Joys of Old Age

When I first decided to be an anthropologist, I knew I wanted to travel. I just didn’t know I wouldn’t find much to say until I was…old.

When I undertook fieldwork as a youngster there were no cell phones. Heck, there were no phones where I was. I actually transported a portable typewriter.

Now I transport ear plugs and dental care, sunscreen and orthotics, a collapsible cane and various medications. Moisturizer and dental floss. Vitamins.

Reading glasses and bifocal contacts and special eye drops. Statins. Special earplugs for the plane after ear damage some years ago.

So it evens out. No typewriter. Two devices and a keyboard. Maybe it doesn’t even out. At least no books. Only kindle.

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Paris: ┬áCity of Love

Despite the difficulties of getting here (and of recharging devices), after just 14 hours, my doubts about coming have vanished.  It was a difficult time, the last few months.  Our beloved dog, Kealani, was very ill and we were panicked/in denial.  She died a few days before we left.  Work became not only tumultuous, but incomprehensible to everyone – which is saying a lot, since we are a college and most of us are capable of putting our thinking caps on.

Would it be worth it to go to Paris?  Again?   If I had known there’d be difficulties getting here (physical and mental), would I have come?

Yes.  

We’ve never before seen Paris as leafed out and so green, nor the Seine so many shades of blue.  At Sunset, to the west, the Seine is the color of twilight sky over the Pacific – even in places with almost no light.  Hotel de Ville (City Hall) is, on seeing it this time without the tennis tournament or the skating rink or the Tour de France…the single most amazing city hall on the planet.   The people are composed, but right now, playing guitar and laughing softly below our window.  The occasional motorcycle or moped buzzes by.  The Seine, to the east, is an even deeper blue (navy blue, has to be where they got that color name) with more lights that spill gold onto it and boats of happy revelers.  The Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette spent her last night, is no longer under renovation and gleams in the moonlight, one of the best turreted castles ever.  We know these little side streets – but we never really know them.  

This time, each little architectural detail stands out on this first day – not like our first trip, but with more familiarity.  Notre Dame is nothing less than the world’s great cathedral, but it is a monument to the human values of aspiration, of soaring, of flight, of endless beauty – not to any one god.  The saints, and especially the Mother, wait in beautiful, patient attitude for songs and prayers to soar above.  Notre Dame, tonight, without tourists, was as it should be:  the home of 12 and 13th century chants (now sung by women instead of just men and boys).  They’ve lit the interior well without candles, because that would soot it up.  It’s modern sophistication and…Gothic splendor.  The Goths are an interesting bunch (everyone says they are “German” but I see them as pan-Celtic – more about that some other time).

Notre Dame cannot be explained, described or even experienced.  In some former life, I know I loved or drew its dots, lines, tiny houses sat upon arches.  I know that only a genius, unnamed, came up with those flying buttresses.  Yes, I know Rome invented/perfected the arch, but from childhood I’ve known that the flying buttress was several steps up the ladder of engineering.  As a Californian, I sit there and look at the arched brick ceiling and know that no one here worries about earthquakes.  I know the Romans forced the Parisii to make a column (maybe just one column) but…look where it led.  To this.  To Notre Dame.  Anyone who hasn’t seen Notre Dame has missed out on some central human experience.  TOnight, with the Gregorian chants, it is clear that the music and the building soared up toether, driven by some greater spirit that unified them.  

Singers are ineffable and miraculous, today and always.

So there are the amazing balconies (and lower buildings in the neighborhood where we stay – no Haussman).  Geraniums.  Cobbled streets.  Across from my window tonight (there’s a barking dog too), is a remnant of a wll of Paris’s oldest church.  And behind it are the towers of Notre Dame, with the Merovingian graveyard in between (where some of my ancestors – and perhaps some of yours, too – it was a long time ago)  form the backbone of a simple garden.  Homeless people sleep there.  Toniht some people are singing American pop (of course).  I already picked out my homeless place (someone put great chaises in front of Hotel de Ville).  It’s about 55 degrees outside, so the Parisians are sometimes wearing coats – or shorts.  

