Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Home again...almost.

Well, it has been nearly a week since we left Paris.  Irony of ironies, we found ourselves leaving rue des ecoles exactly one year to the day of when we found our home away from home.  It was a bittersweet day in that I bid adieu to my new, dear friend Gabrielle.  Each of us looking at the other, asking,"Do you have a cold?" and each of us grasping onto that excuse to explain the glassy eyes and sniffling. 

I looked at the apartment, devoid of our belongings, those things that added our character to the place and I knew I was ready to go home.

After a whirlwind month of last minute guests and friends who had long ago planned an autumn in Paris and in addition to the myriad of visits from transportation and transition assistants, I was packed and ready to go.  I had visited the Louvre, the Luxembourg, and Normandy.  We revisited a few old favorite restaurants and packed in quite a few from our must visit list into the waning days and nights of our sojourn.  It was a bit of sensory overload at times and in the midst of it all, there were the farewells to new friends and places that were forming my Paris network.  I cried a little; actually a lot less than I thought I would.  I guess the remaining weeks with a few friends, scoping out the markets, favored walkways and benches afforded me the best way to say good-bye.  It hurt a little, but I was glad to be going home.

The French did there best to give us a good bye and a bad bye...of course, it is so French to do this.  The people who became a part of my day to day life were sad to hear we were leaving.  Even the folks at the salon welled up a little as I said good bye.  The guys at our favorite pizza place on Rue Cluny were surprised that we were leaving so soon and I snuck a quick hug from one of the guys who every day would say Bonjour and Buon giorno to Reilly and me as we passed by on one of our regular excursions down to the river.  And in almost every case, our voisins wanted to know if we would miss Paris....do we love Paris....and remember the good things about Parisians....yes, of course and we'll try!

But October brought strikes and trash and impatience.  Parisians were not always at their best, and yet for the most part, they persevered.  Just when you thought people would come together because of the increased terror threats and the unending protests, sometimes our Parisian neighbors would get a little cranky and roll their eyes if our French was flawed or if you dared to ask for un caraf d'eau instead of buying bottled water....uh oh!  We found ourselves giving lots of tips, even though gratutities are built into the tab...whether it was our parting gift or a token to soothe ruffled feathers...we always left a little something more.

I can proudly claim that in the 10+ plus months I spent in Paris, going back to last October on our expeditionary tour, I did not step in any merde!  This is truly un exploit incroyable!  As my husband says,"It is good to have goals and to make them."  I am pleased. For sure, I am happy to leave that part of Paris behind us.

So coming home has been interesting.  I am glad to be back with Reilly and Gracie, our cat.  Paris was not the same without my little walking buddy and boy was she and will she be missed by all the folks who made her acquaintance.  But my little snuggle bunny was so happy to see me and I her...when  she jumped up into my arms, I felt at home.

We have been advised that repatriating can be as difficult as moving abroad.  I thought, heck, it was just under a year we were away and we are coming back to our hearth and home in Groton.  How hard can it be?  Well, it is a wee bit difficult.  I feel like I am stuck in a transitional vacuum.  I have no rhyme or rhythm to my days yet.  I do go out onto the deck and drink in the sights, sounds and scents.  But I feel a bit like a rudderless ship.  I have been home  for a few days now and giving a nod to the fact that I have been a bit under the weather and a little jet lagged, I am surprised that I have yet to see anyone...Groton carried on without me (duh) and here I am...empty nesting it again...and feeling like someone pushed the pause button in my life, but the rest of the feature continues on.  Bill is up to his eyeballs, gleefully, with work and people and meetings. So far, I have had a couple of phone calls with family and the refrigerator repair people.  So the struggle for purpose driven life strikes again!

I feel a little like I have arrived too late to a race and I am standing at the starting line, but there is no starter...I can see my friends so far ahead of me in this little race of life and I am frozen, wondering how am I ever going to catch up.  Surprisingly too, I am a bit afraid.  I am afraid that because people moved on without me, they don't need me.  I am afraid that some of the changes I have made in my life and style may not be well received here at home...well with the exception of Champagne Thursdays...my friends are liking that idea.

