From Paris - 'Snowed In?', 'Snowed Up?'

Yesterday was a day we had been waiting for... Swee’ Pea was coming home for Christmas, directly from LA.

When we woke up on Sunday morning, snow had been falling all night long - crazy isn’t it? Snow for Christmas in Paris, Brittany, Brussels. (And in other parts of Europe, so we heard but we were feeling a little bit selfish then and there.)

Swee’ Pea was scheduled to land in Roissy (the BIG international Paris/France airport, northwest of Paris) around noon.

Since the Paris area had already known dreadful snow problems two weeks ago, we figured that this time, our so  incompetent Meteorological Office had sent warnings to whoever was in charge of traffic (both road and air) and that everything would be allright, for a change.

Driving through Paris was very hard around ten and it was still very bad around noon when we left to pick up our dear son in Roissy.

The freeway had been cleared of snow but it still was quite slippery.

When we got to Roissy, we were feeling so elated that we kind of became very stupid. We should have noticed that there were no planes in the sky at all. We did not. The only planes we could see were covered with snow and they looked terribly stranded.

The airport was filled with thousands of people. This was supposed to be a departure day for Christmas holidays... We went to the arrival gate where hundreds of people were waiting, some of them looking awfully tired and worried.

We were not worried because you see, we have iPhones and the ‘Flight Track’ app.

At the arrival gate, the noon flight from LA was already posted on the board. 12:02. And then nothing else.

We checked our ‘Flight Track’. The plane was said to have landed in Roissy at 12:02. (Good.) The weird thing being that it supposedly was still up there, flying. (Not so good.)

Previous flights were shown as ‘Landed’ so we thought that there had been some computer bug.

It was quite impossible to ask any question to an Air France clerk. There was only one at the desk and about 200 people standing in line with the same idea: trying to know what was going on.

I sat down while Popeye was walking around. It had been quite hard to find a seat. But Popeye found one. This man is precious. Next to me, there was a young man, looking truly bereaved. No suitcases, no bags.

I realized that almost no one was coming out from the arrival gate. Roissy at this time of the year being an extremely busy airport, weird, very weird.

Then two guys came up to the boy sitting next to me.

‘Do you want something to eat?’

‘No. I’m so f-g tired, man.’

American travelers obviously lost in the airport. But since when?

We kept waiting and waiting. No announcement made whatever. Except that they were closing the boarding checkpoints for the day. So weird. Because by then, snow had stopped falling.

It was 1:30 p.m.

Still waiting for information.

Then a miracle happened. People with hand luggage came out, looking exhausted. And then people with no luggage at all...

I overheard a woman calling her husband. (Wow, those cellphones are great, after all.) She had been coming out with no luggage and two teenagers wearing sneakers. She was asking her husband to come and pick them up at the station (?) since their luggage had not been delivered and wouldn’t be until a couple of days. ‘They were very cold and with no shoes fit to walk in the snow’, she added.

I asked where she was coming from.

‘New York.’

They had landed at 9:30, right on schedule but they had stayed in the plane ever since until their pilot was allowed to taxi along the runway... four hours later.

I don’t think it was really funny but there had been no snow in New York when they left.

Then my cellphone started ringing. Swee’ Pea’s picture on the screen. Great!

‘Hello, where are you?’

‘In Marseille. We were running out of gas so the pilot decided not to wait any longer circling above Roissy. We are supposed to fly back to Paris in the afternoon.’

Marseille is by the Mediterranean Sea, about 500 miles from Paris.

Great. Then he hung up after telling me that he’d call again as soon there would be some news about their departure from Marseille.

We then left Roissy because we knew that many hours would go by before his plane would make it back to Paris.

As soon as we were back on the freeway, it started to rain. A stormy kind of rain. And no black ice. The temperature was going up like crazy.

It was -1°C when we left Roissy. When we arrived in Paris, it was up to 6°C. Crazy. The snow was melting so fast it was incredible.

