Hollow sounds of squeaky shoes and clacking heels, reverberant, washed out voices, movement everywhere – I am lost somewhere at the Charles de Gaulles Airport in Paris. Now where is the ticket booth for the RER train? A luminous sign ahead: “Billetterie” – and of course there is a seemingly never-ending line snaking in front of it. Great. My dinner date is at seven. “You can buy tickets at the machine, “ a nice French gentleman informs me and kindly points me to the direction. Relieved, I jog towards it, tugging my little suitcase behind. I punch my destination into the cold screen. The metallic box, churning and gnarling, mulls over my selection for a few seconds, then demands eight Euros and seventy cents in coins. As I frantically search for loose change, my robotic conversation partner impatiently beeps and threatens to cancel my reservation. Finally I discover the credit card slot, take a deep breath and feed the monster; very soon, the wicked slot mouth spits out a slender strip of paper.
An hour later, passing densely packed metro stations of Paris’ underground, picking up and dropping off people from all walks of life, I arrive at Gare du Nord. Here, in the middle of the platform, my friend – who I had not seen in years – and I decided to meet. Will I recognize him, I wonder. I wait for twenty minutes: several trains have arrived and departed by now, a group of police officers eye me suspiciously. There! Across from me, on the opposite platform, a man smiles and waves. Sandwiched between strangers, we are pushed up the escalator to the exiting gate. The ticket vanishes through the slot, the first gate opens, and I am in a glass cage. A small surveillance camera is pointed at me. The lash of my suitcase already in my hand, I prepare to exit. Suddenly the warning lamps flash red and the system’s alarms go off: I remain locked in. A second attempt fails likewise. Curious stares into my direction, for a brief moment, Paris’ buzzing underground has come to a halt.
Finally, a soothing hum, the gate doors in front of me click open, a dashing French officer waves me through. Vive la France!
Colleen Yorke. All rights reserved. 2015