And speaking of Champagne Thursday, this lovely little tradition I am bringing back alive and well from Paris, it is my first effort at reconnecting with the good folks at home.  I have had a few acceptances and a few regrets sent my way...and I am looking forward to hosting une bonne fete in a couple of weeks.  I guess I have to be patient and decide if  I am going to dive back into a new life or enter one toe at a time.  I wasn't expecting a ticker tape parade upon our return, but I wasn't expecting to feel so alone in my own backyard.  I own this by the way...that fear thing has a grip on me.  I need to spark that idea that will get me out there, challenging myself once again.  I have to make my own music and create a new rhythm for my life.  Will it be a march, a waltz, a tango?  Hmm.

I am not feeling sorry for myself.  I am not disappointed in my friends and family.  I just didn't know what to expect.  I think I experienced a temporary reprieve from empty-nest syndrome, Parisian style.  I shed one skin, grew a new one and now I have to think about how well this new one will fit back in the good old USA, in good old Groton, but in a completely unscripted future.  I am a very late 40 something-ish woman who had plans to do something new and challenging...and I went to Paris and there I did something extraordinary.  Now I am back.  I can't find my plans...I have to look deep for them I guess.  I look back to where I was over a year ago and that me is sooo far away I can barely see her.  There is such a great divide behind me and all the bridges seem to have crumbled away.  There is another greater divide before me and I don't see any bridges.  I guess I have to look around for the resources to build some.  Anyone out there have a hammer?

I hope to keep writing.  I like it. I just need to think up a new topic for the next blog. 

So here is a tip of my beret to what Frank Sinatra once so aptly sang...the best is yet to come...I hope you will join me.   I am at my house...come home.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Transitions American Style

I can hardly believe that it is almost time to return to Paris for the last time as "ex-pats".  It has been a strange passage of time during this extended home visit. For the most part, I have been a guest in my own home.  My niece and her husband, who graciously agreed to stay in the house while we were abroad have infused themselves happily into our house...this is a good thing...we wanted them to be at home here.  These past few weeks have found us engaged in a strange dance around the living spaces...his kitchen/her kitchen...the passing of the remote...oh no, its okay, we can watch this.  Did you feed the cat...cats...dog?  I'll mow the lawn...okay, well you can do it since you have a system.  We are managing thus far without stepping on toes but it is an awkward dance and the steps change every day.

It is quite strange, I have no real sense of time.  I am often surprised that the day has come and gone...and even more so that nearly a month has come and gone.  The biggest clue about time has been my hair...I am in desperate need of a haircut.  I am lookng forward to my rendez-vous at the end of next week, but I am sad it will be my last "coiffure".  Ironically, the day we leave Paris will be exactly one year to the day that we found our apartment on rue des ecoles.  Funny.

I have been peaceful in Groton.  I have rested.  I must say that there is nothing like a good night's sleep which has been ushered in gently by cool breezes blowing in opened windows.  Nightime, as dark as a pocket, quiets the mind.  And the soft country noises are one of the most beautiful lullabies of my lifetime.

I have been driving my new car...a blessing and a curse.  Living in the country means driving for necessity.  I walk for pleasure, but the weather as of late has not been very condusive for the most part. I was a bit spoiled in Paris.  Everything I needed was in walking distance.  Monoprix, the grocery store was down the block and across the street.  The boulangerie (bakery) was a half a block up the street in the other direction...fresh bread every day!  Just a half a block further was my florist...yep, I had a florist whom I visited 2 or 3 times a month for fresh flowers.  Reilly and I walked four or five times a day for her needs and my exercise.  Walking saved me in Paris.  I am going to have to figure out a comparatively vigourous and beneficial way to walk back here at home.  My waistband is telling me subtly that I am becoming American again...French women aren't fat (wink, wink).

