Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Hillbilly in Paris : Day One

...Red Texas to Socialist Paris...No Shoes, No Belt, No Security...Food Poisoning But From Where...Sleep Deprivation + Jet Lag Makes Jack A Dull Boy...It Was Good Till It Came Back Up

    When I left work Friday at 11 to catch my flight it was damn near impossible not to jump up like Mary Tyler more and screech out a "See you in hell, SUCKERS!" but I managed to clock out without any such outburst. This was made even more difficult to hold back because right before  leaving we got "The Lecture" from our supervisor.  It was the standard when you get here glue yourself to your machine or job and never notice another human being until clocking out speech. I have worked in a few factories in my life and it is always the same doesn't matter if you are making Barbie Dolls or Bombs they want you to be a diligent monk. Of course I was leaving anyway and this was really a proper send off for me, one week away from the slave ship, the shackles and my oar. 

    Delta Airlines sent me 5 to 10 email requests to check in online about a month before my flight  was to leave for Paris.  With all those email reminders and the fact that my printed email had DELTA scrawled all over it, it is no wonder that I went to the Delta Terminal to check my bag and get my tickets. I knew my flight was being operated by Air France but after getting so many email reminders and my print out had DELTA written all over it who could blame me for going to the Delta Terminal. Luckily I had plenty of time to catch my flight. I just had to figure out the maze of the Houston Airport and overcome that highly anxious buzzing repeating in my brain that I fucked up, I was in the wrong place, God Help me where do I go.

    Airports and Casinos have one thing in common, they are built like mazes and there is no map anywhere to help you figure out where the hell you are and where you need to go. What you do get is a bunch of signs with arrows pointing in vague directions.  I walked down some steps and up an elevator, passed a Starbucks then through detective work and reading caveman scratches near the escalator I learned the Terminal Shuttle was in the basement.  The Terminal Shuttle, so named as it is so slow that you may expire before reaching your destination. It had about as much power as the kiddies roller coaster ride at a second rate carnival. Luckily for me the Air France terminal was on the opposite side of the airport and we slowly approached it as if being drawn by crippled turtles. 
    I was warmly greeted by the man behind the Air France counter with a hearty "Bonjour". I ran the gauntlet of requirements; passport, bag check, no explosive in said baggage, boarding pass and off to the real fun, the security check. Shoes off, belt off, pants held up by wishful thinking and irradiated by one of those new machines then to put all that shit back on. Afterwards I had 90 minutes to kill inside the airport so I walked around looking for a newsstand and something to eat. I really just wanted a few beers before the plane took off to calm my nerves and make me drowsy for the ten hour flight. I'm generally not nervous about flying but checking into another country and through customs. I always have this looming fear in the back of my mind that I won't have that one piece of paper required and some official with a funny hat and large hands will gentle push me back onto the plane back to the States.
      Air France is just like flying United Airlines (formerly Continental), the last carrier I took on an international trip. They both have planes, pilots and passengers. I don't remember getting free wine with my meal on United as they are very adamant about charging you for anything fun. Also I think the three movies they offered on my United flight to Brazil were black and white silent films starring either Charlie Chaplin of Hitler, hard to tell on those 5 inch monitors. Now Air France had recent movies such as Prometheus, The Avengers and the forgettable Men in Black 3 not to mention an entire library of other shows. My seat was so far in the back I might have actually been sitting on the tail fin and being the seasoned traveller that I am I immediately sat in the wrong seat. The french girl whose seat I had taken was very polite about the mistake and I felt like more of a dumbass than usual.
     Getting through immigration in France was a difficult process of presenting my passport and then getting it stamped followed by walking through a set of glass doors into the Terminal. I almost thought I had gone through the wrong line shouldn't this have been a bigger ordeal with grumpy looking TSA agents scowling at you and demanding what you brought into the country? Shouldn't I have to fill out forms and declare my toothbrush and boxer shorts? Come on, the wait was only 25 minutes? I went to the baggage claim and collected my suitcase which looked as if someone had tried to fold it in half but luckily the $5 Goodwill Store construction held up yet again. I wonder though how many more flights till it finally succumbs to the baggage handlers antics. If my TV Commercials are accurate they hire Gorillas and Elephants to move luggage, it shows. 
     Luckily the rule about airports being labyrinths previously mentioned above is an international phenomenon. It took me quite some time to find the airport shuttle service that was supposed to whisk me away on a chariot of chocolate feathers to the Hotel Home Latin. The location of the Super Shuttle on my print out stated the location was in the Gallery between Terminal 2e and 2f but where the hell was the gallery. You mean there is going to be art between both terminals? After walking around aimlessly for 30 minutes, up and down and back again I decided to go down a hallway only to have the other end blocked by three soldiers with automatic rifles. So I do what I usually do when confronted with heavily armed people, I turned around and went back the way I came. It was on this second pass that I saw a small, 8x10 blue piece of paper taped loosely to the back of a chair with the shuttle services name printed on it. 
   Which just goes to show that you should never have a preconceived notion of how things ought to be when you are traveling abroad. Sure in The States those shuttles always have huge kiosks and signs, in Brazil they have them all neatly lined up in their own area but in Paris you get a 8x10 print out half assed placed on a table, out of the line of sight in the middle of nowhere but near the one of the many exits. Maybe not the best for place for people suffering from sleep deprivation and jet lag but when in Rome, don't bitch about Romans. 
   First impressions driving into Paris in the fully loaded box van was that Houston graffiti artists just aren't trying hard enough. Every inch of concrete barrier on the expressway was covered in colorful graffiti, not exactly Banksy or Shepard Fairey but still it showed a sense of dedication one rarely sees in defacing grey concrete. The closer we got to the center of Paris, the less graffiti until suddenly we crossed a bridge over the Seine and there in the middle of the window was Notre Dame big as life. If I weren't battling jet lag, lack of sleep and battling a mysterious on and off again fever I probably would have screeched out like a teenage girl and pointed my finger wildly but all I could think about was getting to the hotel and taking a long shower and a nap. I was more excited to see Ana than the Notre Dame.
   Unloading some of the thicker passengers at random hotels in the Latin Quarter and driving the wrong way down a few narrow streets we finally managed to make it to the Hotel Home Latin. I already knew what the place looked like thanks in part to Google Earth though I was sad to see that the two black gentlemen in suits were no longer sitting out front.  The concierge was a nice balding, middle aged man with big 80's style glasses who wouldn't give me the room keycard because he had some issue with his computer. He said he could give me the master key to open the door so that I could shove my luggage in and prop the door open so I could bring his master key back immediately. I did as I was told dragging my bent suitcase behind. The room was adequate, a nice comfy bed and one of those window that open inside the room so you can lean out and get a view or shout at people down on the street. The bathroom was designed for use on a submarine and a warning should have been posted on the door explaining it wasn't intended for people who suffer claustrophobia. The real trick was getting out of the shower in such a way that your ass didn't knock the toilet paper roll unto the floor every time. I never mastered this completely. Not that any of that really mattered, I just needed as the late George Carlin said, "A place for my stuff". I mean seriously who cares about the room when you know you are only going to be sleeping there. The rest of the time I intend to see the sights or be in transit to another sight. 

