Paris and the South of France Tour

Day 19 Tuesday May 19, 2009
Paris - Detroit - Home

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The most impressive part of the Hilton’s breakfast bar was in the refrigerator.

At some point during the night the noise of the television woke me up. Sue was asleep with the remote in her hand. I took it from her, turned off the set, and went back to sleep.

I awoke again about four o'clock, and this time I tossed and turned but could not get back to sleep. I finally groped my way out of bed about six. Sue had moved our little computer so that she could use the electrical outlet for her CPAP machine, but I found the PC without any difficulty.

The cereal bar and one of the computers in the Executive Lounge.

I logged on to the Internet. The only interesting e-mail was from Nancy. She sent the group pictures in jpg format. That was nice; it will save me a little time.

I hereby nominate Nancy as the MVTM (most valuable tour member). It seemed obvious to me that she must have been secretly employing white witchcraft to enable us to defy the weather forecasts and dodge the storms. Patrick’s contention that Diane’s umbrella had anything to do with our good fortune was just superstitious folderol.

For her tenth trip she should work on a sniffles potion.

Whoops. My only two remaining clean socks did not match. Oh, well; they were both white, and I doubted that anyone would check the stitching that closely anyway. The French security officers at the Paris airport probably would allow me to keep my shoes on, and I was uncertain whether we would need to pass through security again in Detroit.

Two thumbs up for the Hilton breakfast.

The good news was that I had located a clean pair of underwear. It would be very embarrassing to be found dead in the debris of an airplane crash[1] in a pair of tighty whiteys that I had already worn.

After I worked on the journal for a while, I plugged the computer back into the splitter on the surge protector, which at the time was already connected to Sue's CPAP machine. A few minutes later I downloaded photos from my camera. At some point the surge protector overheated, which caused Sue's CPAP machine to stop. Whoops again. I am happy to report that she did not suffocate. It was time to get up anyway.

The airport was visible through the window of the Executive Lounge.

Sue accused me of using her washcloth. If this allegation were true, then I must have left mine behind in Turin. Nope; Sue found the second washcloth on the side of her bed. Some things were destined to remain mysteries.

The breakfast in the Executive Lounge was free and pretty good. It included scrambled eggs (almost fully cooked) and (veal?) sausage, cereal, fruit, ham and some other meat, only slightly stale bread, two varieties of red juice (Sue said that one was grapefruit; I must have had the other), brewed coffee (but no decaf), and a mysterious coffee machine. Sue tried to get a cappuccino from the machine, but it was mostly milk. Maybe the French think that “cappuccino” is the Italian word for hot milk.

I wonder if anyone has studied how often phones next to toilets in hotel rooms are actually used.

Sue's backpack came apart again. I offered to help her with it, but she preferred to do it herself. I sincerely hoped that we would never need to deal with that thing on another trip.

I read on the Washington Post website that the credit card companies were threatening to try to get more money from their prompt-paying customers. I hope that this is just bluster to try to get Congress to back off of their attempt to crack down on their usurious practices. If not, they will probably lose at least one good customer.

CDG was busy with planes to and from everywhere.

I used up fifty-eight of the sixty minutes of Internet access that I had purchased. I doubted that they would be receptive to a request for a refund of .40€.

Sue had said that she had not unpacked, so she would be able to leave quickly. While I was working on the journal, I looked over to the bed and saw that her suitcase was empty, and everything was laid out on the bed. She explained that she forgot that she had to repack for a day in which she would have no access to the luggage that we would check. As it was, it took her the better part of an hour to repack. No big deal. We were not in a hurry.

We waited for the van in the lobby with our luggage.

We checked out of the hotel. We were allowed me to use 50€ of cash to reduce the bill for the Internet and for supper on Monday evening. I complained about the shower. The lady at the desk asked me if I had reported it. I explained that we were only there for one night, so it made little sense to report it. I did, however, expound on the subject on the quality assurance card that I found in the room. I also mentioned the price of the meal and the Internet access. I harbored no illusions that anyone would pay the slightest attention to it, but it did allow me to vent a little.

The van for the airport came at about 11:40. The driver asked us which terminal our flight departed from. We confidently said “ Number 2,” since that is where all of the Air France flights were. So did the other couple that joined us in the van. He then asked us whether we were in A, B, C, D, or what. The other couple said “2F.” We had no idea. He asked us our destination. When we said “Detroit,” he said that he thought that our flight departed from 2E, and that was where he let us off. When we saw how far apart the terminals were, we had to hope that he was right.

Terminal 2E was the correct answer.

He was, but it was not easy for us to get in. He dropped us off at door #5 (that's door #5 for section E of terminal #2), which was exclusively an electronic revolving door with some kind of sensor. I spent a few minutes impersonating Inspector Clousseau trying to get the door to work. I concluded that I was not intelligent enough to defeat it. So, we scurried over to door #4 and took advantage of the opening on the left that allowed one to circumvent the revolving part.

