We arrived @ Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) Friday morning @8:30 a.m. Paris time. These are some first impressions.
Unlike the airports in Germany re-built out of the rubble of WWII, CDG is showing wear. It has none of the aesthetic pizzazz one expects from French culture. The driver we’ve hired through a Paris travel agent is nowhere to be found. An hour later we connect. What would we do without Tim’s cellphone and saved phone numbers?
Our driver is very professional, kind, and courteous. He’s dressed in a business suit. Transportation is his business.
Traffic is nuts! Like bumper cars. Motorcycles and scooters zip between the lanes of traffic ignoring the lines between lanes — and it’s legal! Traffic is bumper-to-bumper or slow, except for the motorcycles and motorbikes who speed past us in the small spaces between the cars in the traffic lanes. Good thing we haven’t rented a car in Paris! I can see the headline, “Conducteur de la voiture Américaine stupide tue cycliste Français! Chauffeur parlant non- Français arrêté pour conduite imprudente et d’homicide.” [Stupid American driver kills French cyclist. Non-French-speaking driver arrested for reckless driving and homicide.]
As we come to a complete stop on a busy highway into Paris, an Arab woman carrying a screaming child approaches our van. She comes to the front passenger window, looks at Sasha, our driver, and begs for money. Sasha gently shakes his head no. The woman persists; the child screams louder. Sasha shakes his head again and looks away from the woman. “Syrian?” I ask. “No,” he says,“Gypsy, from Romania.”
Liberté, égalité, fraternité
Within the city bicycles go every which way, cutting and turning in front of cars, and cars in front of them. Traffic feels like anarchy. Fraternité is absent on the streets. Liberté is everywhere.
Walking to a restaurant Friday afternoon, soldiers carrying machine guns across their chests patrol the avenue in threes. In the doorways, families sit or lie with bedrolls. Are these gypsies to whom Europe is accustomed or are they newly arrived Syrian refugees?
We enjoy dinner at a small local restaurant known as a non-tourist neighborhood fixture with great food. Wonderful experience in every way – so accommodating to the butchers of the French language, explaining the menu to us as best he can in our native tongue.
Fraternité and égalité fill the the restaurants, cafes, and brasseries. Laughter and easy conversations are shared over wine and food. Faces smile. Joi de vivre lives indoors in Paris.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Paris, France, posted June 6, 2016, D-Day.