(6 January 2011)
At the train station in Marseille, Emmanuel, a Spanish friend, resembled some sort of hippie vagabond beneath the weight of my large beige backpack. He said it himself, with a grin: “I am a true hippie now,” and he looked the part, with his curly hair poking out beneath a Moroccan cap and a sweater made of hemp. His dog, Ita, stood beside him on the platform and they waved me off—Emmanuel with his hand, Ita with her tail—as I boarded my train to Paris. I had a flight to Boston in two days. I was going home for Christmas.
Normally, the train from Marseille to Paris takes three hours. This snowy night, I was there in 5, and it was after one in the morning by the time I stepped gingerly onto the ice and snow in front of Diogo’s building. Diogo, my Swiss-Portuguese mathematician friend from NYU, lives in an old convent that has been converted into studios for artists and scholars, a whole city block of arcades and plastered-over wooden beams filled with thinkers young and old. Diogo was kindly letting me crash in his apartment for the weekend while, ever the gentleman, he stayed with a neighbor. He greeted me with a hug and let me into the apartment, where I promptly crashed as he exited with promises of Sunday brunch.
In the morning I awoke to a winter wonderland, the likes of which I’d never experienced during my two years in Paris. The garden behind the convent was shivering with snow, and while a snow-covered Parisian garden is something I’d normally be happy to look at for hours, I greeted the sight with dread. This was not good, I thought, recalling the December of 2006 when, because of weather, I was stranded in Paris and barely made it back to America in time for Christmas Eve with my family. This white stuff had the potential to ruin my travel plans.
It was already ruining it for so many others in London. I learned this later that morning, over brunch with Diogo and close family friends of his who were visiting from Switzerland. We were seated around a bleached wooden table in the kitchen of Eliane, a French comédienne who was once very famous in the ‘70s and ‘80s and is still considered one of the foremost progenitors of French feminist comedy. Her table was laden with every delicious thing I like to fantasize about for my future unapologetically bourgeois life: flaky brioche and crusty baguette; a dozen small jars of honey and jam; a tray of yogurt of various flavors and thicknesses; a plate of cheese, steaming pots of tea and coffee, patterned teacups the size of bowls. A cup of sugar cubes, brown and white, to be lifted with a silver spoon. To my left sat two handsome Swiss men; to my right, three more. I took a moment to marvel at where I was and how I’d gotten there, then let my anxiety resume.
“So you think that I’ll have trouble getting out tomorrow?” I asked one of the handsome Swiss men beside me. “Only if you’re flying through London,” he replied. “No one there is going anywhere.”
Of course, the first leg of my trip was Paris to London, and when I awoke the next morning to the convent’s winter wonderland, touched up during the night by a new flurry of snow, I knew the prognosis wasn’t good. At Eliane’s, the internet told me my flights were canceled. The man I spoke to about rescheduling told me there wasn’t another flight available for three more days. If the snow stopped falling, that would still get me home in time for Christmas. But I’m a big baby, and the thought of missing time with family and friends, of imposing further upon Diogo’s generosity, was upsetting. I wallowed and called my daddy to whine and then wallowed some more.
I’m laughing at myself now, (or maybe it’s more of a cringe), because the extra 30 hours I spent in Paris were probably some of the best I’ve ever had there—I just didn’t know it at the time. I wallowed, but I was also treated to lunch by my new Swiss friends, saw Diogo play Fado (Portuguese guitar) at a Portuguese restaurant, finished my Christmas shopping, ate a long hearty dinner of soup and pot au feu and bread and cheese at Eliane’s, and drank beer with what is presumably the most good-looking group of European men I’ll ever encounter while they taught me nuances of the French verbs “to like,” “to like like,” and “to love.”
And thanks to a certain AAdvantage Customer, it was only a day later, rather than three, that I was able to board an airplane to Boston via Madrid, one of the lucky ones to escape the north of Europe in time for Christmas. What did I learn? That self-pity’s such a waste of time. Provided you’re surrounded by attractive people and cheese.