Weíll call the start of the new day partway through the flight from New York to Paris, as my body continues to feel Iíve obtained sufficient sleep during college to do with a couple of hours a night. I make 3 flight friends, 3 more than the usual total I get by blacking out between landings. First is a little kid in front of me, quite upset that heís stuck on his momís lap for a crowded and long Air India flight across the ocean. He cheers up when he finds the goofy guy behind him has enough flashy gadgets to entertain him indefinitely, especially when I relinquish my meaningless cellphone; between my supplies and those that Steve, the other tech guy on the trip, is carrying, I think we could entertain a whole preschool for several transatlantic flights.
Next is an elderly Indian woman who rivals me for nerdiness. A consultant on voice recognition systems, she frets about where her brilliant son should attend college next year. Heís choosing between the pre-med programs at Columbia and Harvard, so I unconvincingly tell her that heíll be fine either way and she shouldnít worry about it. I bullshit about our trip and my grand plans for awhile, and the conversation ends shortly after I receive a nice, unique compliment: she tells me I should work for Google.
Third flight friend is a grad student at Columbia bound for Sartreís manuscripts in Paris. I rant about how much I think technology is changing the world and she responds with philosophical frameworks and analysis thatís way over my head, but itís definitely a good conversation to have when your bodyís not quite sure what time it thinks it is and responds with energy. Our conversation ends when turbulence forces us back to our seats midway through a critique of how marketing is ruining the world and I resume my old flight habit of drooling all over myself.
One more notable person encountered on the flight: the 26-year-old seated next to Professor Gangulee. Heís en route to Chennai in southern India to pick up the wife his parents have chosen for him. He had veto power, but this still strikes me as wild when compared to my own plans of avoiding any serious commitment or responsibility for at least the next decade. Not sure which of us is crazier, but I am sure that the divorce rate hovers around 50%, with the important caveat that itís much lower for Indians. Guess itís harder to ditch the missus if your whole family is in favor of her...
So then weíre in Paris. Or, more accurately, weíre in Charles de Gaulle International Airport hell for the next 5+ hours. The problems are many and mostly my fault, so letís start with something I did right:) One of our 12 checked bags of equipment has been lost in transit. I deal with the lost baggage service shitshow, which gets us no closer to obtaining our luggage but does earn us 70 euros (like $95, damn falling dollar) when I exaggerate a sob story to the Air France department handling Air Indiaís baggage claim. The box held useful but nonessential tech supplies; I start to almost hope it doesnít show up so that we can continue earning travel funds from it to help stay within a reasonable amount of our budget.
And then things get long and chaotic. I thought our hotel provided a free shuttle to and from the airport, and Iím dead wrong: the hotelís situated at the perfect middle distance at which baggage claim tells me many cabs will refuse to take you for want of a larger fair but at which thereís no direct train or bus. So, I go to attempt car rental, Professor Gangulee waits with the bags, and Professor Fonjweng, Anahita, Amna, and Steve attempt to place the large boxes we have brought at overnight storage.
Having wrongly assumed that car rental would be as inexpensive and legal for those under 25 in France as in Spain, Germany, or even the U. S., I find myself sadly mistaken: Iím told a minivan will run north of 200 euros (~$240) for just a day.
Reality check: this story could get quite long, and details arenít that interesting. Suffice it to say that it was over 5 hours before I finished driving a mini minivan to and from the hotel, a trip each for people and luggage and much time lost getting lost. As for baggage check, I cancel the affair after learning they want 10 euros per box and have completed most of the paperwork. The lady working there is so angry that she actually kicks one of our boxes as she walks away!
Having finally obtained only slightly shoddy lodging, the rest of the day is relaxed. I pass out immediately after finally getting the last person and bags to the hotel: so much for my body not needing sleep. Intense jet lag continues through the day, but our ridiculous dinner is worth it: duck pate, escargot, and other very French dishes at a cafť near the Eiffel Tower make me forget that we skipped lunch and are considerably over budget.
Plans to wander Paris are quickly scrapped: Paris didnít warm up to match our attire. A hunt for a theater with tickets for the midnight premier of Star Wars lasts longer but, in spite of some sketchy u-turns on Champs DíElysees and attempts to plead our way into a private showing, there are no tickets to be had.
Not to judge a whole country, but the private showing makes me want to note what I feel is a difference between French culture and just about everywhere else. The showingís free and limited only to art students, meaning that some school paid thousands upon thousands of euros to book an expensive theater on a huge opening night for kids who are unlikely to ever make large alumni donations. Art for artís sake, indeed. Further, in my extremely limited experience I havenít heard of a French person who liked her job except for artists and writers. Scratch that: one of the waiters at the bar seemed quite happy, but he also seemed more than a bit tipsy.
And the night ends with me getting lost once more, barely avoiding deep sleep at the wheel. I even manage to hit a raised area of concrete where a barrier was removed (or at least thatís my excuse), but the rental car escapes with grinding noises and no visible damages. Back at the hotel an hour later than it would have been if I was more competent of a driver, but we survive. Iím confident the mishaps are ingrained, but the ďbut we surviveĒ will most likely stick around, too.