October 7th, 2010 || Paris, France.
We’re standing at the information desk in Paris Beuvais Airport, equipped with only the basic French phrases: "parlez-vous anglais?" and "merci beaucoup." The attendant directs us to take the escalator downstairs and keep passed baggage claim to the bus stop. We are lost. I tell Raquelle that, once I got lost in Sesame Street Park and Mom always told me if I ever get lost I find someone with a nametag and ask them where the lost and found is; Raquelle and I stop Luna, a young woman with a P.B.A. nametag pinned to her shirt and ask her if she speaks English. She says, “No, better Spanish.” We ask her how to get to the bus stop. We find the bus that takes us to the bus that takes us to the metro station.
Raquelle and I are meandering through crowds at the metro-station. We push through Parisians to street level and find the bus stop. Actually, there are six bus-stops, all planted around a roundabout. We pick one. We stand there until the bus comes and the bus comes and we get on. The bus-driver says, “No, no,” and we get off. We go to the next platform, and look around. We both tie another scarf around our neck and make drowsy conversation. We’re excited to see our college roommate, Meg. A Parisian sits, legs and arms crossed, on the bench behind us. Behind her hangs a yellow poster with criss-crossed roads and highlighted public transportation routes. A lavender bandanna hugs her skull. She is all skin, bones and wrinkles. She flicks her wrist and wills her cigarette to her lips and lets it rest there, “Oh, Americansss, so? Englishhh,” she hisses. She cackles like she knows a secret. Raquelle and I exchange eyes; hers’ say that she’s about to laugh. The bus comes; we get on; another bus driver says, “No, no.” We get off, puzzled. The French woman lights another cigarette. She coughs and her cough turns into a laugh and she saunters onto the bus, hissing, “Americanss.”
At the train station, we are the objects of the TGV staff's unmasked laughter. They say that we cannot claim our tickets because we are not the cardholders that purchased our tickets. Meg, in Cannes, where we want to be, purchased them. Raquelle is getting angry because the customer service representative keeps palming the microphone—so that we can’t hear her talking to her pointy-nosed coworker—like we can’t see them giggling through the glass.
We’re getting pastries at a bakery in the TGV station. Raquelle gets a chocolate croissant, I settle on a French Onion Quiche which is warm and cheesy and crunchy all at the same time. We eat next to the window in the café; outside, the sky is gray. The room is mahogany and beige and warm. When we are done, I go back to the pastry case—with macaroons and fresh baguettes—and order a Nutella and strawberry croissant.
Raquelle and I find our seats and store our bags in the overhead bins. We peel off our shoes, pull off our scarves, and plug headphones into our ears. As she reclines her chair, Raquelle sighs a comfortable sigh, “Ahh—the silver lining.” I nod, “Mhm,” then add, “No worries.” Raquelle repeats the mantra and closes her eyes.
A confused passenger taps me on the shoulder and I remove an ear-bud. He speaks in French. “Uhhhm,” I say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.” He points to his ticket and then points to me. His palm is face-up in front of me. He wants something. Raquelle says, “Oh, our tickets?” We give him our tickets. He holds them side by side, nods his head in confirmation and holds a single finger up. One, like first class, like the man is wondering why, exactly, we're sitting in his first-class seat when we purchased the second-rate, economy class accommodation. The train jaunts into motion. Our seats are eight cars behind us.
Five hours later, we’re in Cannes. We throw our bags over our shoulders and teeter off the train. The air is cold but feels lighter than it did on my skin this afternoon. We are five steps up the escalator when I spot Meg’s face; the crowd falls to background noise and weaves around us like ants with agendas. Meg shrieks and I shriek and Raquelle shrieks. We twine our arms into a huddle and say nothing. Someone’s nose is sniffling.