Friday, August 21, 2009

Paris Notebook #1

May 9, 2009

I envy those people in first class with their Star Trek sleeping compartments and their champagne. Let’s give them steel cutlery with their dinner. After all, if anyone is going to hijack the plane, it’s not going to be the people in first class. They’re happy.

Meanwhile, back in steerage my daughter, Hana, has her sweater tied around her head like a low-slung turban over her eyes to help her sleep sitting up. I’m working out a leg cramp and wishing they’d bring me another little plastic bottle of red wine. We knew the deal when we bought the ticket and somehow even the leg cramp won’t get me down. Whatever the adversity, Hana dismisses it with, “Well, we’re going to Paris!”

And it’s true: we easily ride out the one hour wait on the tarmac in Victoria while the crew fixes some vital wing system with the mere push of 368 buttons; the six-hour wait in the Toronto airport; and the cramped flight to Paris because, well, it’s Paris. And perhaps that’s why, arriving exhausted, Hana manages to be gracious and helpful as I try to remember how to get to the RER that will take us into the city.

When we’re finally on the train, luggage stowed in the racks above us, the final vestiges of travel fatigue are erased by a man who stands up to sing and play the violin while his son collects spare change. At the front of the car, there is a group of young women. The one in the centre has what looks like a roll of paper towel tied vertically on her head. The other possibility is that she’s been hit on the head by a boulder, and a Wile E. Coyote sized bump has thus required bandaging. The group of girls can barely contain their laughter as she makes her way around the train asking people to sign her bump cast while her friends take photos and crack up. When she gets to us, she explains in her best English that she is Belgian and is going to marry a Spanish man, and that this is some ritual associated with the marriage. In Belgium, apparently, you don’t need to be a good cook or to have a dowry, you need only be a good unicorn mimic to make a fine wife. Discounting the possibility that this might be an elaborate pickpocket scheme, I sign the thing and pass the pen to Hana who passes the pen over the surface with the quick, uncertain gesture of someone making an X on a treaty.

When the woman moves along, I look over at Hana who wears the same expression that Dorothy must have been wearing when she realized that she was a long way from home in Oz.

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