We started waiting for some news, hoping that air traffic would resume.

3:30 p.m. A new phone call from Swee’ Pea.

‘We’re still in Marseille. They are letting some people out but without their luggage. Those who live nearby or who can catch another flight from Marseille to wherever they are going to, South of France or Africa. We’ll probably be leaving in a couple of hours.’

4:30 p.m. (It does sound like ’24’, I know.)

‘We are leaving the plane. It will fly back to Paris at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.
Is there any way you could get me a train ticket for tonight? I want to come home so badly.’

In France, we have TGV (high-speed train). 3 hours from Marseille to Paris. Yes, I know, quite incredible! Planes grounded and trains still running (almost on time).

We booked a seat on the 18:35 TGV from Marseille. Swee’ Pea called us when he was aboard. He’d be in Paris at 9:31 p.m. I love train schedules - so accurate!

We resumed our long wait. But what’s 3 hours compared to one whole day. We were going to pick him up at Gare de Lyon (the Paris station where all trains from Southern France arrive).

By then, we were feeling very sorry for Swee’ Pea who had left his apartment almost 24 hours ago. (He had made a point to book a direct and expensive flight from LA to Paris since last year, he had had so many problems in Chicago due to heavy snow falls. Good for you, Swee’Pea.)

We made sure to get to the station well ahead of schedule. But there was no snow left in Paris. It was kind of warm and very windy, totally contradicting the Meteorological Office, once again.

When we got to the station, all the trains from Southern France were delayed. (Long delay too.)

So we waited and waited, trying to find a warm spot in the station. Train stations are so scoured by drafts. 6°C are allright when you are in a warm car. Quite a different feeling when you are waiting on a platform (the waiting rooms being used as a place of refuge for homeless people) plus the North wind factor.

10:02 p.m.

The train finally came in.

We spotted Swee’ Pea at the same time (the platform was quite dark). Our third eye, I’m sure. Parental instinct.

He was smiling. And he did look dead-beat.

‘I’m so happy to see you. By the way, do you happen to have an extra pair of gloves, please?’

Popeye very gracefully took his off and gave them to his son.

Fatherly love.

I felt a little bit disappointed my gloves wouldn’t fit.

Next winter, I’ll make sure to get XL gloves. Just in case Swee’ Pea feels like flying from LA to Paris for Christmas.

You won’t believe it but it was a good thing he decided to leave Marseille by train. This morning, his plane is still stranded there and will be for a long time.

Snow has been falling over the Paris area since 5:00 a.m. contradicting, etc. Very heavy snow too.

Whoever wrote ‘Let It Snow, Let It Snow’ was having a very romantic view of life, sitting on a cosy armchair, by a warm fireplace. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Wikipedia says that the song was written in July 1945, in Hollywood, during one of the hottest summer day ever.

Go back to California, Swee’ Pea!

This morning, while discovering the thick coat of snow in the gardens behind his building, we heard a sigh.

‘This snow is amazing. I had totally forgotten what it looked like.’

I wish I had.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


A bad IHC (I Hate Christmas) crisis

My many distressing symptoms have finally been diagnosed as a bad bout of SAD.

Good. No cancer this time. Simply SAD. SAD as in SADness... Almost.

You see, it is Christmas time... I hate Christmas.

I did not always hate Christmas. I even have very good and cherished memories of Past Christmases.

Some dating back to the time when I was living in Canada and the States and we’d go carolling to resthomes and we’d bring food to families who were badly off. There was such a very warm Christmassy feeling of sharing.

There also were Christmases with a young child, then Christmases with a much older child and friends whose life was lonely and forlorn. Great Christmases filled with love.

I just read a blog about Christmas written by someone I love. It was filled with melancholy. Just like a mirror to my feelings. Except that the writer did not go as far as saying that she hates Christmas because she does not. And good for her!

I hate Christmas.