We were greatly relieved to find our flight on the big electronic board, which was located near check-in area four. It was scheduled to leave from gate #E33. Air France had a separate check-in location for business class. We had to walk down to check-in area eight or nine for business class. Why Air France used separate check-in areas for business class was anyone's guess. Because there was no line at those counters, the process was completely painless.

We managed to complete our vacation with only the grey duffel bag full of additional stuff. My total purchases were limited to three books, which were more than offset by what I had left behind in Chinon and the empty can of shaving cream that I had recently jettisoned.[2]

The upstairs food court was served by two undersized European elevators.

Security was trivial. I went right through, but Sue got wanded, probably because of the zipper on her jacket. She then had to find a place to put her shoes back on. She evidently took them off because the person in front of her did. It wasn't necessary; Europeans did not seem to share the foot fetish of the TSA personnel. There were no chairs near the security station, so we had to walk down towards the food court. I tried to photograph her walking barefoot through the airport, but she went behind a pole just as the shutter snapped.

4.95€ of Diet Coke. Can you believe that whoever was at the next table had paid that much and then not finished it?

Once we sat down, we conjured up ways to spend our few remaining euros. I bought a Coca Cola Light at a small establishment named Miyou that specialized in Japanese fast food. It was the only food vendor that was open on the ground floor. I had to pay an incredible 4.95€ for a bottle that held only 33 centiliters. I ordinarily paid about $1 for two liters (I always buy what is on sale, and I check quite a few places for the lowest price), and the euro was worth approximately $1.36 at the time. So this was 40.392 times as expensive what I was accustomed to paying, and even my usual price was certainly marked up at least 100%.

Why so expensive? It was not because my choice was an exotic colonial beverage; bottled water cost 4.85€ for 33 centiliters. It wasn't for the service either; it was self-serve.

The beverage was reasonably cold, but it was not nearly as frigid as I ordinarily drink it.

Our departure gate.

I had to wonder if I could have obtained the equivalent for less if I would have taken the elevator up to the first floor of the food court. That brings up the subject of elevators in Europe. Why were they so small? I had thought that the explanation must lie in the paucity of available land. That is, the cost of real estate was so high that it was not reasonable to devote much space to elevators. However, in this case little or nothing would have been lost by building the elevators, which held four medium-sized people, a little larger. There was plenty of unused space on the sides of the cars in the elevator structures, and building bigger structures would not have displaced anything important. I supposed that it probably would have consumed more electricity, and there was little chance of serious complaints from people who were used to being crammed into such small spaces.

Wireless Internet service in the airport cost 6€ for half an hour, essentially the same as what the hotel gouged me for. I passed.

The jetways to our plane.

Sue bought some CD's and a CD holder in the Virgin store. Her primary objective was just to use up her euros.

We walked down to gate E33 and almost immediately boarded our flight. The airplane was surprisingly empty. Business class was divided into two compartments. Ours held eighteen seats, but fourteen of them were empty. The other compartment, which was toward the front, was a little more crowded; one woman eventually moved back from the front section into our section.

A bit of the bubbly to relax us.

We were assigned bulkhead seats at the ticket counter. I neglected to ask for anything else. A bulkhead seat usually annoys me, because there is no seat in front of it under which to put one's stuff. In addition, the overhead area near the bulkheads is often full of equipment. I have been on flights in which there was nowhere to stow my briefcase at all. In business class, however, it was a completely different story. There was plenty of overhead space for stowing during takeoff and landing, and during the flight you could put your stuff wherever you want. Of course, we could have changed seats if we had wanted to. The seats behind us were both unoccupied.

What would we have done without these?

Before we left the gate, the flight attendant brought us complimentary champagne and tiny cheese-filled crepes. Whatever remained of the inevitable tension of making travel connections was immediately palliated.

Our section was almost empty!

It is hard to say which meal was served, lunch or supper. We left at 1:50 Paris time and arrived at 4:20 Detroit time. Whatever it was, it was terrific. I started with scotch as an aperitif. This was twelve-year-old Glenlivet, and it went down smooth. Sue, for the first time in the thirty-seven years that I have known her, ordered cognac. She sipped it slowly enough that it served as both an aperitif and a digestive. Then we both had a “starter” of foie gras with green and white asparagus and tomatoes. We both chose the Beef Bourguignon as the main course. It was served in a dish with carrots and mashed potatoes that Sue deduced had been seasoned with cumin. They also provided the same three cheeses that we had eaten on the first flight, and everything was absolutely delicious. Both of us drank a glass of strong burgundy with dinner. I selected the lemon-meringue sweetbread as the dessert. It was also excellent. Sue had sorbet and cookies.

The meal was even better than the one on the first flight.

We started with foie gras.

