Anecdotes from Paris: Dernière partie
As smoothly as our trip to Israel always seemed to go, Rachael and my flight home was another story altogether. Tuesday morning we left Tel Aviv with more than three hours to spare before our flight left – but a Hebrew/English miscommunication at the train station sent us nearly an hour in the wrong direction. By the time we figured it out (a security guard kicking us off the train at the last stop on the line) and made it back to Ben Gurion International, we had just 50 minutes to spare before our flight was scheduled to leave.
At Seatac Airport this would have been stressful but not a huge problem. The intense degrees of security in all of Israel, however, ensured that there was no possible way we could get through the numerous security checkpoints, have our bags searched, be patted down for weapons and be interrogated about our reasons for traveling to Israel, and still make our 14h30 flight. After being yelled at by airport security for arriving so late, we were informed that there was no possible way we could get on the plane and were sent to the ticketing offices of Malev Hungarian Airlines to try and change our flights home.
Malev was absolutely no help – the earliest flight they could book us wasn’t until Saturday, a full day after R and I were both supposed to be flying home to the U.S. Unable to take that flight, our only option was to buy completely new tickets, so we headed downstairs to the last-minute flight deals counter. There we found an extremely helpful young guy who informed us of what no one else had – that there was an Israeli airport (among other things) strike planned to begin the following morning. If we didn’t make it out of Tel Aviv by midnight Tuesday, we’d be stuck in Israel indefinitely.
With the help of a colleague, our last-minute flight guy found us a last-minute flight. So last minute that we only had a half hour before check-in was scheduled to close. At $450, it was a pricey unexpected expenditure, but far cheaper than any other ticket options (most running upwards of $800). The only problem remaining being that I didn’t have the money – with only 3 days left of my year in Paris I was down to the last centimes of my budget for the year, and definitely hadn’t factored in an emergency plane ticket fund. I ran upstairs to collect-call my parents for a money transfer while R got our names and passport information into the computer.
Once I’d hung up the phone, I raced back downstairs and our last-minute ticket guy finished processing my ticket. Then he took R’s card to swipe and we got some disturbing news – she didn’t have any money either, but with only 10 minutes left before check-in was to close, had no time to rouse her parents at 4h asking for a money transfer that would (because of her bank) take 5 days to process anyway. She ran back upstairs to call and get the number of her dad’s credit card as I ran to check in and tell the Lufthansa people that a second late traveler might be arriving.
By the time I made it to the gate though, having been rushed through back passages by a kind security guard, it was clear that no second traveler was arriving. What could I do? I had to board my flight, and spent the next 12 hours thinking Oh crap, I’ve left Rachael in Israel. What on earth am I going to do? on repeat. Thank goodness for wine on airplanes, eh?
I made it back to Paris at midnight and crashed immediately. R finally appeared around 4pm with wild stories of her own to tell. With no way to get money for a ticket, she’d called the only person she could think of – the Israeli film actor we’d met during our first few days in Tel Aviv. Let me just say that he is one amazing guy. After knowing R for only a few days, he forked over $450 to buy her a plane ticket to Paris (with promises of Western Union payback transfers, of course). She had another stroke of luck when the start of the strike was pushed back to 6h, to allow all travelers time to get out of the airport – her flight left at 5h45.
R and I had a lot of errands to run today, it being our last day in Paris and all. Some errands were imperative, like closing our bank accounts and canceling our Internet services, while some were of the more frivolous variety (buying the latest Harry Potter book to read on the flight home). We had a lot to accomplish, but they were all handily located in the Saint Germain/ Saint Michel area, so we were able to get a lot done in a limited amount of time.
After picking up our final grades and diplomas from Sciences Po, and before picking up a Western Union money order for Rachael at La Poste, we stopped near église Saint Germain for a pizza lunch. Since it was already nearing 15h, the dining area of our favorite student-y pizza place was closed, so we took our pizzas à emporter and found a bench to eat them on.
What we didn’t notice when we sat down was that we’d chosen a dining seat directly across from three hungry-looking homeless men drinking beers. I was about halfway into my first slice when I glanced up and saw them eyeing us. We couldn’t have picked a more awkward spot to eat. Not only were we weirded out being stared at while we enjoyed our lunches, but we felt like jerks flaunting our delicious pizzas in front of three guys who had probably gone a while since having a good meal.
We ate half of our pizzas, then carefully consolidated the rest into one box and balanced it carefully on the top of a trash can as we left. We’d considered walking over and offering it to them, but decided it might come off as somewhat insulting and demeaning – after all, they hadn’t asked us for any food or money. As we walked away, I glanced back once and saw the men already diving into our pizza.
Saying goodbye…or not
So this is it for me and Paris – my airport shuttle arrives in just under seven hours, and from that moment on, I’ll forsake all my claims on this city. I spent the day wandering around the city and the evening relaxing in R’s apartment. For whatever reason, we didn’t feel any pressure to go out and have a real “last night” in Paris, or do anything in particular “for the last time.” Over the course of a year we’ve had the chance to do most of the things we wanted to do as many times as we wanted to do them. We felt no need to do it up big, and said our goodbyes to Paris by watching Friends and eating ice cream in R’s living room. It wasn’t the most spectacular of evenings, but it was pleasant all the same.
It doesn’t matter anyway: We’ll be back.