You see, I’ve been travelling back and forth from Brussels to Paris. Big cities are harsh places to be at Christmas time. You’d think that lights and Christmas trees sagging beneath golden decorations would fill anyone with joy and happiness.

They don’t. At least not me.

Every time those lights are on, I start feeling worse.

The lights are beautiful but where is the feeling of ‘Christmas’ in cities like Paris and Brussels? The lights are sparkling and they conceal what is so evident during daytime. The homeless shivering below the subway underpass, the jobless who is getting more and more desperate, the lonely old woman on the third floor of the building, the neglected children next door.

At Christmas, we want lights and rich food and merriment and GIFTS.

There is this festive atmosphere everywhere. Festive? Shopping-friendly atmosphere, let’s say. The stores are crowded. People buying and buying. Ok, buying helps the economy. It may even create jobs (temp).

But isn’t it wrong though when people ask: ‘What do you want for Christmas?’

‘What do I want for Christmas?’ Well, a lot of things, but not necessarily for Christmas. A lot of things, but not necessarily material. And maybe not those many things after all.

A friend of mine with whom I share cancer (and now recovery on its way) wrote a very interesting thing the other day. People, she said, have so many/too many wishes whereas sick people have only one: Life.

She is so right.

Do I really hate Christmas? All right, maybe not this much after all.

Life is life and seasons are seasons. So rejoice, people.

It’s Christmas. Our nights are already shorter and the days are getting longer. We are on our way to Spring! That’s it!

Would I love Christmas if I was living in the Southern Hemisphere?

Merry Christmas to all of you!

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


Our sweet French Corner in Belgium or all about the renewal of our I.D. card

Last week, we received a note asking us to renew our registration to the French Consulate expat list.

Our consular I.D. card is still good until the end of 2012 (election year in France). But going through our I.D. cards (the Belgian residence permit, the Consular I.D. card and the French I.D. card), we realized that we no longer had a valid French I.D. card (since March).

In France, the I.D. card is the only valid identification... And you have to carry it with you all the time, just in case.

And it’s no use to try to show your (valid) passport nor your (lifelong) driving licence either. I know. I’ve been through a couple of identity checks.

Since we had to go to the Consulate to renew our registration, we decided it would be a good idea to renew our I.D. cards as well.

I googled the French Consulate website to make sure we’d have the right  papers and pictures with us because they make you wait an awful long time and Popeye is a very busy man.

I found some old I.D. pictures for Popeye (who hasn’t aged too much, I have to admit). But I was smiling on mine. This is strictly forbidden now. I have a hard time to understand why but it is not good at all to start thinking when dealing with the public services.

I went to the nearest camera store to get my picture taken. Since I haven’t been feeling too good lately, I do look awfully tired. I knew I was not supposed to wear make-up. I thought I’d look a little bit better if I wore a red scarf over my shoulders with matching earrings (not showy but red).

Popeye got home around noon and off we went to the French Consulate in Brussels.

Getting into the building is hard enough (worse than airports, just imagine) but once you are inside, you think that nothing worse can happen.

Wrong. There was a lady at the ‘welcome’ desk. She took one look at me and I understood right away that I was in trouble. Funny how many (fake) blond and oldish women are disturbed by grey short hair.

She took one look at my ID pictures, shook her head in complete disbelief. You see, she didn’t like my earrings. So she gave the pictures back to me. I couldn’t help but say: ‘I’m not wearing an Islamic headscarf, am I?’. Bad move.

Popeye looked at me, looking real mad! Oh, oh! Then he gave her his pictures. Not the legal size, thank you. Ah, ah, ah. Maybe he should have been wearing a tie. (I kept my mouth shut but no one can prevent me from thinking.)

We left. And then I heard something like: ‘I hate it so much when French people act stupidly when they are in a foreign country! And this is what you just did in front of the clerk. She was doing her job after all.’

Foreign country? We were in the French Consulate, for goodness sake, i.e. we were in France! And I had been polite even if a little bit sarcastic. Men are so different from women. Bad day anyway.

