Monday, May 17, 2010

Hello Goodbye

May 16th- Hard to say goodbye to all of this.

When will saying goodbye become nothing? I spend less time at my Traverse City home than other homes these years, but still leaving TC means huge goodbyes. I am leaving for new adventures, but from the point of view of those left behind- I am not even leaving for a semester. So when does the change occur- the last time that you say goodbye and it means so much? Is it simply the first time you’re going to adopt a new home? Is it when you sign your first lease? Is it when you are living alone for the first time? Is it when you leave your college town? Is it when you are living with your significant other? Is it when you have a new different family of your own? Or is it never? Every time my mother and I say goodbye- when I finally fly back to the house I own after seeing her for a few weeks with my kids- it will have the same gravity, the same desperate goodbye-ness and holding back of tears?

My plans:

Leave Traverse city at 2:20pm May 16th. Arrive in Chicago at 2:25 their time (3:25 my time). Leave Chicago at 5:30pm their time (6:30 mine). Arrive in Paris at 8:45am their time (2:45am my time) on May 17th. After checking in with AirFrance (switching carriers from American), leave Paris at 12:05 and arrive in Florence, my destination, at 2:05pm their time (8:05am my time).

What really happened:

It all started when my flight to Paris was delayed and we didn’t leave until about 9pm Chicago time (instead of 5:30). Instead of having three hours in Paris, I arrived after my flight to Florence had already left.

I might have been able to navigate Paris’s airport in three hours- I didn’t have to go through customs, I didn’t have to worry about my bag- but now I had negative ten minutes instead of positive 180. I went scrambling off- things seemed pretty simple. I asked where to go from the man who welcomed me into the country by checking my passport. But from there I had to ask 5 more people for help (each time getting a new answer that would send me scurrying farther down the infinite terminal). I finally found myself in a line at an AirFrance office hoping to get new tickets. It was then, as I struggled to breath again, that I realized that I flew in with American Airlines and to AirFrance it would only look like I had missed the flight- it was not their responsibility. I didn’t have enough experience of flying alone when things went wrong. I was so stupid. I started hyperventilating; I almost called my mother at 7 am.

Next time I need to think before I set off with a mission. Lesson learned: Make the people who created the problem help you before you go rushing off like a heroine or hero trying to solve your own problem (especially in a huge, foreign airport). At this point, I was trying to figure out how to get to Florence if these French, AirFrance people could not help me. I had to be in Florence at 7pm. My flight was gone. I could take a train. I could go back 20 minutes and find American Airlines. I could start yelling. I finally reached the desk hoping to God that the women would speak English. But that’s the miracle: Not only did she completely help me find the ticket that American Airlines had set up for me but she, as well as every other person I asked for help, spoke fairly clear English.

That angel of a women (aren’t helpful people always that?) sent me to a bus. That bus took me to every part of the airport and after about 15 minutes finally to 2G. I would have been sooo lost. From there I checked in (helpful guide number 8), marched through security (helpful guides number 9,10, and 11). The clock says its 14:24. I board at 9:30 am my time; 15:30 their time. 15:30 my time.

I got to Firenze after passing out on the plane. I hear my first gorgeous Italian guy announce, “Que Bella” as he kisses his fingers. Love it already. But even though I arrived in Florence, not quite dead, my baggage didn’t make it. I waited in despair as the last unclaimed bags continued around and around in circles. But it sounds like the airport will bring the bag to me which is REALLY nice. I am almost late at this point- 6:40. I find a taxi; two men discussing in beautiful Italian where 'the villa' is. I stare in awe as we drive along. My driver notices my happiness and comments in Italian. And as we drive, unable to communicate, I slowly realize how childish I am- in Florence with no Italian. Coming from France with no French. Going to Spain to fake it.

I cannot believe that I am alive and here. I got through these 24 hours of traveling because of these amazing people that know the languages of the world- the stewardesses who speak to the passengers in English then French then Italian... I feel so bad for foreigners who don’t speak English and arrive in the United States, missing a flight, needing to switch airlines, being entirely lost... and staying that way. I wish I could fix America's single language-ness so a lone 19-year-old French girl does not go through any more terror in JFK than I did in Paris and Florence today. I want to learn the languages of the world too and become an example.

Hello, Firenze


  1. I assume you were at Charles de Gaulle in Paris? That airport is HUGE and a pain to navigate--I've been through it a few times. I also have a fun lost in a foreign airport story from the equally large Frankfurt Airport in Germany. Good times.

  2. ^That's Brigoe, by the way. As is this.

  3. Dear Maple,

    I feel your pain. My international flight got canceled the summer after my senior year and I got lost in the airport for 2 hours and didn't speak any Dutch. Even so, I had a wonderful time. You don't need to speak the language to enjoy the beautiful aspects of the countries that you are vising. Breathe a little and enjoy everything, because soon you'll be here speaking English again wishing you were in Spain faking it. Have fun!

  4. yes, luckily, in France, Germany, and Austria, at least, and really most of Europe, nearly everyone speaks English. Nice to know you found helpful people in Paris. Parisians have something of a disdain for tourists. Hope the actual flights were good. I was on Alitalia in 2004, and they wouldn't let us bring our CD players on the plane. Yes CD players, no one had iPods. The inflight "movie" was a looping fashion infomercial in Italian. Have fun. Jim