We didn’t bring enough European converters.  This is our main problem, aside from physical effects of travel.  We don’t care about the physical effects, because we are happy here.  Our apartment is dream-decorated.  I’ll try to take pictures.  No one can do small apartments like the French.  There are inkwells, reliquaries, trompe l’oil (spelling?) and euro cabinetry.  Tiny Euro bathroom fixtures that work so well.  Touches of red, as in any well decorated Parisian apartment.  

We pass through familiar streets.  The owner of the local tavern vaguely recognizes us.  We go on a walk to a favorite restaurant – it used to seem a long way, but knowing the way, it is close by.  I have aligot.  We remark on how the Franprix has changed into a mini-mart.  Lots of changed in 18 months.  There are gas stations outside the peripherique that have mini-marts.  But the common courtesy, the easy of crossing very busy streets, the beauty of every building…that hasn’t changed.  Even the new modern buildings I used to think were ugly not mesmerize me – who would think of building a chartreuse tube builing or a wrinkled tin foil building?  (Just not anywhere near history…)

Idiots are starting to put locks on new bridges, having been banned from that other one.  There’s a big sign memorializing Charlie Hebdo right outside Jardin des Plantes.  Where it will be seen by virtually every tourist coming to Paris.  

And if you look closely, that spotlight isn’t a used car lot.  Nope.  If yuou look closely for its soure – it’s the Eifel Tower.  Com

Competing with the New Moon.  And Jupiter and Venus in the west.  Wi5th the wrought iron and the many many pocket and balcony gardens and yes, that amazing young woman in the cream coat dress with the cream designer bag and her jet black hair.

Competing with the lovers, strolling along the Seine, with the bouquinists closed up.  Men embracing men, women with women, and of course, lots of us women with men, holding hands, embracing, because Paris is for romance and doesn’t care what age you are (there are some really old romantic couples), and Paris doesn’t cre if you are of two different “races,” or the same gender/sex.  Paris doesn’t een care if you are homeless and sleeping on a grate – eeryone is respectful (even the police) and the police seem to have better things to do than harrass the homeless.

Oh, and we saw no thieves, pickpockets, etc. and there are no sirens tonight.  It’s $23 dollars to visit a doctor for any reason and the pharmacists are licensed to give out many medicines on their own.  My favorite skincare costs ┬╝ of what it does from Amazon (or less) and vitamins are virtually free.   People act as if they think other people are important and beautiful.  Old people are helped by younger ones and mothers with infants are helped by all.  Not everyone is kindly, some are aloof, but they are not rude.

Dinner for me was tuna tartare with tiny poppy seeds and sesame oil, a dash of balsamic and some fresh lettuce, and a side order of aligot (can only get here).  I couldn’t finish it.  I’m writing this on a 18th century desktop.  II got to hear Gregorian chants, some of the first music to be accurately charted in the world, sung by people who have devoted their lives to doing it right and hae amaing voices – in Notre Dame.  With a crowd of people who didn’t sneeze, cough or mess around.  

‘Nuff said.  

How not to go from LAX to Paris

So I made reservations for our usual non-stop flight on Air France, about eight months ago.  It was supposed to leave on Sunday, June 21, and we booked early enough that we got the dual seating on the upper deck of an Airbus-330.  Just two people, side by side, so no climbing over people or having people climb over you.

Air France used to be the only operator of a non-stop to CDG, but now Tahiti Nui also has one – but at the time I booked, reviews said Air Tahiti Nui often had cancellations or delays.  Ah ha.  This is now relevant.

At 7 am on the day of departure, Air France texted us that our 3:30 flight would not leave until 4:40 but having made travel arrangements, we decided we would just be early.   We, and about 550 other people, arrived at the gate around 3:00 (15:00).  At 4:30 pm no boarding had started.  Soon there was an announcement that the flight was delayed 30 minutes.  Groans from the people already standing up in the boarding queues.  Then, another announcement that it was delayed 20 minutes.  Then, an announcement that there was a mechanical problem and the delay was another hour.  A man who worked for some airline went and had a long convo with one of the two gate attendants and said they had known about a mechnical problem since early in the morning.  

