First Impressions from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris
By Editor-in-Chief David Lee Cummings in Paris, France.
I’m on my way to Bangaluru (formerly Bangalore), India, and it’s been an adventurous 15 hours.
Currently I write in the Charles de Gaulle Airport terminal awaiting my connecting flight to India. Cigarette smoke wafts from the glass-enclosed smoking room some fifteen feet to my right, the top of the long rectangular room poking up from a lower level. A white or frosted pattern in what looks to be the shape of trees in a forest is etched onto the glass and an actual tree, probably artificial, grows through the ceiling of the room; strange juxtapositions of carcinogenic fog and forest, with a few smokers’ silhouettes visible through the white trees.
I just ate a slice of spinach quiche. How very French, I thought, as I ate it. A slice of France. It was hot, fresh, and delicious.
But eating it alone, at a little before 9 a.m. Paris time, while my family slumbers back in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, lacked the romantic luster I would imagine eating one’s first piece of quiche one’s first time in France should have. Sharing the experience with the two loves of my life–wife and son–would have infused each bite with the magic it was supposed to have.
Nonetheless, the gentlemen drinking beers at this time in the morning as I ate fascinate me. One appeared to possibly be an airport employee, the other clearly a traveler. The former ordered a draft beer, the latter two tall green and silver cans of Heineken. Each also purchased a slice of quiche. Beer this early in the morning. Is it a cultural thing? The last time I drank a beer at this time of day was in college, but only with friends, not on my own, not in an airport, not with a slice of quiche.
An Indian looking fellow smiled a very friendly smile and nodded, like one would greet an acquaintance or friend, and sat down a seat over from me. He sits there as I write this. I thought perhaps he may try to strike up a conversation with me, but so far he sits quietly, with his soft black leather bag on his lap and his elbows propped atop the bag, hands clasping together or fidgeting, and his head watching other travelers walk by. I guess he is going to Bangaluru on the same flight as I am, as are the gathering numbers of others in my section. Besides me, a pair of Caucasian senior citizens (they look to me like they should be sitting in a pub drinking shandies, based on their wooly sweaters and one’s tweed flat cap) and a group of East Asian men are in this section; otherwise, my guess is the dozen-plus, and growing, collection of people here are from India.
It was quiet here when I landed. The pedestrian traffic, pulling wheeled bags or purses or backpacks slung over their shoulders, is picking up. Pairs and groups walk by, interspersed with individual stragglers.
I hear the round, bouncy, slippery enunciations of the French language all about me. From the older speakers it sounds natural; they somehow look the part. The middle-aged airport worker with the round face and large bald head, dark thinning hair close cropped on the sides, narrow eyes peeking through thick round glasses.
But from many of the younger people–such as the Black security guard with massive chest and bulging biceps ready to tear through his short sleeves and slow, wide legged gait–the slippery words sound incongruous. Many of the younger speakers of French I pass by look to me as very Americanized. Not that a Black French man couldn’t be insanely muscular, but his mannerisms seemed too overtly masculine, too hostile, too rough around the edges, too Jersey Shore, too American, lacking the suave sophistication I guess I’ve always stereotyped to European men. I guess that’s why travel is important: it changes perceptions.
Yet, I feel as if I could be in an American airport. I don’t feel the awe I expected I would feel, the disorientation I expected from being in one of the world’s great crossroads of international travelers intersecting in one place. It feels too American, too ho-hum. The people look too American, too tainted by our casual and mundane fashion sense, too many jeans and tennis shoes and sweatshirts. There’s even a children’s play area themed on the movie “Cars.”
The strongest sensation I felt that I was in Paris was when I passed through the numerous designer this-and-that shops to get to my gate, where I currently await my flight. Designer purses, perfumes, jewelry, and related items. Bright lights, white, antiseptic decor, spotlights on the merchandise. Candy stores, I imagine, for some. But very commercialized to me. Not art. But self-aggrandizing, overpriced commercialism.
My cell phone died. I turned it off and plugged it into a USB port under my seat on my Air France plane from Cincinnati to Paris. Now it won’t turn back on. Maybe the amps were not compatible with my phone? First order of business when I arrive in Bangaluru will be to get to my hotel and pass out for awhile. Second order will be to find a phone that will accept my SIM card.
I watched two movies on the flight: “Jupiter Ascending” and “Birdman.” Strangely, both movies featured men with wings. But one I couldn’t stop thinking how terrible the characterization, dialog, and plot was–even though it was based on a crazy cool premise; the other I couldn’t stop thinking how profoundly well done all elements of it were. No wonder it won multiple Oscars.
The flight was smooth, landing a bit rough. I thanked the universe for a safe journey so far.
Passing through TSA security at the Cincinnati airport, I was able to carry on a bag I thought I’d have to check in–at the tune of $100. Saved our client some money. But lost my son’s genuine Swiss Army knife, which was in my hygiene bag. Confiscated by the TSA. I knew it would happen, but I was powerless to stop it. It was either hand over the pocketknife or pay the $100 check-in fee. I’ll get him another one.
Rode an Uber car to the airport–which is now yesterday (currently 3:15 a.m. Cincinnati time; caught the Uber ride at around 11:30 a.m. Cincinnati time yesterday). Turns out the driver is the cousin of the guy who took my family and me to the airport for our first Uber ride not but a couple of months ago. Small world. The cousins are from Ethiopia, the first Christian country, my driver told me, a fact I already knew, I retorted. Both jovial people and love to talk about their experiences and their homeland, after I asked a few questions. Yesterday’s driver is nearly done with his MBA from the University of Cincinnati; he drives for Uber part time. He talked a bit about the work ethic of immigrants, commenting that they’ll work any job or multiple jobs to make it in the world and care for their families.
Missing my family. It will be a priority to get a new phone after I reach India. But there’s always Skype and Google Hangouts. At least my laptop works.
I end my dispatch here. I’ll write more from India soon–including on the reason why I’m there.
Follow-up dispatch: Being and Nothingness in Bangaluru
David Lee Cummings
David is the editor-in-chief of Vox Humana. His passions include new experiences, new places, different cultures, befriending foreigners, international cuisines, and a cool pool on a hot summer's day. He works in digital advertising on some of the world's largest brands and spends his free time applying his professional learnings to Vox Humana and other charitable projects. David is also a technophile and hopes to live long enough to witness the moment of technological singularity.