The sound of the steamer heating the milk was loud. Almost overwhelming. Yet perfect noise for the scene in which I was a background player. The setting: a café in Paris (Café du Marche des Enfants Rouges). The time: a Septembre day in the 21st Century.
The solo traveler took himself on a stroll down the rain soaked streets of Paris in search of a neighborhood café to enjoy a bit of vin rouge and fromage. The rain fell in fits and spurts from the gray clouds that hovered above the City of Lights.
It was all about atmosphere. The rain. The café. Paris. It was all about being alive in that particular moment and being aware of how happy I was. I was eating cheese, drinking wine, and (still) reading The Phantom of the Opera. It was heaven on Earth. Time didn't matter. There was no where to be; no work to be done; no appointments to keep; no agenda whatsoever. This was my time. To quote from The Goonies: "It's our time down here."
What led me to that moment in the café was something that would normally have sent me down a panic spiral, but ended up being something that I had to Be An Adult and handle. And once it was "...handled" (thank you, Olivia Pope) I was able to relax and enjoy the time still in front of me.
This morning I woke up around 8am and had an alert from Expedia that I could now check in for my flight. Departing Paris tomorrow afternoon (Sunday, 9/13 @ 2pm) en route to JFK in New York City. The check in went beautifully; smoothe. Passport number entered. Name confirmed. Flight number and time confirmed. Boarding pass sent to mobile. I was checked in. It was time to get up and get on with my final day in Paris.
I showered and dressed and took myself out into the sprinkling rain of the morning on a journey toward Père Lachaise Cemetery. As you know, a Metro snafu and a stop at Hermès deterred me long enough to miss my opportunity to walk through Père Lachaise yesterday. No regrets!! Those Hermès purchases were so worth it! So today, even though it was raining, I was determined to walk through this City of the Dead. Honestly, it was a pretty cool idea to me to walk through the cemetery under the cover of gray rain clouds. It seemed the right atmospheric setting for an eerie mood of melancholy. About halfway to the cemetery -- a near two mile walk -- I received an email from Air France followed quickly by an email from Expedia. I didn't think anything about either email. I was checked in; confirmed. The flight was scheduled to depart on time. Eventually, however, something told me to look at the email. "Following an operational problem, we regret to inform you that we were not able to accommodate you on your original flight. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience." Well, those are not the words a man wants to hear in a foreign country, so far from home, on the day before his departure back to home, while trying to enjoy his cafè crème and stay under his umbrella at the same time. I felt the panic rise. Then I realized I needed to take care of this situation. According to the email, I was already booked on another flight departing on Monday morning. Okay. So I didn't need to panic about that. And on the plus side, I was getting one more day in Paris. I continued walking toward Père Lachaise Cemetery until I realized that I would not enjoy the stroll at all until this extra day wrench that was thrown into my spinning wheel of life was taken care of completely. I immediately turned around and walked back to the hotel. Today didn't seem to be the day to commune with the dead either. I had to find out if the hotel could accommodate me for one more night. I had to notify the private car service scheduled to transfer me to the airport tomorrow morning. Changes had to be made. The largest one -- the flight -- having already been changed for me.
It turned out that the hotel could accommodate me even though it meant switching rooms for the last night. That's not really that big of a deal. So, I checked that off the list. The concierge at my hotel called my car service for me and told them of my change and ended the call with a "Merci" to them and a "You're all set" to me. Of course, I emailed the car service anyway just to give the details in writing and to have a confirmation of the change myself. I'm used to having everything in writing. It's hard to trust that it's just going to happen. Yes, I have trust issues. "Who are you to judge me?" (Yes, I'm using the Dorothy Zbornak quote a second time this week.)
New flight booked: check. One more night at the hotel reserved: check. Car service pick up day and time changed: check. An extra day in Paris: OUI!
Hence the cafè, the vin rouge, the fromage, and The Phantom.
To sit in a café in Paris and read or write is a most exhilarating experience for me. Neither seems out of place surrounded by conversations, laughter, wine and coffee consumption. And the cigarette smoke. I can't leave out the smokers. They are part of the Paris café atmosphere; the fabric of the City. Without them sitting at the café tables that line the sidewalks of the café fronts, the cafés wouldn't quit feel the same. This normal part of life in Paris would be so detested and frowned upon in New York City. I can hear the old men complaining now. How is it that the French smoke more and enjoy more wine than we Americans yet live longer? Maybe they've got it right. Eat, drink, and be merry...and work less. Enjoy life! Yes, maybe they've figured something out that we're too busy working to realize.
One of my favorite people in the world -- a former roommate, and teacher when I was in desperate need of emotional growth -- moved to Washington D. C. seven years ago. I don't think we've seen each other since. We live four hours apart and never see each other. How ridiculous is that? She saw one of my Facebook posts this week about Paris and realized I was actually currently on holiday there. She reached out with a comment on a picture I'd posted that she was traveling to Paris by speed train from Barcelona the next day. What are the odds? This beautiful, young-spirited, wise, centered, happy, spiritual woman and I got to reconnect in Paris over dinner and a bottle of wine. As we played catch up after seven years (it didn't even seem like a day we fell back into our flow so quickly) I became aware of the signage outside the window across the street. We could have been getting reacquainted in the West Village for the way the street looked. But we weren't. We were around the world, on another continent, in a bistro in Paris. Two old (don't get snarky) friends telling stories about life as it is and life as we knew it.
The day that could have been didn't end up being the day that was. The crises were averted. The rain eventually ended. Words were read, written, and spoken. Time was enjoyed, not wasted, in a café. And divine intervention brought someone back into my life at a moment when I least expected it.