Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Frantic Charm of CDG

I have always said that I love to travel abroad, but I now realize that I hate to travel. I like to be abroad. I hate getting there.

It’s a fine distinction, but not one, I think, lost on anyone whose respiratory system has been jacked by ten hours on a plane or whose patience has been worn to a thickness of a single atom by the sheer bureaucratic absurdity that is Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.

“This will be funny… later,” I inform my Omnivore, as we do the CDG Shuffle.

Your flight is booked with a short, but not unmanageable, one hour layover and you have simply to make a connection between two terminals that are—and I kid you not—literally about 100 meters away from each other. After landing, you have 51 minutes—go!

Arrive at Terminal 2E, plane unloads (42 minutes remaining). Trot for miles with your suitcase to 2A (35 minutes), down the stairs(34 minutes), onto a shuttle bus (30 minutes), round the terminals, 2B (28 minutes), 2C (25 minutes), 2D (22 minutes), to arrive at 2E (20 minutes).

Haul luggage off the bus, up the stairs, down the hall, into the customs line (18 minutes), wait your turn… tap, tap, tap (12 minutes). WHIZ! Through the doors to terminal and up to the security line (10 minutes).

“Allez, madame, this way – this way is faster!” Security guard shuffles you out of this line, around the corner, along the terminal’s length to the “express line,” which is four times as long as the line you were just in.

Wait in the “What the hell does ‘faster’ mean” line (8 minutes). Sidle past well-groomed, but bored-looking women sitting at card tables with Ziplocs at the ready for any un-bagged non-lethal, 3 oz portions of fluid. (3 minutes).

Up to the security “get naked” area (2 minutes). No bins in which to place your “no I am NOT blowing up a plane Jesus, Mary Joseph, I just want to get to Venice before the end of this century” stuff (1 minute). Snatch bins out of security guy’s hand (45 seconds). Offload. Run through gate (30 seconds). Grab everything haphazardly, shoving into pockets as you go (15 seconds). Where? Where? Where? Gate 24 (5 seconds).

“I’m sorry, no, no, madame, this flight is now closed,” says the gate agent, tapping her keyboard with the satisfied finality of someone who has just this second hit “Closed.”

We’ve been here before. We’ve done this before. I’ve flown to Milan, to Barcelona, to London, and, in fact, never have I gone through CDG without doing the shuffle. Why? Why, oh God Almighty, why???

This could be me one day, holding a shotgun.

My Omnivore goes over to customer service to “enquire” about the shuffle. “Would you like to fill out a survey? We’re trying to improve our service.”

The Silent Charm of Venice

We arrive several hours later than planned, almost at nightfall, having been up now for too many hours to count. Our luggage miraculously has appeared on our rescheduled flight. I consider mentioning it to the Vatican as a proof of the miracles that deposed saint, Christopher, patron of travelers, has wrought.

A chill wind and misty rain gently pelts our faces as we board, still not quite believing that we’ve made it, onto an Alilaguna water bus headed for Venice. We glance passingly, wordlessly at our fellow travelers in the boat – all of us comprehend the enormity of the feat we have just accomplished, but we cannot speak of it just yet.

The boat seems to take a sedate pace, bobbing slowly across the lagoon past the clusters of wooden pilings. Short colorful buildings emerge from the darkening mist: one almost derelict on its own island, an orange one labeled “ARCHIMEDES SEGUSO,” then in the distance a taller campanile. As we float into a wide canal, Venice is silent, seemingly abandoned. There’s only the plink and slosh of the boat as it makes its way along quiet fondamentas and past brightly lit but unpeopled palazzos. Ca’ d’Oro, Ca’ Pesaro…then gradually there are voices, lights, people as we sail past the Rialto. But then they too vanish.

We’re the last ones on the boat, riding to the bus’s final stop.

“Sant’Angelo!” shouts our driver.

In my eagerness to get off and be IN Venice, I don’t even wait, but seize my suitcase and leap off at the vaporetto stop. We trail, suitcase wheels echoing across the mottled stones, off in the direction of the hotel, down tiny alleys, over bridges, the last few meters to the lantern that hangs outside of our albergo.

“Venice is stupid beautiful,” says my Omnivore.

Here at last.

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