I am in love with the subtle autumnal changes.Nowhere on earth is there more beauty than right here and right now.  Saturday, I stood on the front stoop and raised my face to the sun as it dappled through the trees toward me.  I enjoyed its warmth and I thought I could feel the colors of the trees on my skin.  I stood there like that for a long time.  I was truly happy.

I have a week to go before returning to Paris.  We have friends coming for a last visit.  I am glad they will be joining us even though the remainder of our time will be a bit frantic.  Showing Paris to Barbara and Joe will help me say good-bye to my home away from home.  We'll go to our favorite restaurants and cafes.  We'll walk along the river or through the gardens.  I plan on taking tons of pictures; not of the touristy things, but of the people, places and objects that became familiar.  From the gargoyle the greeted me every day outside my living room window to the walrus mustachioed waiter at the Cafe Sorbonne...I want these pictures for my home in Groton as a reminder of where I was and also of who I was for the past year.

I have been warned that it is not easy to come back to the US after an extended period of time.  Phase One of Operation Homecoming has definitely proved this to be true.  I am hoping that once back into a routine and with the holidays to look forward to, I will regain my sense of place and time.  Until then, I will enjoy this visit and in 24 days I will leave Paris again, but I will never let go.  It is cliche yet true, I will always have Paris.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Top Ten List: What I Won't Miss About Paris

With the sudden change in our living abroad experience and the recurrent question of, "So what are you going to miss when you leave Paris?" being asked at every turn, I have been reflecting on our past year and "pense" about my French immersion.  So far it has been easier to recognize what I won't be missing...so with a tip of the chapeau to David Letterman, here is My Top Ten List of Things I will NOT be missing (subject to further review and amending)

10)  Andouillette Sausage (it is made from stomach and intestines...bwerk!)
9)  Parisians who,with noses firmly planted in books, newspapers or on their mobile, plow into me on the sidewalk even though I have been zigging and zagging in anticipation of their meandering collision course, only to look at me with disdain, as if it were my fault they walked into me.
8)  Cigarette butts everywhere!
7)  Pigeon poo on park benches
6)  Dog poop on the sidewalks and the people who refuse to pick up after their dogs.
5)  The car alarm that goes off every night at 11pm, 2am and 4:30 am.
4)  All the other alarms, sirens, bells and whistles that assault one's ears all day long
      By the way, the dinging of the 63, 86 or 89 busses which stop outside our apartment is so much a part of my psyche that on my first night home in Groton (we are here for a quick home visit), I dreamt that I could still hear them ding-ding-dinging!
3)  People who pee in public
2)  Second hand smoke
and the number one thing I will not miss in Paris
1)  Those God forsaken whiny motorbikes...just thinking about that noise sets my teeth on edge!

Monday, August 30, 2010

And so her story goes...

When last we saw our heroine, she was enjoying a lovely summer's afternoon in Les éditeurs cafe, sipping Rose’ wine and making plans to purchase window boxes for a fall, floral extravaganza of riotous colors, textures and scents, now that the looming scaffolding that darkened her windows and ate up precious growing space was deconstructed from the front of rue des écoles. Poised over pasta salad and pondering the miniature garden design, she patiently awaited the return of her beloved as he courted his mistress...the Blackberry. The CEO called and even though it was our vacation, Bill had to take the call.

Upon his return, he broached a question... “Do you want to talk about it here or back at the apartment?”

Well dear readers, one year later almost to the day, we are faced with another major life change and another move. The following corporate announcement provides the details that were lacking as of the last blog post.

We are pleased to announce the promotion of Bill Barbo to the position of Corporate Senior Vice President, Global Sales & Marketing. In this role, Bill will report directly to the Chairman, President & CEO, and will be responsible for overseeing the global sales and marketing function in support of all of company businesses. Over the past year, Bill played an integral role within the new sales organization in the European-based position as Corporate Vice President, Global Strategic Accounts and European Specialist Sales, strengthening existing client relationships and helping to forge new relationships with large European customers. In his new role, Bill will be based in Wilmington and will be relocating from France in the coming weeks.

