A week before we flew into Paris, Danielle, the owner of the two-bedroom apartment in the Marais district that we were renting for ten days, called my mother in New York. It was six o’clock in the morning. Apparently, Danielle was confused about the international time zones.
“What did she say?” I later asked my mother.
“She said she was going to pick us up at the airport.”
“Wow, that’s nice of her. This trip is looking great!”
We arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport at noon on Saturday — me, my mother, and my mother’s friend, Laura, a kind-looking woman in her seventies.
As we passed through security, I searched for Danielle in the crowd, hoping she would be one of those greeters holding up a sign with my name on it, like you see done in movies. She was not there.
She was not in the baggage area, either.
I headed for the exit, pausing at the sliding door, realizing that my next step would be my first ever step on French soil, a spot in which Napoleon himself might have stood if he ever took a discount flight into town.
I entered France. Danielle was not waiting, and my first whiff of Parisian fragrance was of a taxi blowing fumes into my face.
I called Danielle on the phone and she answered, speaking in a thick French accent.
“Bonjour! Bonjour, Neil!”
“We are here. Will we see you soon?”
“Absolutely. I’m only two minutes away.”
My mother, Laura, and I found a bench near the information booth inside and waited for twenty minutes. Nothing.
“Call her again,” pushed my mother.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “This is how the French are. They take things slow. They like to eat and drink and enjoy life. Two minutes to a Parisian is like twenty minutes to us.”
I was winging it. I felt that it was necessary because one look at Laura’s face and I could see that she was questioning my decision to rent an apartment. Of the three of us, she was the one who most preferred staying at a traditional hotel.
“Trust me,” I told her two weeks earlier when I booked the rental. “You and my mother have played it too safe over the last few years with all those by-the-book tour groups and cruises. Now is the time for adventure.”
“Hmm,” she said, not convinced. Laura also wanted to go to England instead of France. At least there, they speak English.
“Call her again,” said my mother, wondering about Danielle whereabouts. My mother was now getting anxious because she saw the discomfort in Laura. I was now getting anxious because I saw the worry in my mother. You can take three neurotic New Yorkers out of New York, but….
I took out my iPhone and called Danielle for a second time.
“Bonjour, Neil!” she said.
“Uh, Bonjour, Danielle. Are you on your way yet?”
“Oh, don’t worry. I just live two minutes away. Call me when you are here.”
“We ARE here.”
“At the airport.”
“Oh, so just call me from the airport when you reach the apartment. I only live two minutes away from the apartment. I’ll give you the keys when you arrive.”
“So, you’re NOT picking us up at the airport?”
“No, no, no. Just take a cab! It shouldn’t be more than seventy Euros!”
“Uh, ok,” I said.
As we taxi-ed into central Paris, my mother insisted that Danielle told her, during the phone call a week ago, that she would meet us at the airport.
“Are you sure she didn’t say that she would meet us at the apartment, and NOT the airport?” I asked. “It seemed too good to be true.”
“Maybe you are right,” said my mother. ” But it was six o’clock in the morning when she called so I was sleepy. And also, she had a strong accent that was hard to understand.”
“If we went to England, we would have no problem with the language,” said Laura.
Well, actually she never said that. But I KNOW she was thinking it.
We had arrived in Paris.