Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Okay, so here I am at the Ibis Hotel, Charles de Gaule Airport, a strange, concrete no-man's land in the middle of runways and revolving radars, where anonymous travellers congregate to swagger like the sophisticated world travellers they aren't. A fat guy with his low-slung jeans revealing his Marks and Sparks knickers (British, of course). A skinny woman with skint knees and wrists, clutching her elbow crutches and hobbling to her table ahead of a strained looking husband. A holiday mishap? They are joined by another couple, with a child. Everyone looks strained. Children do that to you.

I'm in the restaurant, having dinner. There's another group at the next table - two couples, one of which has a little girl of about three. She is wielding markers pens like spears and shrieking tribal mantras at the ceiling. The childless couple have fixed smiles on their faces. This is obviously a departure. If it had been a return, there would have been murder in their eyes. The joys that await them!

I turn to the plate in front of me. My last taste of confit de canard. Actually, it's not bad. The waiter asked me if I was staying at the hotel when he showed me to my table. I almost said, "Would I be eating here if I wasn't?" But bit my tongue. It's not good to be rude before the meal.

The thing that's puzzling me is the chips. Frites. French fries. They look to me like the kind of chips you get in British pubs. The frozen variety, re-fried. Crisp on the outside. Empty inside. How is it possible? I suppose someone must actually have invented the hollow chip. All the potato sucked out from the interior. A money-saving measure? The only ones that taste any good are the ones beneath the duck which have soaked up the duck fat. Hmmmmmm.

I glance across at the spear-wielding child. The parents are fat, Germanic-looking. But they're French. The mother has arrived back from the buffet table with the biggest plate of food I have ever seen. The Mount Everest of entrées. She sees me looking at it and doesn't even blush. Greedy and proud of it!

The thing I'm learning about travelling alone, and knowing that I'm going to write a journal, is that it's making me more observant ("What Japanese gentlemen?" - see Graham Greene). Normally, La Patronne et moi travel in spendid togetherness, and from our position of absolute perfection, pass relentless critical comment on those around us. Now I can only share my view of the world with my journal.

And I have to say, already I'm fed up wearing the kilt. I feel like a European in China. Everyone's eye is drawn. Some of them look away quickly, and you can see the thought bubbles screaming, THAT GUY'S WEARING A SKIRT, DON'T LOOK, DON'T LOOK! Then there are those who can't take their eyes off me. And when they catch my eye struggle to stifle their giggles. On the Paris metro, and on the RER out to the airport, complete strangers come together in common communion, nodding incredulously in my direction and passing vocal comment as if I'm deaf, or can't understand French. When they see me looking, they smile and nod, and I smile and nod back, and when they disappear into the crowds on the platform I hear their sniggering echoing along the tunnel. Why does my national dress reduce grown men to giggling schoolgirls?

Oh, well, another five weeks of it ahead of me.

There's Wi-Fi here in the hotel. If I can figure out how to use it I'll upload this tonight. If not, it'll have to be Chicago.

Now a couple of pics of my departure courtesy of La Patronne...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Well, just 24 hours to go. Leave behind the sunshine, my home, my Jancie (la vrai patronne - the real boss). 24 hours to pack and fret about what I've forgotten. 24 hours to tread water and get scared. In that same 24 hours, Jack Bauer would have been shot at, beaten up, blown up, killed twenty people and saved the world from annihilation. I'm just watching the clock.

Of course, La Patronne might not be with me in person - at least, not until Houston, Texas - but she will still be with me in spirit, and more. I will be carrying her detailed instructions. My bible, my every move pre-planned, pre-ordained by she who must always be obeyed or I will miss my plane. It's a veritable telephone book, with just about as much information in it. Go here, do that, catch this plane, check in at this time, take that train to this station, meet so-and-so on Thursday at 5. I thought human beings were supposed to have been blessed with free-will.

Actually, I'm glad to have been pre-programmed by La Patronne. I can relax in her hands and listen to my French language audio on my iPod and not have to worry about anything - except if my knickers are going to last me the two weeks until La Patronne arrives in Houston with fresh supplies.

The things you really don't want to think about!

Last night, my French (and American and Dutch) friends had a dinner in my honour - an al fresco send-off finale to a long summer of wine and laughter. Gilbert pointing his laser at the stars in the ink black sky of La France Profonde; Gary with his brain-busting aperitifs of vanilla vodka with a smidgin of rasberry vinegar - settling my butterflies with two sips; Ariane feeding me her wonderful aubergine compote; poor Laurenne who'd just put her back out and was in pain all night, but still managing to smile; and Roger nuzzling the necks of all the girls, and even mine after a bottle or three of wine; and not to forget Ellen who is generously moving out of her New York apartment to accommodate us at the end of September.

Thanks guys.

Oh, well, better go check on my travel insurance, find my passport (with the short-haired pic), and start swivelling my hips to swirl the kilt.

24 hours, and the great adventure begins.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

This is Saturday night. The countdown begins to my "World Tour of America" to promote the US publication of "The Firemaker". I leave Tuesday, AM.