There were other choices. They also offered scallop timbale with artichoke and sumac vinaigrette, baby spinach, and lemon as a starter and two other main courses: breast of duck with sage sauce, carrot and watercress purée, wilted spinach in cream sauce or sautéed shrimp with sesame oil complemented by honey ginger sauce, ratatouille, and sautéed Chinese noodles. That last one sounded intriguing, but I doubt that it could have surpassed the Beef Bourguignon. The other desserts were chocolate macaroon with Fleur de Sel sea salt and a choice of fresh fruit.

Sue had nothing but good to declare about the meal.

The Beef Bourguignon was exceptionally good.

I took a nap for an hour or so after the meal. Sue contentedly watched the videos that she had shot during the trip and downloaded to the computer. After I woke up, I read quite a bit from my book on the Albigensian Crusade. The subject was as convoluted as other areas of medieval politics with which I was familiar, but I found it absolutely fascinating. At one point, Peter II of Aragon, who was the Church's champion against the Saracens in Spain and whose epithet was “the Catholic,”actively fought against the crusading army in Languedoc. At no point in the sixteen-year history of the crusade did any of the Cathars take up arms. The crusade was nominally against heresy, but the people who fought on both sides were by any measure devout Christians.

Sorbet and cookies.

A little after three p.m. Eastern time they brought us some weird snacks. There was a little bowl of stuff that definitely included white currants. I am not sure what the rest was. There was a roll of something and a shallow spoon that was filled with something pasty. I had orange juice, and Sue had apple juice. Sue asked for coffee at the end. I wished that I had. An unpleasant taste was left in my mouth.

Lemon meringue sweetbread.

Sue watched Burn After Reading on the little screen that was embedded in the console of her seat. She watched all of the movie except the ending. They cut off the transmission in preparation for landing.

Back in the U.S.

We set down in Detrot a few minutes late. The immigration check was trivial. Ours were some of the first bags on the belt. In fact, we were the very first people to clear customs. The guy asked us if we had any food, tobacco, or alcohol. When we said “No,” he just said, “Welcome home.” This was a tremendous improvement over the ordeals that we had endured in 2005 and 2007. Maybe someone had told these people to lighten up.

One last snack on the plane.

After we went through security again,[3] we looked on the departures board and discovered that there was a flight departing for Hartford at 5:29. It was about 5 p.m. at the time. We hurried to gate A74, and got there a little after 5:15. The lady said that we could get on the plane, but it would cost us $50 each, and we would have to fly coach even though we had first class tickets on the later flight. This did not impress me as a good deal.

I found some empty seats near an electrical outlet. Since the computer's battery was down to 14 percent, this was pretty important. Sue also plugged in the cellular telephone that she had been carrying around western Europe for three weeks.

I then made a bee-line for the Taco Bell. I was dying to wrap my hands around a Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi. Ah, yes. This was more like it: As much ice as you wanted; $1.90 with tax; unlimited refills. What a country! I decided not to pay for Wi-fi in the Detroit airport. It would have cost $9.95 for unlimited access.

Sue made a few calls on her cell phome to let people know that we were back in the country.

At about 7:30 I went to Charlie's and bought a Philly Cheesesteak with fries. A vegan could have consumed my sandwich without incurring much dissonance. I also got my second refill at Taco Bell.

Let's hear it for American restrooms. It sure was nice to dry my hands with paper towels again. I never discovered what the French had against them.

At 7:50 Sue took off to look for something to eat. We had already eaten quite a few meals, but one must remember that this was a thirty-hour day for us.

As I sat in the DTW terminal, I could not keep one thought out of my head: The impression that Americans leave is that they are a lot like their motorcycles: fat, loud, and ugly. Maybe I would change my mind if I actually lived on the continent, but I found Europeans to be, in general, much more pleasant to be around. I actually felt a little out of place in the country in which I have lived for six decades.

I also could not get over the presence of so many members of the military. Where did this militaristic streak come from? It was certainly a product of the twenty-first century, and it did not seem to bother others as much as it bothered me.

The plane ride to Hartford was uneventful; I slept most of the way in the comfortable first class seat. After we landed, we undertook the long familiar walk to baggage claim. It was quite a relief when all three bags showed up. Sue called her sister Karen to see if she was on her way. She was, but it would take her a few minutes to reach the airport. We waited for her at the passenger pickup area. The weather was cool, but not uncomfortable.

Karen drove us home. Sue and I were thinking about the same thing: the cats. Franklin was on the couch when we came in. He immediately ran away, but we could tell that he was all right. I moved the cats’ food dish back into the bedroom. Giacomo came upstairs a few minutes later. He was very confused by our presence and the food’s absence. I insisted that he was affectionate; I never claimed that he was smart.



Analogy question: Giacomo is to Franklin as



For the answer click here.

An anteater is to:

[1]  An Air France jet crashed into the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil on June 1, 2009. There was no report of fashion embarrassment; most of the corpses wore little or no clothing.

[2]  When I wrote this I omitted my loss of the France guidebook. Perhaps I have an undiscovered talent as a clairvoyant.

[3]  No one made an issue of my mismatched socks.