We are coming home! Thanksgiving in Groton...black bear sightings...fresh air...wild birds...my deck and peace and quiet!

Now, I have whined a lot about Paris...perhaps unfairly. The kvetching says more about me at this point in my life than it does about the city. Paris is unique. It offers beauty, history, culture and challenges...all of which we encountered, enjoyed or endured. Do I regret my time here? Not at all...would I do things differently, absolutely! But, we chalk this up as a lesson learned; a new piece added to our patchwork quilt of a life.

I will miss Paris...the City of Lights. I’ll miss the history, architecture, art and yes, the quirky characters I encountered each and every day. I already miss the visits of friends and family that never occurred because our time here was cut shorter than planned. But, I am so happy to be going home, to my house, my stuff, and my friends. But, to be honest, I have trepidations.

When last in Groton, I was poised at a crossroads of life...an empty nest, fast approaching another decade of my life and the big question of now that my daughters are grown (although I keep reminding them I am their mom), what will be the purpose that drives my life, faces me once again.

In Paris, I found a voice of sorts...I am a storyteller. Thank you to all who have read this blog, shared your comments, offered love, advice and support. I have been happy to share this short chapter in my life. I hope to keep sharing stories...I am an historian, through my formal education and as a result of a calling from bygone days. I plan on telling “her-story” for a while. I think I will continue to explore the relationships of food, wine and traditions...they are a part of her-story too.

There are a couple of business models banging around my head too...but I may need to go back to school to find the right way to implement those visions.

I am going home. I think I may need six months though to shed this new skin...to find my pace...my place after being gone for a while. So forgive me if I say Oui instead of yes...or Bonjour instead of Hi ya. It will take me some time to find some pieces to pick up...to find the clear page for the next chapter of my life... It is unfair and unreal to expect that I can and will pick up where I left off. I am not the same person who left Groton last year. I have grown, changed and have a whole host of experiences not recorded on these pages that have shaped me. Perhaps I will write them down in time...along with some new stories too.

By the way, I have a beret...I didn’t get a chance to toss it at the Jardin yet...there is still some time left for that...but I think my beret will look great in Groton.

So, why the heck did my husband drag me to Paris and why is he dragging me back to Groton? ...because my home is where he is.

I love you all... see you soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010


It was one year ago this month that our lifes took a major left turn on the highway of life.  Bill came home and said, "So, how would you like to live in Paris?"  We mulled the idea for about two seconds and said to ourselves, "Heck, yeah, we can do anything for three years...it is just three years right?"

At that time, Bill was in the midst of his summer vacation and together we dreamed (there were a couple of nightmares too), stressed, planned and started to get our minds around this phenomenal opportunity.  In the blink of an eye, we were in Paris looking for a place to call home.  Blinking again, we were packed and on a plane, arriving in Paris on New Year's Eve...may old acquaintance be forgot...

I promised myself and I asked Bill too...give me six months...I need six months to shed my old skin and grow.  I need time for Paris to get under and into my skin. That was about right...it took time for me to evolve, to find my path, my pace...to "get my groove back"...not in that Stella sort of way however!  I still bleed red, white and blue, but on occasion I spill some blue, white and red too.

Over the course of these months, I started to figure a few things out...I like to write and some folks like how and what I write.  I am a pretty inventive chef and have the ability to recreate recipes.  My wine palate is refining nicely.  And to get along anywhere, you need friends, near and far.  I have both.

So it is one year later and Bill is on vacation.  We were sitting in very nice cafe in the Carrefour Odeon having a late lunch and some wine.  The cell phone rings and Bill takes the call.  I sit playing with the orechietta in my summer vegetable and pasta salad.  I drain the last drops of a lovely Cotes du Provence Rose from the glass.  I wait.

