Sunday, October 09, 2005

Well, here we are, home again. We got back Thursday night, and this is Sunday. It feels like we've never been away - except that the bodies seem to believe we are still in some kind of daylight savings time zone in the Rocky Mountains. Can't stay awake during the day. Can't sleep at night.

T'will pass, I hope.

The journey home was quite eventful. Twenty-five hours, non-stop, from Rochester NY to Puymule, France.

It began with a laugh at airport security in Rochester. As usual they stripped me down to shirt and kilt, and asked me to step into the taped off search area, where a gentleman of dubious sexuality fumbled nervously with his wand and told me he'd forgotten how to do this.

"They showed us in training," he said. "But we don't get to do a guy in a skirt - sorry, kilt - very often."

By now, an expert in the procedure, I gave him instructions on how to proceed. One step forward.... One step back.... Careful where you put that wand!

Meantime, La Patronne was having to deal with a severe looking black guy who was staring at our boarding passes with a deep frown. He was a big, tall, muscular fella - the kind you don't argue with. But, then, La Patronne was never one to take the path of least resistance.

"What's his first name?" he said, clutching my boarding pass and nodding towards where I was dodging the wand.

"Peter," La Patronne said.

The security man's frown deepened. "It says here, MRS. Peter May." We were right back to the confusion with which the whole trip had begun. An administrative cock-up.

La Patronne took a calculated risk. After all, most security workers don't have a sense of humour. She turned and looked at me and shrugged. "Maybe it's because he's wearing a skirt," she said.

There was a long moment, when our fate hung precariously in the balance. And then the guy roared and laughed. "Man, you're BAD," he said to her. "You're BAD!" And he called to his co-security workers. "Hey, do you know what she just said?" They all gathered round, and he told them, and they all roared and laughed, too.

Watching from a distance, I thought perhaps my knees might be the object of their ribald laughter - or the fumbling of the guy with the wand.

It was only later that I discovered the truth, as we sat with two hours to wait for our plane, and the first indications reached us that not all was well. The departure board announced that our flight was delayed for fifteen minutes. Nothing much to worry about in that, we thought. We had a two hour safety margin at Newark before catching our connecting flight to Paris.

But as time wore on, that margin began shrinking at an alarming rate, and our plane got later and later. Passengers with even tighter connections than ours were getting bumped. Fog at Newark, they told us. Even when the plane finally arrived at our gate, they said air traffic wouldn't allow us to take off - because there was no guarantee we could land.

Time passed, stress mounted. Then, at the last minute, they boarded us, and the pilot said he was pleading with air traffic control to let us fly. His pleas succeeded, and fifteen minutes later we were airborn. Our two hour margin was now about forty minutes. If there were no further delays we would still make our flight.

But, then, as we approached Newark, we became aware that we were simply making circles in the sky. The captain announced we were on a holding pattern and running out of fuel. "If they don't let us land in the next ten minutes," he said, "I'm going to have to take us to Allentown, Pennsylvania."

Our hearts sank. Where the hell was Allentown, Pensylvania, and what in the name of the wee man were we going to do there, having missed our flight to Paris?

Then, suddenly, at the eleventh hour, we began our descent. We were landing at Newark after all, and embarked on a high-speed taxi chase across the apron. The captain was doing his best. But we had lost another fifteen minutes. At least the Paris flight left from the same terminal - but, of course, it was at the other end of it.

We ran through the crowded terminal, dragging heavy carry-on bags. My kilt billowed and furled in our wake. We boarded our plane with minutes to spare, but the steward told us there was no guarantee that our luggage would make the flight. We wouldn't know if it had until we reached Paris.

Fortunately we'd had the foresight to use up our airmiles to upgrade to First Class, and fell into big comfortable recliners, to have glasses of Champagne thrust in our hands, and be happily pampered for the next six hours.

And the story has a happy ending. For our luggage, after a tense wait at the carousel, finally appeared, and we were home. Intact. Absolutely exhausted, but grateful to be back in one piece.

The four hours we had to kill at the Gare d'Austerlitz passed in a trice, for Ariane and Gilbert showed up to welcome us home, and we sat and drank coffee and chatted, forced to access rusty French from tired brains. It was wonderful to be back amongst friends. We lunched in the station buffet, and A and G waved goodbye as we clambered aboard the train for our four-hour journey south.

To be met by a big, smiling Gary, in his Citroen Ami, clutching a bottle of chilled Champagne - a welcome home gift from Gary, and Roger and Laurene who had left for Paris that morning. Gary drove us back to the home I had left nearly six weeks ago. The sun was shining. The air was warm and pure, and as we sipped on the thoughtful Champagne, we reflected that, in truth, there really was no place like home.

And one final Post Script. Since arriving back, I have received an offer from a publisher for "One for Sorrow", and the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, reported that "The Firemaker" was at No. 2 in their hardback bestseller list.

So maybe it was all worth it. I certainly hope so.

Thanks to everyone who was so kind and generous to us during the tour, and a special thank you to La Patronne without whose organisation and meticulous planning it would never happened!

Home Sweet Home

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