At 7:00 pm they told us that unless we were cleared to take off by 8:00 they would have to cancel the flight due to restrictions on the flight crew.  We had seen the crew board at 3:30. but several of us had also seen the crew debark by an exit on the tarmack (straight to the ground level) at around 6:00.  People started talking about the likelihood of a new crew.  

By then, people with tight connections in Paris flooded the counter and many were on the phone cancelling their flights and paying a $300 per ticket rebooking fee to try and find something else.  I asked one of the attendants if the flight would be rescheduled and he said of course.  When?  The next day, of course.  

At 8:00 pm they announced they had special clearance from LAX to depart late, but that if the problem wasn’t fixed by 8:30, they would issue vouchers for hotels.  All the old people and crying children were not so cool with this.  We were exhausted.  I went again and asked when the flight would take place – in the morning?  The next afternoon?  Because, living more than 2 hours from LAX, this mattered.  People began wondering whether to go home if they lived closed.  No, there would be no taxi vouchres – even though many Angelenos were getting quotes of $80-120 to travel 35-40 miles.  It was Father’s Day evening, heavy traffic.

No water, no apologies, most people standing up in line.  Some people beginning to make beds on the floor.  

At 8:30. about 8 more gate agents arrived and went into a glassed-in, private area for a conference.  They talked for about 20 minutes, then one of them announced that the vouchers were about to be given.  When they came out, each agent took some questions – there were many different kinds of questions.  They announced that people who lived “close” should go home, but they could give no idea of how long it would be until the flight.  They gave us cards for an 800 number to call.  People were already calling the 800 number of course, reporting wait times of about an hour just to get an agent, all of them trying to rebook – but they couldn’t rebook because they were already checked in for FLight 65 and it wasn’t cancelled, only postponed.  

I asked how long it was going to take to issue the vouchers.  “Not long at all,” said a snippy gate agent.  “there are ten of us!”  This answer was repeated to many of us.  Most people lined up in front of the gate counter, but one woman said she’d been told the vouchers would be given out at the boarding kiosk.  I texted my DH this information (he was at the gate counter) and as soon as this kind oady signalled me that vouchers were being given out at the gate kiosks I texted DH and he managed to be about #30 in that line.

And that was the only line there ever was.  9 agents milled about, occasionally answering questions, 1 agent “gave vouchers.”  But there were no vouchers, they just wrote our names down and told us to go to the Sheraton.  People were losing it.  One woman had a total meltdown, asking why only 1 agent to handle 500 people.  Actually she was yelling.  It grew hard to hear further announcements, what with people yelling back and forth between two areas, not everyone understanding the English announcements, and lots of kids/babies crying.  

We were told to go to the hotel shuttle area and we were one of the first there (many had to go through baggage claim and retrieve luggage.)   I’ve never seen traffic so bad at LAX.  We could see hotel shuttles on approach – after 30 minutes they had inched forward enough that we could tell none were for the SHeraton.  We went to the taxi ranks, where the drivers refused to take us, because “there’s a free shuttle” and “it takes too long just to get out of the airport.”  Back to the hotel shuttle island.  No movement of shuttles, bigger lines.  Back to the taxi ranks, because DH had rememered that it’s illegal for a taxi to refuse a passenger.  We went to the taxi concierge, who had to threaten the taxi driver with expulsion from the airport if he didn’t take us.  We agreed to $20; the meter would later read $9 and we would be refused a receipt. 

He dropped us off at the back of the hotel, which was under construction, and we schlepped around to the lobby where we were about 15th in line.  THe Sheraton immediately got more agents to the front and the manager asked me when I thought we’d be needing shuttles back.  By then, we’d been emailed by Air France that our flight was rescheduled for 11:30 a.m., Monday morning.  Manager said Monday mornings are very busy at LAX and he’d try to get more shuttles.  We decided on an early arrival.  Air France agents had kept announcing that the counter would not open until 9:00, that we should use our current boarding passes and that we would keep our same seats.