"So that was the office...do you want to guess?  Do you want to talk about it here or at home? I think I should stop taking phone calls while on my summer vacation." 

"L'addition s'il vous plait." 

The turn signal is on again....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Saturday was one of those spectacular days for the ages. The sun was bright and warm in a sky so beautifully blue that no photo could do it justice. The temperature was in the low 80’s but a perfectly delicate breeze kept us comfortably caressed.

Our friends Peter and Jannine, other US ex-pats, have opted to have a car in Paris...they are brave souls. Peter is the bravest as he just completed his driving lessons and is now the proud owner of a junior operator’s license. No matter how old you are or how much driving experience you may have elsewhere in the world, everyone in France starts off with a junior operator’s license for a period of three years. And good old Peter has to display a great big letter A on a window of any vehicle he’s driving...enough about that. Peter is a great driver and he and Jannine invited us out for his maiden French voyage in their car, destination: Giverny.

Giverny is the country home of Claude Monet. It is the inspiration for many of his Impressionist works, including The Water Lily Pond: Harmony in Green. In 1883, Monet moved his family, his mistress and eight children to the retreat west of Paris. In preparation for his country life, Monet designed and had constructed the amazing gardens and water features with their Japanese inspired bridges.

The gardens are truly a treat and retreat. We entered the gardens and before us were manicured beds, trellises, topiaries and espaliers of fruit trees. Each section was a blaze of complimentary colors...from fiery yellow, orange, reds and russets to cooler shade gardens soothing the eyes with an array of blue, green and white. There were lilies, orchids, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, dahlias, salvia, marigolds, asters, nasturtiums....so many flowers that reminded my of my Groton garden...hydrangeas, hibiscus, rudibeckia, bleeding hearts, lantana...it was an oasis of sights and scents. Of course, it was quiet too.

We continued our stroll from the structured beds into the softer, more elegant water gardens. Several small arched bridges intersected the meandering paths beneath the Weeping Willows. Stunning water lilies of white, pink and red dotted the ponds as perch, carp and catfish darted beneath in search of water gliders and minnows. All around the garden, flowers were arranged by complimentary and contrasting colors and textures. Where the sun kissed the shore, there were groupings of flowers in bursts of pinks, reds, oranges and yellows. As we passed into the shady areas, the colors cooled to blues, silvers, purples, white and an array of variegated greens...leaves silvery on top and chocolaty brown on the underside...Hostas, Coleus and Artemisia added subdued, softness yet richness with their colors and textures.

After absorbing the gardens, refueled and rested at the same time, we ventured into the quaint, pink stucco family home. The house contains lovely antiques of a less complicated era and hundreds of Japanese ink-block prints, a favored art form for the old master. I was struck by the difference of Monet’s collection of art epitomized by its primary colors, clean, structured lines and precise imprints as it contrasted so greatly with the Father of Impressionism’s use of pastels and primary colors, the dappling of paint and considered strokes that form the “impression” of what is being painted; its form (or lack thereof) and the light reflecting...the artist and the collector, one mind and very different perceptions of beauty. I found that fascinating.

The house held a quiet energy of the people who lived there about one hundred years ago. The wood on the stairs and railings was soft and smooth with wear. The family photos in every room offered a “bonjour” from the past. The views from the bedrooms made me envious and admiring of the sleepy heads who were blessed with such beauty upon waking. But my favorite room...surprise, surprise...was the kitchen. The huge space, decked out with an assortment of blue and white tiles begged for family meals and creative culinary arts to be crafted, inspired by the fruits and vegetables from the gardens; their flavors, colors and textures. There had to be 50 copper pots hanging along one wall, each with a purpose, each poised to impress its wares upon the palate...The stove was a marvel of form and function...it was an early 20th century masterpiece!

Our last stop at the manse was the chicken coop where we saw the proudest rooster. He strut his stuff, his feathers a mélange of brown, white, gold and russet. He owned that yard. There were many varieties of chickens in the yard...unusual feathers and varying sizes. It was an interesting demonstration of impressionism...no still life here....everything was very much alive!

