July 15, 2007


We were up at 6:15 to see off Julie, who had to leave extra-early because her first flight would be leading her through Zurich, the same as her students had left two weeks earlier. We were all throwing sheets into the wash and preparing for the Inspector, the man who Julie had gone through an inspection with in which he had her sign for how many hangers and plants there were. We were worried it would be quite thorough, and while we hadn't destroyed anything, it's still enough to make you nervous. We didn't wish to be assessed an additional cleaning fee.


We had the last of the croissants, some surviving chocolate mousse, and were somewhat pleased with ourselves for running everything down to the dregs. We really didn't throw out any food, nor did we starve.


Julie had her bags packed and the cab was waiting. "See you for dinner." We laughed. Her flight from Zurich would arrive in Chicago before us, so she would have a chance to drop her bags at her apartment before coming back out near the airport to meet with us for dinner. Ken would check out his bags and get picked up by his parents; I would ride back to the airport and catch my connector back to Las Vegas. This delicate ballet of 24,000 air miles would culminate in a rendezvous at the Hotel Sofitel, for gifts, hugs and more French food. It would be the height of human cruelty to pull me away from a breakfast of croissants and fresh-squeezed orange juice to a hurriedly munched Big Mac for $11 at the airport. It was important that we acclimate.


Ken and I got the last of everything cleaned up, but we didn't need to leave until 10, and the inspector was coming. I'd packed up the office, didn't feel like watching television, and was too exhausted to consider doing much but staring at a book.


Finally, Mr. Lu showed up. We were ready with white gloves, the sheets folded on top of the dryer, plants put in exactly the same locations that they were originally, everything looking very neat and very precise.


We introduced ourselves and shook hands.


"Any problems?"

"Just the roof leaks in the sunroom that we'd called you about, but nothing else. Everything was great."

"Any phone calls?"

"Two long-distance to America. Should be what, about 10 euro?" Ken handed him a bill.

"Laundry's in the dryer?"

"Yes. The last of it's in the dryer and that's it."

"OK. All set. You can go."


Ken and I looked at each other. Our shuttle bus wasn't going to be in for another few minutes; we had assumed the inspection might consist of something a little longer than 45 seconds.


"Ummm...do you mind if we hang out here for a little bit? We don't have a ride yet."

"No problem."


After a few minutes, it became apparent that Mr. Lu was having trouble opening his wireless connection within the apartment. And, for the first time in two weeks, I was actually able to use an occupational skill set in France. The keyboard layout was different, but I figured out how to set up a new SSID account using the Wanadoo SMTP settings in place of the ones he normally had on his own network. I couldn't read a thing that the boxes were telling me, but I knew the physical layout from flailing about on dozens of wireless connections over the years. Je comprende les Microsoft, je ne comprende Francais. I was just about to start digging into an antivirus issue he was having when Ken realized that our ride was probably arriving and I realized that this chap was close to owing me back the ten euro we gave him for the phone calls.


We went downstairs and jumped in the shuttle bus. We drove out past our familiar haunts for the past few weeks-La Petit Nicoise, the baker where we'd get croissants, our Metro stop at Tour Marbourg. A last tour past Invalides and we soon found ourselves at another hotel sitting with a woman who was headed back to Montreal.


The driver had some Bob Marley playing on a CD. ("Thank You Lord") For the rest of my days I'll associate a Jamaican reggae song with a Sunday morning in Paris. Not a bad exchange.




We pulled up to an apartment where an older gentleman in a blazer was kissing a woman goodbye. "Call me when you get there!" she said. He smiled and said "Au revoir."


He looked over at us. "You guys headed back to the States?" He was American.

"Yep, Chicago and Las Vegas."

"I'm going back to Philadelphia."


He proceeded to tell us that the woman who he'd just said goodbye to was his wife, about twenty years his junior, and she was going to be staying with friends in Capri starting the next day, "so it's not like she'll be here suffering."


And he started to tell us about his life. He'd been retired for twenty years. He split his time between Philadelphia and Paris. The previous night, they'd held his 79th birthday party. For a gift, a friend in the US diplomatic office had given him an artist's sketch that he was afraid to ask its worth. His wife was a former fashion model and chef and knew people in both worlds.


We lost him at the Air India counter; that was his flight back. I may not have necessarily known what he did for a living. I certainly DID know what I wanted to be when I grew up.


I strode carefully with my trusty Hediard umbrella at my side. It wouldn't fit in any of my luggage, I didn't want to snap it in half, and damned if I was going to leave it behind. Ken and I were standing in line to check in and we got a good look at the type of Americans we'd been avoiding for two weeks.


It was a gaggle of teenage girls from South Carolina, sisters. The mother looked like she had long since grown accustomed to getting her way in every single aspect of her life. The father looked like he would rather be in the arms of a pizza waitress, or even better, deceased. The one teenager had a can of Pringles in her backpack. I'd been in this country for two weeks and can't say that I missed them. The other one started longingly at her cell phone and muttered, "I can't wait to get back home. I can't wait to see my friends again. I'll probably call Emily when I land, but I don't know if anyone else will have anything going on."


I gripped my umbrella a little bit tighter. I was pretty damned insufferable as a teenager. (Hell, I'm pretty damned insufferable RIGHT NOW.) But if I had been that pouty about a trip abroad in which I must have seen mountains of cool stuff and I couldn't enjoy it, I would want someone to at least think about cracking my skull open and forcing me to show some perspective. And here I am carrying this nice umbrella, I thought. I realized I was on a very limited amount of sleep and let it go. I let it go when there weren't moving in the line because they were sulking and looking at the ground. I let it go when the youngest and dumbest one blocked the entire walkway with her luggage cart, preventing me from getting to an attendant. I let it go when they kept shouting loudly to each other in English across the Tensabarriers. But I'll bet if I'd have played Tiger Woods with the crook of that thing, I'd have missed my flight.


We were soon aboard the aircraft and being whisked out of France. Soon I was home in 110-degree weather, realizing that I'd turned my air conditioning off, sending the house up to 95 degrees. I attempted to open the door to the kids' room and the paint stuck to the doorframe from the past heat of the week.


I was home again.



Your narrator at center, surrounded by his unflappable logistics and translation team.



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