The Charles de Gaulle Airport is a chaotic conundrum that holds steadfastly to its belief that at worst stooping to install signage is unpatriotic and at the very least insulting to the French notion that if you don’t already know what’s going on it is your problem. I am sure Monsieur de Gaulle is happy to be safely in his grave rather than witness the devolution of the Gallic love of rules into a real-life version of Waiting for Godot, where at some point someone might show up at the airport check-in counter or maybe not. But at least in the meantime you get to wallow in existential angst.
But that was on the way home. When we landed in Paris we breezed through passport control as if we were the Kardashian entourage, which begs the question of why we get interrogated so closely when trying to get back onto our own sovereign ground (but I digress). Anyhow, we were soon in our chauffeured Mercedes sedan, snailing through Paris rush hour traffic, which is pretty much a 24/7 thing like any other modern metropolis.
Both the fancy cars and the stop and go (but mostly stop) traffic are a boon to the Syrian refugees literally camped out on the narrow verges at the side of the highway. Women garbed in hijabs and abayas saunter between the cars, holding placards in Arabic and French and the apparently universal appeal of ‘SOS’, asking for money to feed the families housed in spanking new domed tents that would not be out of place staked in a field of wildflowers by a stream full of trout. But clearly there are neither fishes nor loaves here.
Once we got to Paris proper, refugee signage gave way to Hermes, Vuitton, and Chanel. As it should be. Our hotel in the Opera district was perfect example of the difference between Europe and North America. Instead of a vast expanse of conspicuously-wasted-chandeliered-space, there was a compact check-in counter, a small café and a real staircase you could take up to the room instead of the same-day service elevator that could fit one person and a suitcase in a pinch. But don’t get me wrong. That staircase was a sweeping, carpeted number without a hint of concrete or ‘fire alarmed’ exit doors.
And of course, there was food. One of the best things we had was the baguette sandwiches I picked up around the corner while we were waiting for our hotel room. Perhaps because the confluence of searing eyeballs of jetlag and the time-zone vortex of many missed meals could turn anything resembling food into haute cuisine. Much later in the day, we ventured out into the ‘hood to find something more like dinner.
Turns out, local cafes close their kitchens after 6, so instead of moules-frites we had to make do with a local cheese plate, pate, more exquisite baguette, and a carafe of house wine for less than 30 euros. Quelle dommage, indeed.