We went back to the picture store. No earrings. No scarf on my shoulders. Still no tie for Popeye.

And yesterday, we went back to the Consulate with pictures, our old I.D. cards, without forgetting all the papers mentioned on the consular website.

Popeye almost had to get his clothes off before being allowed to get in. I was already inside... (I had learnt the tricks the day before but as I said, men are different from women.)

And then my good friend, the charming blong clerk, started sniggering: ‘Some people do love to get undressed, don’t they?’

‘I imagine you are not aware you are talking about my husband, are you?’

My turn. Fair backlash.

She turned very red. But when we showed her our pictures, she inspected them very carefully. I guess her job is really boring. Alas, the pictures were obviously totally in line with the instructions.

We then went to the waiting room and we waited and waited until our number was called.

We met with another clerk. She was a quite nice young lady. We started renewing our registration. Just imagine, we had been summoned because the first time we were there in 1998, they had forgotten to ask us about our height and our eyes color.

The eye color stuff really bothers Popeye a lot. You see, when it’s sunny, his eyes are green. When it’s getting dark, they turn to brown.

The cat had got my tongue. I had learnt my lesson. I did not ask the clerk whether or not it would be possible for him to have two consular I.D. cards - one for the day, one for the night. But it did go through my mind.

‘Dear Franz Kafka, I’m writing this letter to you to let you know that bureaucracy has changed since you wrote The Trial, etc. It’s a lot worse.’

Renewal of the registration - Over.

I.D. card renewal - Next.

The pictures were allright.

Then the young lady asked: ‘May I see the copies of your birth certificates, please?’

Birth certificates? The cards only needed renewal. They were not our first I.D cards. We are getting old and I.D. cards have been mandatory ever since we were 18.

We had our passports but no birth certificates. I was waiting for Popeye to say something, which he did - more nicely than I would have, I admit.

‘Why do you need our birth certificates? The website does not mention it’s mandatory for renewal.’

‘The website was not updated, Monsieur. I’m sorry but there is a new law. We have to make sure you are French.’

Popeye looked at me, quite appalled. Weren’t we French? Our old cards came from this Consulate.

And then the girl added:

‘It won’t take long. It says here that you were born in France.’

‘Then what?’

‘Sir, we need your birth certificate, that’s all.’

I.D. card renewal - To be continued.

Once we were outside, we looked at each other in total disbelief.

And then we remembered what our dear friend N. had told us a month ago. She’s French, born in France but her parents were born in Algeria when Algeria was French. Their birth town archives have been destroyed during the independence war. No proof they were French. But they’ve always had French I.D papers without any problem.

Last month, N.'s sister could not get her passport renewed. Yes, this is what I wrote: ‘renewed’. Because she could not prove her parents were born in French Algeria. Both her grandfathers have fought Germany as French soldiers. To no avail.

Not funny. Not funny at all.

When I got back home, I checked  our I.D. file. There they were. Copies of our birth certificates. Yes but they were 11 years old. You’ll think that they should be good. I’m not sure any longer.

So I went to the French Government website and applied for new birth certificates. I wrote Popeye’s name and surname and then one question popped out: ‘Were you born in France?’  Our family name is so Frenchy/French. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.

And then an instruction popped out on my screen. ‘If you were born in France, click here’, which I did and found myself on a completely new page.

Georges Orwell was laughing loud and clear over my shoulder so I did not try to stay on the previous page... I was so sure that the following question would be: ‘Are your parents French?’

We were upset and critical when the so-called National Identity Survey was launched by the government. We felt so much better when they stopped it, under many pressures, especially from the Civil Rights movements.

They stopped the survey. But you have to ask for I.D. papers to realize that a new law has been voted anyway, a very shameful law.

This is France once more.

The country of the Declaration of the Rights of Men. My dear, dear country.

But are we really French, after all?

*Good Night, and Good Luck*