it might be in the future recesses of her mind, of standing under the Eiffel Tower, cold chapped hands in cold chapped hands with her sister.

After the one breath of knife-like sharpness, I turned calmly to Austin and told him that the camera wasn’t there. And in my eyes, he saw that what I meant was not that I needed help finding it or that I forgot what bag it was in.

Austin, in a very uncharacteristic turn of emotional events, freaked out. He might try to explain it otherwise. But I have been a card carrying member of the Freak Out Club for many years now, and know all the signs.

I took him aside as Moira began clucking her concern about our lack of camera. With my eyes, with my words, with my voice, I begged him to not worry about it at the moment.

HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE?!?!?!? He wanted to know.

I pointed to the Eiffel Tower…

HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO REMEMBER THIS WITHOUT A CAMERA?!?!?!? He wanted to know.

I pointed to the Eiffel Tower…

HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO GO TO IRELAND FOR TWO WEEKS WITHOUT A CAMERA?!??! He wanted to know.

I told him we would buy a new one.

HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO BUY A CAMERA?!??!? He wanted to know.

I didn’t know. But in my mind, you just find a way. You sell something. You do something. You sell yourself. (Joking) But you don’t NOT have a camera when you go to Ireland. Or Paris, for that matter. I was glad that I already had some pictures of the Eiffel Tower now that I would have none of that day.

I begged Austin to just enjoy being there, because with or without a camera, he was standing with his family in Paris, looking at one of the world’s most beloved icons.

I won’t paint Austin mean, because I know he wasn’t being mean. I don’t really feel this way, but I do believe him when he says he was overtired, hungry, in pain, cold, and perhaps a bit emotional at the thought of trying to purchase a camera using foreign money; each Euro costing us almost as much as a gallon of gas.

We put our bags back on. I swung Sabra on my hip and grabbed Moira’s hand.

We walked back to the train, feeling like a New Year’s Mylar balloon on Valentine’s Day. Well, at least I did.

I told Austin that wicked little Gavroche the street urchin stole my camera from my purse.

Austin, in his infinite trustworthiness, questioned the pickpocket’s ability to unzip, steal, and rezip my purse without any whisper of detection.

I can’t say I blame him for doubting me. In my mind I have created scenarios that include my running to the top of the Eiffel Tower and flinging the camera off the side in my excited fervor. Perhaps I really could do something that crazed without remembering? When you have flown across multiple time zones and completely lost hours of your life; this indicates some sort of weird time warp continuum type situation, right? RIGHT?

We made it back to the opera house, back to the bus. I had no picture of the golden arms, no picture of the Moulin Rouge that I missed last year. No picture of the creamy cup of chocolate in Moira’s tiny hands. No eternal reminder of how tiny Sabra was the first time she stepped out of her country of birth. No snapshot of the grin on Austin’s face the first time he saw that the Eiffel Tower really is that amazing.

And mostly, I know that life just happens. I’m very glad, thankful, and lucky that I didn’t lose/misplace/have pick pocketed our passports. Cameras are replaceable, no?

I must say though, I do feel like I let us all down. In my excitement to see the familiar crepe stand, the beautiful bridge, and the feeling of being in another country, I didn’t pay enough attention. I’m on this trip as a result of some very interesting circumstances, and the only thing that so many people asked me to do was to take pictures. Let us see what you saw, they said. Let us experience the things that your words won’t convey.

I’ve been in Ireland now for three days. I haven’t taken a single picture, despite the very gracious camera loan from Jimmy and Meilyn. Granted, we have been a bit crazed with jetlag and the overwhelming sense that comes with traveling somewhere new.

I hope that’s it, and not that I’m feeling too unworthy to click the shutter, to capture and record. Post-Perhaps-Pickpocket-Depression must leave me, and leave me soon.

For, capture and record I must. I will not have any more Under The Eiffel Tower Conversations. I can hear it:

HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO REMEMBER THIS BEAUTIFUL PUB?!?!? He wanted to know.

HOW IS MOIRA SUPPOSED TO EXPLAIN TO HER CLASS ABOUT THE BEAUTIFUL IRISH SHEEP?!?!? He wanted to know.

HOW IS SABRA TO KNOW THAT WE ALMOST BOUGHT HER A 22 EURO TOOTHBRUSH BECAUSE WE DIDN’T KNOW THAT TOOTHBRUSHES ARE RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE HERE?!?!?!? He wanted to know.

HOW? HOW? HOW?

I pointed to the pub, I pointed to the sheep, I pointed to the sign that said Toothbrush: 22 E.

And then, with a borrowed camera, I took a picture.

Click!

5 comments:

Daniel Bell said...

I love it! You take me from heartbreak to exhilarating high to heartbreak to exhilarating rush to heartbreak to “click.”

Beth McDermott said...

Well lookie here at the secret bonus blog!
Welcome back. And I would have freaked out too, in Austin's defense. Some of us are the Marthas... and others the Marys. Or something like that. ;) At least I know now not to ask where the pictures are!
xo Glad youre back safe.

Kimberly said...

Here's what I can't understand... If it was too hard for a pick pocket to open the zipper of your purse, take out the camera, and close it back up again... how did the zipper of your purse open, the camera fling out, and then close itself back up again? I'm thinking the pick pocket is a more likely theory. :-)

Kimberly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kimberly said...

Oh, by the way, great post! :-)