With stomachs grumbling and whistles in need of wetting, we hit the back roads of Giverny and Vernon looking for a lunch spot. We toddled into a small village, complete with its own castle overlooking the Seine. Finding a little café that featured cold rose’, salads and pizza, we plunked down at the outdoor terrace and continued to unwind. The sky, amazingly blue and crystal clear offered the perfect stage for a ballet of six or seven gliders, catching the unseen thermals and turning and spiraling silent in their aerial choreography. The show lasted for the duration of our meal. Dinner and a show...perfect.

Alas it was time to return to the city. We talked of “le rentrer”, Paris’ version of back to school/back to work after a summer off. We made plans to play cards and visit some new restaurants, once they reopened after their “vacances”. Then we just sat in silence for the last bit of the trip...the only voice being the cheeky lady guiding us via the car’s nav system. It was good to be quiet...to remember the flowers...to be immersed in the rest...soon enough it would be back to Paris...city of lights...busy, busy, busy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NOTHING is easy

August 4
Yesterday was a tough day on a number of levels. The first and worst was that Emily returned to the US to enjoy the remaining days of her summer vacation at home and in preparation for returning to University. She was my exploring and shopping buddy and sadly for me, I’ll be on my own again for the most part.

Our day started off pulling the remainder of her stuff from about the apartment and packing and repacking the two suitcases she’d need to get home. She didn’t really need two to get her things home, but she needed to bring our “big-ass” red suitcase home so she could truck her stuff from Boston to Baltimore next month. Big Red will make it back to Paris when Carrie comes for a quick visit in September. Note to self: ask Carrie to stock up on Soft Scrub for me!

After a last sweep of the flat, we grabbed our train tickets and hit the pavement for the RER station around the corner. We were in luck, the next train to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Airport was due in six minutes and woo woo...it was an express line. We could be at CDG in 35 minutes.

The train pulled into the station on time...you have to hand this one to the French...their mass transit system runs on time (when they aren’t on strike that is). We boarded and settled into three seats together, with the luggage strategically positioned between Bill and Em so they could move it if folks needed to pass from our car to the next. Everything seemed to be cruising right along up through Gare du Nord, but upon leaving that station, we seemed to be traveling a bit more slowly. Not bad though...so we were going to be on the 40 minute side of the trip but still not bad. We’d have time for un café before Emily went through security at the airport.

As we left zone one of the transit system, things seemed normal. Departing zone two found us slowing down a bit...and once we hit zone three or the outer ring of Paris, we were crawling...what the heck? This is an express line! Then, we STOPPED at Bourget. Wait a minute, there is no stopping on an express train. We sat at Bourget for about 8 or 9 minutes....more than enough time for the “deaf” woman from another car to come in and place on every open seat a couple of cheap trinkets and a bi-lingual card, which explained she was deaf (alternate translation don’t bother trying to talk to her) and she would really appreciate it if you would buy one of her little tourist “tchaztchies” for 2 or 3 Euros or give her a gift certificate to a restaurant as she was hungry. Right...first of all, she must have had fifty or more gee-gaws in her backpack, which she laid out about the train car...she had to have paid at least 8 euros for her ticket (so 2 euros x 50 things + 8 euro = 108 euros more or less...stop buying junk and go get some food!!)...and yeah, I always carry restaurant gift certificates on me...pardon me for seeming cold-hearted, but I have been witness to at least 4 different deaf people on the trains since arriving in Paris seven months ago...this is a scam, or France’s socialized health system is sorely lacking when it comes to deaf people.

