There are those who tell terrible stories of missed flights, delays and airline staff that need daily injections of warmth and kindness, particularly when travel involves Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
Yet, when those wheels touch down there, I am always filled with great joy because I am about to, once again, face the challenge of viewing the world’s most visited place, even if the odds may be stacked against me. What can one possibly write about this place that has not already been written by Camus, Colette, Sartre or Rick Steves?
I love Paris and, actually, any trip to France, because it always exceeds expectations. There are always layers of French onions still to peel. No one really has the French figured out. But somehow, when we land, we realize we are in a magical place where the residents are capable of bringing simple elegance and grace to the most mundane task.
This, at least, was what I had entered in my notebook just before my Air France flight arrived two weeks ago.
All was going smoothly. My experienced French driver had my name spelled correctly on his iPad. We were five minutes early.
We would get in his car and head for my favorite Parisian hotel, the 28-room Esprit Saint Germain, on a lovely street in the Sixth (arrondissement), an area still considered the epicenter of Parisian intellectual and cultural life yet strangely devoid of tourists unless you look very carefully at the shoes of those passing by.
Walking out of the terminal, the sun was shining, and my Apple watch had adjusted to Parisian time without my direct involvement. I felt good. What could possibly go wrong?
My driver explained: “Your timing is not so good, Mr. Turen.”
An hour earlier, several groups of airport workers had announced a strike. It was a French-style strike. They were not staying home. Instead, they made a statement for higher wages by blocking off all roads leading into and out of Charles de Gaulle Airport. They would do this for much of the day on one of the busiest weekends of the year. I could not imagine that the airport’s namesake would have approved of such tactics.
My driver was aggravated; the main roads in and out of the airport were backed up for miles. He wanted to try to “break out.” Thus began my airport odyssey, driving through rarely seen back portions of the airport, near baggage claim and employee parking, going down secret roads and, once or twice, going in the wrong direction. It was a journey that was to take four hours.
No one could reach the terminals. At one point, about two miles from the airport, four or five strikers blocked the roadway while police stood in the background maintaining some sort of French law and order. Cars with desperate people pulled off to the side of the roadway, in front of the police, and mothers with young children were dropped off to trudge two miles in the hot sun, lugging heavy baggage.
“The French don’t like strikes, but they still respect them,” my driver explained.
This French thing is fascinating to me. This was probably my 20th or so trip there, but I learn things about French culture each and every time.
More about that in my next column — I do want to share my short list of what every visitor must know about the French. But for now, please excuse me. I need some sleep.