The Air France jet touches down on the runway at Charles de Gaulle. It is noon. Cold grey clouds hang ominously overhead. The plane creeps slowly to its parking spot, then we wait. And wait. The father and two girls in the seats behind me are excited about their first trip to Paris, and he is giving them utterly clueless information about what they'll do next.
"First we have to take a half-hour bus ride to the terminal," I crack snidely.
He looks startled. "Half an hour?"
"No," I reassure him. "It isn't really half an hour, it just seems like it." Already I'm muttering to myself, weary from travel, wishing that the incoming flights could use normal gangplanks. We stand in the stuffy aisles and wait 15 minutes to deplane. "Why did I come back to Paris so soon?" I'm grumbling. "Just more stuff to deal with, more quirky inefficiencies." These stupid buses. The flight itself had been pleasant, the crew friendly and apologetic for delays.
Then I step onto French soil, and the gods want to welcome me back. There is zero line at passport control; I breeze through. My suitcase arrives pronto on the conveyor belt; it's weighed down with half a dozen books, and a French guy offers to help me load it on my smartcarte. I dig in my heels and try try try to wallow in my tired grumpiness: to no avail. There is no one in front of me at the taxi stand (the luxury of a taxi being de rigueur this trip, with the excess weight of my luggage).
Chipper and smiling, the taxi driver lugs my suitcase to the coffre of his car, and he laughs when I comment about having shopped too much in the US. I slump back in the seat, not wanting to cope. "You missed a beautiful morning, madame," he offers. "Such sunlight! It was really springtime in Paris earlier today."
I smile wanly and nod off a bit as we zoom down the A1. The familiar return-trip sights pop up along the way. Novotel, Sofitel, IKEA, L'Oreal, other corporate headquarters. Then entire suburban walls covered in graffiti. I perk up somewhat as I spot my touchstone "I'm-in-France-now" building in the midst of the sleek modern corporate headquarters: an ancient three-storey tile-roofed edifice, with gables and shutters. Paris is near.
The traffic moves seamlessly from the A1 to the boulevard periphérique. It dawns on me that I haven't spoken or heard a word of French in two weeks. I hear my voice speaking in French to the driver as if in a dream. Shortly we exit the highway and cross to the place de Wagram. A rush of Haussmannian architecture. Paris!
An involuntary smile begins creeping across my face. We glide past lunchtime diners in cafés, and instantly, I crave a real meal, a plat du jour. The dome of St. Augustin has never looked so crimson and majestic. On boulevard Malesherbes students on lunch break are grouped outside the entrance to the lycée, smoking and joking. Paris!
I'm wide awake now, alert to each passing detail. Some trees have leafed out, others soon to follow. The guards at place Beauvau are directing traffic away from the Elysée. The familiar expanse of vine-clad wall on the avenue de Marigny. Then the sight of the Grand Palais makes my heart jump. Paris!
By the time we cross the Pont Alexandre III, and I see the Invalides gleaming ahead, a broad grin has plastered itself on my face. I am Dorothy who has tapped her ruby slippers and awakes to recognize Auntie Em, Hunk, and Zeke and the others surrounding her. "It's you! And you. And YOU!"