We went directly to the restaurant and used the AF voucher for $20 to eat a quick meal and decided to get on an early shuttle.  Most people were saying they’d arrive at 8:30 or 9:00, we arrived at 7:30 and sat down until 6 other people were in line in front of a closed AF ticket counter, all of us having tried to use the self-service kiosks and been told our flight had left the day before by the computer.

By7:45, there were about 50 people in line, including a young couple who was there only because AF had misplaced one of their 4 large bags the night before.  They had rebooked on a different flight.  They had been on the 800 number until 2:00 a.m. and were in the midst of rebooking when the agent said that 2:00 a.m. was when the phones closed and abruptly hung up on them.  They dialed in at 5:00 a.m., when the lines reopened and were immediately told that AF 065 was entirely cancelled  

They urged me to dial the 800 number immediately, but I had just done that and had been told that I was checked in and that I would lose priority at rebooking  if I un–checked in and that the flight wasn’t cancelled.  

A few guys came out and made a line maze and we all got in it in an orderly way.  One of the guys said quietly to those of us near the front, “That plane is cancelled, it’s not going”   At that point, two of us whipped out our phones and dialed the 800 number.  Others asked more questions.  I got an operator in about ten minutes.  She was extremely helpful .  It took her about another 10 minutes to offer us 2 seats on a Delta flight to Detroit, from which we could catch a Delta flight to CDG.  I said yes, she held the seats for us.

DH looked up where Delta terminals were, about half a mile away, and we began run-walking.  He carried nearly all the luggage because of my back.  Delta was a freakin zoo.  I begged the operator to stay on the line until we had boarding passes.  She said to go to the self-serve kiosk (lines there too) but we were rejected.  She said to get into an agent line (people were waiting for an hour or more already).  Our flight was supposed to leave for Detroit at 9:20, it was 8:40 and still the TSA.

Delta/Air france operator did something and finally, we could get the self serve boarding passes.  Now we really ran.   TSA let us into the priority line (no taking out of 3-1-1 bag and no taking off of shoes).  But my bag got tagged for secondary inspection.  

DH ran on to the gate, but forgot his personal item.  I saw them holding it up, but I was in a holding area with my bag.  I was just about to yell to claim his bag when he came back.  Now his bag was tagged for secondary inspection because it was an “abandoned” bag.  

At 9:10 we finally raced to the gate where, fortunately, the flight was delayed due to so many Air France passengers.  Naturally, our boarding passes didn’t work and we had to go to the counter, where a very nice lady gave us the last two adjoining seats in the last row of that plane.  A bunch of other AF people behind us had to split up.

There was major weather (worst turbulence I’ve ever been in) around Detroit so of course our plane was late with tight connections to the next flight.  Delta held that one until all of us had arrived.  Delta was so informative and helpful.  We already knew before boarding the first flight how to navigate Detroit’s Terminal A and that we wouldn’t have to go through security again.  

Finally, we arrived a day late at CDG.  Dh didn’t get his special meal and we didn’t bring enough snacks that fit his diet.  My back hurts from the trotting.  We took a taxi into Paris.  It was rush hour and our driver was inept (kept getting off on off ramps and speeding to get onto an onramp and then ending up even further behind the buses and trucks he kept staying behind.  It  cost 81Eu,, the most we’ve ever paid for a taxi from CDG.But we made it to our concert at Notre Dame, for which we’d had tickets for ages (Gregorian chant, amazing).  And then we went to dinner at a favorite restaurant.  Uncrowded.  Every place has been uncrowded.  And, ah, the Seine at sunset this time of year.  Blue and silver toward the west, and the Conciergerie gleaming.   We walked past Heloise and Abelard’s house (her uncle’s house, really). no crowds at all outside well-lit Notre Dame, so could see amazing details.  

In just a few hours, we are in love again with Paris and though a bit banged up by the travel, so happy to be here.  Not a single petition girl, only a few (good) street buskers (well, most were good) and we can see Notre Dame from our apartment window.  

TTL;DR:  Do not trust Air France’s text messages.  We saw our plane being towed away as we were leaving on Delta.  If AF hadn’t pretend to reschedule (again and again), they would have had to pay refunds.  Be your own travel agent and rebook if this happens to you.  Do not use tight connections!!