     I showered, took a nap, walked around the neighborhood some but mostly I waited for Ana to show. She was to arrive at the hotel at around 5pm but it was almost 6 and still no Brazilian. I was wondering if she had the same problems that I had trying to find the 8x10 piece of paper in the middle of the largest airport in France. I wasn't getting too worried because she is better at traveling abroad than I am, she doesn't sit in the wrong seat or nothing when she gets on the plane. Of course this knowledge didn't stop me from running to the window every time I heard a car door close. 
    Finally the phone in my room rang but it was my friend Titi Kwan wanting to know when and where to meet. I haven't seen Titi in number of years since I brought him to and fro from the Nashville Airport to our mutual friend Brandon's apartment in Bowling Green, KY. We had that one person in common then and now we have the aftermath of his death to bind us. He was only going to be in Paris for tonight as he had a flight that morning to catch to Shanghai. I explained to him that we would have to meet later that night because Ana still hadn't arrived even though she was 3 hours late from the time she said she would be at the hotel. I just chalked this all up to being "Brazilian Late" which it turns out was more or less correct. Ana's Super Shuttle finally pulled in front of the hotel at 7:30. Then after hugs and kisses and dragging her light suitcase to the room I got the entire story about how the Sao Paulo airport was packed and the lines were long and even the plane was an hour late taking off. 
     We took a walk around the block and when we came back Titi was waiting in the lobby. I gave Titi a big bear hug and a heavy southern accented "bonjour" and tried not to get emotional. All three of us took to the street more or less following Titi in a zombie like Jet Lagged daze as he rambled off places to eat. We wondered into a Chinese restaurant and Titi ordered us a few dishes in his native tongue. Ana was going over the itinerary with him, what was a good idea, what were the bad places and so on. We talked about our late friend Brandon.

     Titi suggested we get a drink, the three of us sat in an outside cafe across from the Seine and Notre Dame. Titi ordered a bottle of champagne as he always claims that champagne brings no ill effects such as hangovers. It was around this time things starting to go south for me. I was overcome by drowsiness plus I felt a fever really coming on strong. I had been feeling hot since boarding the plane the day before, having spells on and off the entire flight in which I was really hot then back to normal. I just thought it might have been the plane because it had none of those nifty air vents to blow cool air on you like Boeing 767's do. Titi and Ana were cold, both in long sleeves and sweaters I had taken my cardigan off and was sitting away from the overhead heaters, burning up in just a t-shirt in the cool breezy night air. Finally I had to call it a night. 
    Titi walked us back to the Hotel Home Latin and we said our goodbyes. I'd like to comment on how beautiful Notre Dame was at night or the city in general. I'd like to say I loved the cool air or all the foreign voices around us, the sights and sounds of a foreign city but I felt like I just been hit with a one thousand pound shit hammer.  I wished him a safe trip to China and he told us to enjoy our stay in Paris. I was sad to see him leave as I had really wanted to catch up with him. Luckily for me Ana asked him lots of questions as he is a fashion designer and she is a fashion lover. So while I was shifting in and out of wellness and sickness she was keeping the conversation alive. Even so, after a certain point I just wanted to crawl into the river and sleep in those cool waters. 

    Ana and I got back to our room and both got under the covers of exhaustion. Actually Ana got under the covers I was still running hot, like I was on fire. So I opened the window to let the cool Parisian night air in and drank half a liter of Evian. Later that night, around 2 in the morning it finally hit me. I went to the bathroom and tried to think about anything but puking, doing my Lamaze Technique, saying my mantra and anything that came to mind from the days when I would drink two pitchers of beer with the girls when my body really only wanted no more than one pitcher. It used to work, ten years ago. My body rid itself of the champagne, the sweet and sour pork, the won ton soup, the meal I had on the flight, the meal I had before the flight and I think maybe some Stove Top leftover in my intestines from last Thanksgiving. Usually I like to puke in front of the bowl but with the size of our facility my choices were limited to under the sink or in the shower. I lay the blame on my food poisoning on something I ate in the States either at the airport or something before I left the house. I was having those hot flashes all throughout the flight but I just chocked that up to something else. It wasn't until late in the evening did it become apparent that my body hated something so bad that it needed to get rid of it and simply cooking it out with a fever wasn't going to work. 
     Food poisoning in Paris, what a great way to start. 

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