Well, after a garbled announcement over the PA, which we could only assume reassured us that once on our way, we would head directly to CDG terminals 1and 2, we were moving again. And for the first time in my 10 years of infrequent European train travel, a passel of 6 ticket takers entered the cabin and began checking and stamping tickets. This was really unusual. The trains are pretty much self service...you buy a ticket from a machine...run the ticket through a scanner...enter the station and upon arriving at your destination, you run your ticket through another scanner to get out of the station...and most people are good about this as the train system is at 8 euros comparatively cheap considering it can cost around 60 euros to take a cab from the center of Paris out to the airport (and it takes roughly the same amount of time too). After punching tickets in our car, half of the ticket takers moved on and three took seats in the middle of the car...riding with us all the way to CDG...3 or 6 ticket takers was a bit of over kill. The train was not overly full and our car had maybe a dozen people in it. Hmm...curiouser and curiouser.

Finally, we arrived at CDG 2, the Air France International Terminal and with no time for coffee headed on up the escalators to....a huge crowd of people waiting at the bottom of stairs and outside the elevators. At the top of the stairs were several armed soldiers, never a good sight when you need to check in. A few intrepid travelers ventured forth to ask the stern looking soldats what the 411 was and in as few words as possible and only in French said there was a bomb threat in 2E. The bomb squad was called in to investigate an abandoned piece of luggage...damn.

On the bright side, we left Paris with the goal of arriving 3 hours before Em‘s flight and even with the less than express train ride, we still had plenty of time to check her in. After about 10 minutes, a whistle blew and we along with a couple hundred other evacuees dashed for the baggage check-in...you didn’t forget Big Red did you? Being seasoned travelers, we looked at the departure board and saw that Boston bound passengers were to check-in at Section 5 of Air France Airlines. We dodged and dashed our way through the confusion and hit the queue in a matter of minutes. Granted, it was a LOOONG line, but hey we were good...boarding for the Boston flight was still 2 ½ hours away. Emily had already checked-in on-line, got her boarding pass and we just needed to drop off the bags.

Standing on line in Europe is completely different that standing on line in the US. From the time we were knee high to a grasshopper in grade school, Americans learned to stand in line one in front of the other. Not so in Europe and the French have perfected queuing en masse to an aggravating art form. Before we learned a thing or two in the old days, Bill and I would line up, quietly and politely waiting our turn to move forward and often found ourselves not moving forward and actually losing ground in line without having taken a step. So armed with experience and knowledge and elbows out...we kept pressing forward. We did meet a couple of master line jumpers though...a couple of women with luggage carts that would make Paris Hilton proud, I mean on these carts contained enough luggage, boxes and bags (including a 32” flat screen TV) with which had to be valued at least 50% of their country’s GDP, pretended to be with someone further in the line and they deftly unhooked the belts that served as line guides and pushed their way about half way through the crowd. They struck up a conversation with people around them and then a few folks figuring out they had been duped tried to get an Air France Official to help...right...not gonna happen. So we waited and then it happened...a shrill whistle blew and our check-in area was being evacuated for another bomb scare. A suspicious package was found right outside the terminal doors, not 50 feet from the Section 5 check-in. Police and soldiers waved at us to evacuate the area...but no one was giving instructions...just a lot of whistle blowing and waving. Finally someone...I couldn’t say who instructed us in French to move to Section 3 and we could continue to check-in there. There were already hundreds of people there and they were not moving...as in they were not going to let those of us whose child had a flight at 1:35...boarding at 1:05pm move forward to make an expedited baggage drop...not that nor were they moving...period. The baggage belts had stopped, computers were off-line and no one seemed to know what was what.

