The cabbie who collected us at our home in Providence was the king of multitasking, sort of. He talked non-stop (mostly about his Bolivian ex-fiancee, who’s sitting in a Spanish jail because while she was in her friend’s apartment, her friend received a delivery of some number of kilos of cocaine), while acting as dispatcher (no, we don’t have any drivers available, no we can’t call you back, you call us), and deftly driving us – not to the Peter Pan bus depot, our intended destination, but to the train station. Well, no matter. He got us to the bus station eventually, and without missing a beat in his narrative. He was so keen on telling his story, in fact that when we got to the bus station, he got out of the car – not to unload out luggage from the trunk, but to finish his sentence.
At Logan, two Air France flights were checking in at adjacent counters – ours to Paris, and another to Cape Verde. Our flight was delayed by three and a half hours because of a maintenance workers’ strike in Paris. Although we were the third people in line, our line didn’t move for one hour. The Cape Verde line beside us slowly snaked forward. It was filled with family groups dressed like people going to a party. And it seemed to be the same party. They all seemed to know each other, and as each new group arrived, people who were already in line greeted them hugs and kisses.
The Cape Verde flight was also delayed. The airport where they were scheduled to land was closed. By 1 am, just about the only passengers still waiting to take off were ours and theirs. While we scattered around the terminal in our sedate, separate groups, they circulated, shared food, gossiped and passed sleeping babies arm to arm. I watched a short woman with a cap of curly hair and a pretty flowered dress chat and share a bag of chips with the women across from us. It was like a huge family picnic.
Is Cape Verde really so small? Were they all going to the same event? We couldn’t tell. The older people spoke in what we assumed was Portuguese. The younger people spoke in English, but mostly about boyfriends and dance clubs.
When their flight was finally called, the women across from us were so caught up in their conversation they didn’t hear the announcement. Eventually an Air France attendant came to tell them in person. They gathered up their babies and their baggage and hurried to the gate.
Our plane boarded around 1:30 in the morning. As we were walking down the jetway, the Air France people suddenly went into a panic. “She’s already on the plane!” One man shouted, and sprinted past us. When everyone was seated, the crew asked passenger Maria Something to identify herself, and then they walked up and down the rows asking each one of us if we were this Maria Something. They finally found her, a few rows ahead of us. They took her carry-on from the overhead and escorted her off the plane. It was our friend with the close-cropped curls and the flowered dress. She’d boarded the wrong plane.
Hours later, after the six-hour flight and the long walk through Charles De Gaulle and the long line for train tickets, after the train that took us as far as Gare du Nord and then suddenly stopped – railroad workers strike – after finding a metro and getting our bearings and rolling our carry-ons up Blvd St. Michel, after checking into our hotel and showering and changing, we wandered out into the neighborhood to find dinner.
We made our way to Rue Mouffetard, where a different band was playing at top volume on just about every corner, and the streets were crowded with mostly young people laughing and strolling, the older young people were carrying around glasses of beer, and the younger ones were squirting each other with Silly String.
It was a Tuesday. Do they do this every night? We wondered. Don’t they have jobs? Don’t these children have school? Is it because of Solstice? (It was the annual, national Festive of Music, we eventually learned.)
We found a restaurant, where the proprietor sat us beside an American student – originally from Pennsylvania, he told us, going to school in the UK, in Paris for a few days to do research. He didn’t tell us what sort of research. Between courses, he was reading Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful.
“Evenings are my chance to see Paris,” he said. “It’s a pretty library, it’s nice to get out.”
Does he dress like that every night? We wondered, eyeing his brand new sport coat and vest, his pocket watch and chain. He and the waiter had a running joke about his dinner costing a million dollars. When the check came, he took a piece of paper and a fountain pen from his computer case, and wrote out an IOU for a million dollars. His cursive was impeccable.