We spent the last few precious days in Paris pretending like we'd never seen it before. We did some shopping and the Bateaux Parisiens, a 45 minute boat ride that runs the length of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to the Isle de la Cite. The highlight however was a long evening spent with some new friends from the International School of Paris, the french school where Samantha and Parker spent the past couple of weeks.
We met Farrah and Russell at dropoff on the first day of school. Expats, even if you're just an expat for a couple of weeks, have a connection that's hard to explain. We made some of our best friends while we lived in London; there's something about the intensity of the experience that creates a bond that is special and lasting. So when we bumped into Farrah and Russell, we slipped back into the old expat mode and just started chatting about a whole variety of subjects, so much so that Samantha and their daughter Haley assumed we were old friends. We made a plan to get together for dinner but it didn't happen until the Friday night before we left. Russell had already flown back to D.C. to go back to work (I KNOW...) but Farrah's cousin Elizabeth arrived to take his place.
We met at their place near the George Cinq and had a few bottles of wine, before heading to a nearby Italian restaurant where we met Lendyl and Michael, who were visiting from Sydney and also had their daughters enrolled in the school. It was a magical evening. It's a self-selecting group who are willing to live abroad or travel extensively, and they tend to be an interesting lot. Michael was a derivatives trader for 12 years before quitting his job, moving to Paris for 9 months and then back to a farm about 3-1/2 hours outside of Sydney where he is now growing his own food and considering opening a farm-to-table restaurant. Farrah was born in the U.S. but raised in Venezuela. She lived in several places in Europe, including Paris, before deciding that she didn't want to be "one of those women with a baguette under her arm," and moved to the U.S. From there she got into real estate in Virginia, where she met Russell, who is a serial entrepreneur who works on cyber security for the DoD. Elizabeth is a graphic designer for a Venezuelan multinational who has traveled all over but has chosen to stay in Venezuela despite its well-publicized issues. Throughout the evening, the wine flowed and the conversation was musical, slipping between Spanish, French, Italian and English, and not insignificantly, the children played beautifully until past midnight. I wish every evening could be like this--it was one to remember.
The flight back was one to remember as well. Every trip to France involves at least one experience that is quintessentially French. Usually it involves someone telling you that something is impossible, rolling their eyes and puffing their cheeks in a long sigh that communicates in no uncertain terms that the thing you want is not going to happen. Ever. I had been noting the conspicuous absence of this particular experience on this trip but then, at the airport, we waited in a long line to check in, only to find that the automated kiosk directed us to see an agent. Another 20 minute queue to reach the agent resulted in a lot of computer tapping punctuated by long pauses and sighs, followed by a shrug and a waive off to the only person who seemed capable of solving such problems, a polite bespectacled, middle-aged man at the end of a long line of agents. Another 20 minute queue. Apparently the Air France reservation system thought we were not permitted to have baggage. That's right, they didn't want us to pay, but rather they thought we weren't permitted to have baggage. So after a short back and forth with the man, wherein we pointed out that not being permitted to have baggage was perhaps the silliest thing ever (and obviously Air France had no problem with us bringing the same bags on the way OVER), the man shrugged in agreement and said, "I don't ask questions anymore. I give up." With a flick of his wrist, our bags were tagged and on the way. Impossible, but it was done. Time to sit back and read a magazine on the flight, right? Not so much.
The other thing that an international trip with kids usually involves is some sort of in-flight mishap. Now, I've been pooped on, peed on, thrown up on (that's a separate and pretty gross story), but this one was new. About 7 hours into the flight, Samantha got a nosebleed. She's prone to them and they can be pretty bad sometimes, but when you add the pressure change and the dry air at 37,000 feet, this one was a beaut. On and off for the next few hours, we were up getting napkins, wiping off her clothes, our hands, holding her head back, the whole drill.
By the time we landed, we looked like we'd been trying to close an artery in the ER. We had a big bag of bloody napkins and Samantha had crusted blood all over her face. We deplaned, got the shuttle to the Tom Bradley terminal and grabbed the luggage. Parker, who had played Minecraft for the last 12 hours straight, collapsed in a heap on top of the luggage. So in addition to the mountain of belongings that we always seem to have with us (another Americanism), I also had 45 pounds of dead weight in one arm. Then, as we were limping our way to the finish line of passport control, Samantha decided to stop at the bathroom to wipe her face. This proved to be a fateful decision.
A few minutes later, sandwiched into a snaking mass of humanity, the sleeping blood monster in Samantha's nose that had been angered by the face-washing ruptured with demonic fury. It gushed out first into her cupped hands, then onto the floor. Within seconds, the people around us began to step back. From the perspective of the usually brain-dead agents, either someone was about to breakdance or there was a "situation" developing. Apparently they are ready for both, because they woke up in a hurry. Within seconds, we were the only thing happening in Tom Bradley. "Oh, my goodness," they said as I pulled the last tissues from my pockets with my free hand, dropping the luggage but fortunately maintaining my grasp on my unconscious mouth-breathing son. "Forget about that," they said to Quimby as she fumbled with the newly-installed automated passport scanner/photo booth. Samantha had managed to get her picture taken mid-rupture and for the brief second the photo flashed on the screen, what I saw can only be described as graphic. I wish I had that photo. Google Glass would have been epic here. Samantha sobbed with her neck craned over her hands that she wanted to go home. Indeed, me too, and never more than this moment. "Do you need a medic?" they asked. I'm from the Midwest, and yeah, it looked like Valentine's Day Massacre with the white tile floor and everything, but it's a nosebleed. Nobody's going home in a bag. "What do you need?" the next agent asked. It turned out, what I really needed was an open-ended question. "I need to get through this line and get her home," I said. And with that, the crowd parted like the Red Sea (pun intended). The agents handed us a wad of paper towels, and led us past the scores of gawking slack-jawed tourists. The agent in the glass cubicle stamped our passports in silent horror and then grimaced as she pointed us to the bathroom. Spreading biohazards in a crowded international airport wasn't exactly the way I like to end a trip, but it's a bloody effective way (there I did it again) of clearing customs. We're ba-aaack!