My daughter and I flew from Dulles (near Washington) to Paris, leaving at 11:00 PM and arriving at about noon the next day. Half of that is the time difference, and half the flight time. Going through customs and immigration was a snap. Customs, both here and in France, seems to worry more about people coming into the country who are citizens than those who aren't. Makes no sense to me. Coming back, my daughter noted that where we have food places near the waiting zones, they have Hermes, Givenchy, perfume. Yeah, I noted. But try to find a water fountain!
As soon as we came through the doors from the customs area, our friend came right up to us with a big smile and did the double-cheek kiss thing. This startled me. Not that I didn't know about it, but my impression had been this was something reserved for someone you knew well. I wasn't sure about the protocol -- some things suggested that it was more a 'kiss in the air' than a kiss on the cheek; some said it was just one side, both if you knew the person well, and three (!) if you really liked them. And do they even do it with Americans? Apparently, yes. Pretty cool.
She took us through the airport (which I learned they pronounce Shar D'Gau); it's enormous (and this was just the Air France terminal). Her van was squeezed into a tiny parking spot where even the minicars that are common there would feel a bit snug. And we were off. Almost immediately, I learned that my glib plan (Oh, I'll just rent a car at the airport; the autoroute goes right to the airport!) would not have hacked it. Yes, it does go almost all the way to the airport (not the autoroute, itself, but highway, yeah). What the plan did not take into account was that the French are for the most part intense drivers. Its not exactly a road rally out there; it's not exactly not, either. You hear every so often of drivers from small towns in the midwest who get trapped in the left lane on an LA freeway, unable to get off? That'd have been me.
It's a four hour drive from Paris to where they lived. We stopped once at a roadside convenience store to pick up snacks. It was my first experience being surrounded by people who spoke French fluently. (Even at the airport, there were more people like me than like them.) It was a bit intimidating, hearing all that gutteral and rolling vowels. On the way down, I tried talking to her, piecing questions carefully. You wait long time airport for me, my daughter? There were plenty of times when she glanced at me, puzzled, and I thought Look at the road! Look at the road!
When we got to her house, I was mildly surprised to find that it looked nothing like what I thought it would, based on Google Earth. (In fact, I just looked again, and it still doesn't look like I thought it would.) Inside, it was more like what we'd consider a second home, with a moderately large kitchen, a broad hallway, a living room (large fireplace, aquarium, doors out to the yard), and a dining room. I was going to say that it was a beautiful dining room, but truthfully, it was all beautiful to me. I liked it. If a house can look friendly, theirs did. My daughter and I were pretty tired, so we lugged our baggage upstairs (she took my bag, that had to be half her size and weight, with ease), and we went to bed.
Next morning, we got up around 9. She was already up, puttering around in the kitchen, and asked if I wanted coffee. She put out a cereal-sized bowl - oh, cereal? I can handle cereal -- and poured the coffee into it. Turned out that this was how they usually had coffee in the morning. Then they pulled out a couple of loaves of (what else) French bread, a whole bunch of jelly, butter, jam, etc - and that was breakfast. Over time, they'd occasionally have cereal -- in fact, they made a point of buying a box of cereal that my daughter liked; I'm not sure it was the first time that Count Chocula was in their house, but it might have been -- but no eggs, no meats. And no croissants, either, which surprised me. I thought the French always ate those for breakfast. Or some kind of pastry, at least.
Over the next few days, we went to a different place every day or couple of days - to an abbey, for one (Not an Eglise, she reminded me, more than once; Abbey!) which fascinated me. It included what was, and still is, essentially a vo-tech school -- in fact, her husband had gone there. We also went to a medieval hospice (about a hundred people were there; not too busy, I asked, and she said no - but next month, the tourists start. How many then? She shrugged. About eight or nine hundred a day; sometimes more. Wuff.) She tutored me on the name of the region. Boor-gohne-yuh! We went to a museum dedicated entirely to the care, feeding, slaughtering, and preparing of the Charollais beef cattle -- everything from the percentage of grain a steer needs at various ages, how to keep a steer from developing the muscle that can turn into tough meat, and how to tell your butcher which part of the steer you want (he will ask what you're planning on cooking --at least, he will if you live in France!) We drove through multiple small and not-so-small towns. We went to the hypermarche for groceries -- think Super WalMart, but on steroids; I seriously expected them to have cars for sale in there. I don't buy fresh food here, she said. Prices are good but the quality isn't. I buy local. (No helpful baggers, or even bags -- we brought the food out to the van still in the cart, and transferred it into collapsible crates she kept there. ) We even went to a farm where we visited a friend of the family who'd been over for dinner -- looking at the farm, I asked (some variant of) 'how many people work here?' He laughed and pointed to himself. Yes, I said, but how many overall? He laughed again. Seulement moi! Some machinery, yeah, but mostly by hand. How many steer do you have? He pointed to a field with three steer in it, and I thought well, I guess that's not so... and then he said the other hundred or so are in the other field. Ouch.
And of course, we got to meet her daughter again. Though for not-nearly-long-enough. Still, seeing her was easily as cool as seeing Paris, and that's saying something.
Some not-so-good did happen. We walked around the outside of the Louvre. Mid day, way hot sun: most guys without hats. Me, I started to get a little dizzy. Couldn't figure out how to flag down a taxi. Took the train back to the hotel.(Through the Paris Metro, by myself. Amazing that I'm not still there.) Along the way, my wallet was stolen. And returned, slightly lighter. Also, I, a notoriously pickly eater, did have some problems with the food - though in restaurants, not at home. (The wife of our hosts is a good cook, I think.) Perhaps most distressing, some pictures that I really wanted, from when we were saying goodbye to her daughter, didn't come out. Overexposed. Rats. I really wanted those pictures!
But that's about it. The rest of the trip was a delight.
Knowing the good and the bad, would I go again?
No doubt about it.