The great city of New York was behind us…and the sun was setting in the west. We flew into the approaching darkness of night.
As I was planning this blog series, I was sitting on the American Airlines 767 trans-oceanic super jet propelled airplane. My problem, right from the ‘get go’ (God, I hate that term), was to identify exactly when did this trip begin. Did it begin in the discussions that Mariam and I had many months ago? Leaving Rainbow Lake? Leaving our friend’s apartment in Manhattan? The ride to JFK? The security lines? Boarding the plane? I just can’t put my finger on when the ‘go’ button got pushed. Maybe, the true roots, the ultimate origins of this journey lay in the distant past…when I took a lucky turn on a New York street? Or, when some poor, hungry Irishman decided he had been through enough and booked a passage to the United States sometime in the 1850’s? One could get caught up in beginnings, because rarely does it start with the sound of a gun at a track meet. The race doesn’t start then…it started when you decided to join the team, months earlier. Or, even when….
But I digress.
I wanted to write that I composed this post on the plane, with the laptop snug on my lap and me, curled and snug on the seat during the all-night flight. But that would be a professional quality lie. In truth, I didn’t have any idea where my laptop was during the flight. I knew it was somewhere under the seat in front of me…but so was a lot of other stuff. So, I scribbled some notes (I’m using them right now) on a legal pad (yellow). Don’t do this at home! Every time I had to fold up the “table” I had to shove the pad into the net thingie in back of that seat in front of me. Before long, bits of yellow paper were tearing and shredding away. It’s a wonder I kept most of what I noted…so you’d better appreciate this blog because it wasn’t easy!
To paint the picture more clearly, I had about 4.45 inches of leg room for my own use. Now, I’m not a tall guy like, say, Tommy Lee Jones and anyone who knows me, knows why I never played basketball in high school. As I sat there trying to balance my few things, I felt confident that the American Airlines people had spoken to my childhood teachers (nuns) and confessors. I was being punished here and now for the sins of my youth. I was going through the tortures of Purgatory on a jet plane.
We were given a soda and bag of small pretzels as our pre-dinner snack. I was unable to open the little plastic thing even though I pulled and tore at it over and over. Finally, I gave it one more jerk and the bag popped open and several pretzels, the size of quarters, scattered onto the aisle. I was belted in but the thought of numerous feet pulverizing the dried dough and making a mess on the carpet was too much for me. I unhooked my seat belt and leaned over to pick two of them up. My head came within four inches of a woman’s knee. She looked down at me. I think I noticed she was beginning to roll up her glossy Vogue magazine to whoop me on the head for attempting to look up her dress. I got the pretzels just in time to avoid a smart whack on my already sore head.
I settled back in my ‘seat’ and tried to block out the pain and embarrassment by recalling the quiet moments back at Gate 14 when I was trying to charge my cell battery to the max. I was sitting next to a group of girls who were off to a holiday in Paris. One young woman who looked like she was about eight years old was leafing through her passport. She had more visa stamps in her book that I had caps in my bottle cap collection. At her age, if I walked across my hometown of Owego, NY I felt like I was crossing vast international boundaries.
Here, it could be fair to ask why I was so intent on charging my cell. Well, in truth, I was also charging my iPad. I had approximately 46 books downloaded to my Kindle app. I wanted to travel light. But, I feared that my battery would run down and I couldn’t play solitaire or listen to my iTunes. So I packed some other reading material. I had a book of French poetry, two pulp novels, two recent New Yorker magazines, a copy of the new Rolling Stone, a Vanity Fair (which had an article on Monica Lewinsky I wanted to read), three legal pads, four journals, a few sketching pads, a set of earphones the size of an eight-bunch of bananas and my sunglasses case. Mariam asked why I was packing the sunglasses in my carry-on.
“It’s a night flight,” she said.
I just stared at her. She didn’t understand.
I have to add here that I’ve had decades of backpacking experience under by belt. I used to be so concerned about tiny bits of extra weight that I used to drill holes in my aluminum water cup to shave off a few ounces.
They brought some food for dinner. It wasn’t so bad, considering the quality of airline food in general. I decided that I would use the time to teach Mariam a few necessary French words…you know, so she wouldn’t have to rely on me for everything during our Paris stay. I picked up the packet of butter and made her repeat “beurre”, I pointed at the water bottle and patiently asked her to repeat “l’eau”. I stopped when I got to the Canada Dry Ginger Ale. I decided not to overload her with too many words at once.
They dimmed the lights and I tried to play solitaire on my iPad but it fell from my hands twice before I realized I needed some music to sooth me to sleep.
I remember hearing only one song: “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette, before I drifted into a twenty-minute nap.
The captain announced that we were beginning our descent to the Aeroport De Charles De Gaulle.
The rising sun was in front of us and the towering cumulus clouds began to touch our wings.
These were French clouds and they were holding French rain…no doubt.
The full moon above the Musee du Luxemborg.
In the Garden du Luxemborg.