At this point, a very patient Air France representative (a rarity btw) came to the entrance of the queuing area and attempted to direct people to other check-in areas and or escort people with boarding passes for flights within the hour forward. Enter the tour group bound for Bejing...their flight was scheduled to depart at 1:45...and it had been delayed on the big board by thirty minutes, but being in the mass of confusion called a line, were unaware of the change. The tour leader muscled her way through the waiting ticket holders and proceeded to holler in English at the Air France lady. It wasn’t pleasant, lots of pointing, poking and arm flailing and after trying to get Madam Mao to calm down, the Air France lady had to call the police over...and he brought machine gun toting soldiers with him! With a nod and pointing the gun to a holding area for tour groups, the Chinese were quickly and quietly escorted to a time out. There they would wait for another hour! I know because we watched as we snaked our way toward check-in. The nice AF lady looked at Em’s boarding pass and told us to stay in our line and I thanked her and said “Bon courage”...meaning to imply, you know good work and keep the faith sistah...whereupon, she grabbed my arm, smiled at me and tapped her forehead on my shoulder as though the momentary gesture would sustain her for the ensuing rounds with angered passengers... the power of kind words.

Well we resumed standing on line and each time I looked at my watch, the time seemed interminably slow and unceasingly fast. With less than an hour before boarding, we were still two hours from checking those bags. We talked about just chalking this one up and heading back to the city...but Emily wanted to give it a go and at least make her case for as close to a guaranteed seat on a flight later in the day or the next. Bill left us in line in pursuit of information and just as he returned with news that Emily’s flight was delayed for 30 minutes, an Air France official announced that all flights scheduled for between 1pm and 2:30pm were being delayed and that they were working hard to help everyone make their flights. At last, information and we were only three people away from the check-in...at 1:15pm.

The lines were still a mess and the AF people were getting edgier. Further down the check-in counter, a frustrated passenger was told that she and her family had been standing in the wrong line and the AF rep would not be able to help her. As they say in the Gen Y alphabetic lexicon...OMG! Talk about a nutty! The customer, who for circumstances way beyond her control, found herself in an untenable situation only to have a customer service person tell her “I cannot help you”, did what any hot blooded French woman would do...she threatened to beat the AF representative...climb over the counter and beat the ever-living “merde” out of her. (I learned a whole new vocabulary in those moments!!) The police were summoned and lo and behold, after some screaming, baton waving and crying a miracle occurred...the AF counter person amazingly was able to check the family in and the police escorted the now time crunched passengers to security for an expedited run to the gate.

Well, more than one person noticed that scowling seemed more effective than smiling and rumbling and grumbling rolled through the ranks. An increased AF representative presence among the rank and file became evident and contrary to common sense, rather than trying to nip skirmishes in the bud by problem solving, the representatives challenged people to just try something and they too would be met by immediate police action...huh?

At last, we made it to the counter...the nice man (again, a rarity at this point) smiled at us and checked Emily’s bags, as we smiled at him. We chatted about living in Paris and he tested my French a little. He looked at Big Red and told us that normally economy class passengers could check one bag for free and that we’d be charged for the larger bag, but because of all the confusion and our apparent lack of animosity, he wouldn’t charge her the $25. Wow. He handed Emily her boarding pass and baggage claim and wished her a bon voyage. He assured her that even though her flight was boarding in 10 minutes, they would wait for her. I offered my hand and a “bon courage” and in return received a hearty handshake and a smile filled merci beaucoup.

We checked the pass for the gate number and compared it to the board...not the same...Emily showed her pass to a security agent and he put her in the “yellow” line. Because her boarding pass listed gate 41, he thought she was on the later flight to Boston. We told Emily we would stay at the airport until she texted us she was on the plane. She should have gone in the orange line for gate 37, but it was too late.

She arrived at gate 41 and no one was there...the board listed the 7pm flight but not hers. She called us and we told her to run to gate 37...that was where her plane was. She asked the agents at gate 41 to call down to 37 and let them know she was on the run...surprisingly they did it...and with literally 2 minutes to spare, Emily’s butt hit her seat...she was going home.

In the meantime, Bill and I made our way out of the craziness and away from all the gun toting security toward the Sheraton...we were going to camp out there until Emily was in-flight. With a couple of glasses of champagne to calm the nerves and the good news text, we toasted our baby and the end of the crazy.

My dad use to say to us, “Nothing is easy” and he also taught us to reply to said statement with, “Nobody ever said it would be.”