I've mentioned that people often approach me asking for directions, apparently because I'm obviously not in a rush to get somewhere and thus seem approachable. Recently a teenaged girl came up to me as I was approaching the Port d'Orleans metro station. Maybe 14 or 15 years old, I'd guess. "I'm completely lost," she said ("Je suis tout à fait perdue"), and then asked a couple of questions which I didn't understand. My first impulse was to tell her, "Sweetheart, have you ever picked the wrong guy to ask!" But instead I pulled out of my pocket the booklet of maps I always carry, like so many people in Paris --- and not only tourists! --- Paris Par Arrondisement.
She held this booklet as if it were a manuscript in some arcane ancient language. "I don't know what street we're on, or what street that one crossing it is," she said.
"This is the Boulevard Brune and that street is the Rue du General Leclerc." I located our spot for her on the map of the 14th Arrondisement, but this was obviously not much help to her. "And that's the metro station, right up ahead," I said. I couldn't believe that she hadn't noticed it, since it was only about thirty meters away.
"Are you headed that way?" she asked. "May I walk along with you?"
"As far as the metro station," I answered. By now she'd figured out that I wasn't French (for one thing, I'd pronounced the "c" at the end of "Leclerc") and asked where I was from. She told me that she was studying English in school, but wasn't very good at it so far. "It's a difficult language," I said, and she agreed that it certainly was. "Do you have family in Paris, or friends, or are you all alone (tout seul)?"
"Je suis tout seul," I answered.
"You must be very brave, Monsieur," she said.
And then I went down into the metro, leaving her to search for a better source of information.
But I wondered a little afterwards about what she had said. Am I really brave to travel alone the way I do? Or perhaps, in any case, very foolish.
Well, I've had pieces of luggage stolen twice (in both cases by Italians, although the first time was in Germany). And I've been sick twice, once fairly badly.
But I guess what really made me pause was finding out that the woman who runs the French-English conversation group I go to once a week here had broken her foot over the weekend. What would I do if something like that happened to me? I just don't think about those possibilities.
Certainly the first time I came to France though, the first time I came to Europe, in 2000, it did take quite a bit of bravery. If things didn't gone exactly as planned, I figured that I would be indeed, like the teenager who approached me on the street, "tout à fait perdu," in a foreign country with no idea of where to go for help.
After I sent out my email account of that first trip to France, one of my friends, a middle-aged woman who teachers math at a university and has certainly done a fair amount of traveling, wrote back and said, "Half the things that happened to you would have scared me to death."
And now.... I still haven't completely got over my feelings that it's a miracle every time things go the way they are supposed to. The feeling that I will get to the airport and the clerk will say, "I'm sorry, but we don't have you booked on this flight," or, "The flight you were booked on flew yesterday," or, "Sorry, but this passport is no good at all." Or the French will refuse to let me into the country. Not to mention the possibility of losing the passport or credit cards.
On my most recent trip to Paris, the return trip was booked with a single flight number from Paris to San Francisco, but with a footnote that there would be a stop with a change of planes along the way. Indeed, I got a boarding pass for a separate flight from Dulles to San Francisco on a smaller plane. Of course I knew that this meant I would be going through customs at Dulles.
What happened was that apparently five or six planes arrived almost at the same moment at Dulles, and the luggage handlers just couldn't get all the luggage offloaded very quickly. And when my suitcase finally showed up on the conveyer belt, there was a humongous line waiting for customers clearance (a mere formality) and to go through the security x-ray again. And then it turned out that the idiot who coordinates these things had scheduled the next part of the flight to leave from a gate halfway on the other side of the airport.
By the time I and several other passengers made it to the departure lounge, the crew was already in the process of closing the cabin doors, and they were not very friendly about delaying long enough to let us board. It was clear that the pressure from United to have an on-time departure was so great that the crew was quite willing to have the flight leave without a substantial portion of its passengers rather than be late.
This was an evening departure, probably United's last flight of the day to San Francisco. But the worst that could have happened would have been the United would have had to pay to fly me on another airline or put me up overnight at a hotel in Washington. I would not have been "tout perdu."
I have indeed arrived at hotels and had them have a hard time finding my reservation. Usually because they have it filed under Everett or Lee. And I've mentioned the old lady in Italy who didn't want to let me have the room I'd reserved because I didn't have a voucher.
But mostly things do work out.
Love & kisses to all,