Sunday, October 22, 2006

The last time I saw Neo...

...she was traveling.

Actually, for the entire past month I've been traveling far more than is my usual practice--so often I've practically lost count.

But this is the largest of my trips so far. Where am I? There's a hint in the title of this post. Another hint is the time-stamp--why am I uploading this in what appears to be the wee hours of the morning?

Because, in fact, although it's indeed morning here, the hours aren't so very wee. Yes, gentle readers, your intrepid world-traveler and reporter extraordinaire, neo-neocon, is in Paris, the belly of the beast. Although Paris is more like Beauty, despite the fact that rain and clouds are predicted for much of my stay.

After a fairly rapid plane journey (and can somebody please tell me why it takes only a tiny bit longer to cross the six-hour time difference from the Eastern US to France than it takes to cross the continental US, which gives you a mere three-hour difference?) I reached the crowded Charles de Gaulle airport early in the morning on Sunday.

The initial theme of my Paris stay has been: stairs.

As we disembarked from the plane, it was announced that, to get to the main terminal, "you're going to need to be able to climb a couple of stairs." That didn't daunt me, despite an extra-heavy carry-on--I can do stairs. But this turned out to be a full two and a half flights, up all the way rather than down. Call me a spoiled American if you wish (and the French might undoubtedly wish), but I wonder why it is that--despite France's trailblazing history ("The first escalator installed for public use was at the Paris Exposition of 1900"), this century-old miracle doesn't seem to have arrived yet to De Gaulle.

And then there's the elevator, another relatively ancient invention. The one in the lovely and well-situated apartment where I'm staying (a friend's kind hospitality) has a single flaw--it was broken when I arrived. Thus, the stair theme continued as I followed the sweating (and no doubt cursing, had I been able to understand French and/or read his mind) concierge up a full seven (count 'em, sept) flights of stairs, he hauling my far-too-heavy suitcase and I lugging my far-too-heavy carry-on (blame the computer and all its accoutrements) behind.

I've only been here a day, and I've already had a good meal with convivial company, so don't think I'm complaining. I'm not. And the elevator has now been repaired--a model of efficiency, relatively speaking. Efficient and energy-saving, also, are the hallway and stairway lights that are on timers, and helpfully turn themselves off when they decree I've had time enough to do whatever it is I might have been doing--such as climb the stairs faster--plunging me into darkness until I figure out where the tiny glowing light switch is.

My computer works, and it optimistically assumes I want to search Google in French ("Bienvenue dans Firefox 1.0, le nouveau navigateur facile à utiliser de Mozilla") and to emigrate ("Do you want to miss your chance to live and work in the USA?"). I've successfully negotiated the Metro, although not without stopping several people for help. I managed to work my customary magical spell on gadgetry by unaccountably sending the cellphone I was kindly given into "lock" mode (I knew this because a picture of a key appeared on its screen and I could neither make nor receive calls for a while; the instructions to unlock it were--d'accord!--in French).

A wonderful anomaly--this one not without some charm--is the key. I've taken the liberty of photographing it next to an American quarter for scale:

My stay has been great so far (about twenty-four hours), and exciting. So, why am I here? Funny you should ask. I plan, of course, to sightsee (and maybe even shop), but it's a working vacation: I'm doing some interviewing and plan to be writing. Details to emerge later.

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