15.  Please Return Your Soul to Its Hunched-Over, Locked Position

I had started tensing up in anticipation of the return to Seattle and my so-called “life” there a few days before the event, but I knew there was no getting around the reality that was to come.

My departure from Paris was like a film sequence as much as it was immediate for me. Trudging to the Garnier Opéra partly on foot and partly via Métro; waiting for the RoissyBus; noting a bus-flanking graphic which looked like a row of tilted Smarties as the RoissyBus stood waiting for its traffic light; the pastiche of impressions of Parisian sights as seen from the roadway. This film reprised an earlier one I’d lived through as the RoissyBus turned onto rue Caulaincourt and slowly passed my hotel…I still don’t know what makes Caulaincourt a more pragmatic choice for transit departing Paris, I only know that I knew throwing myself against the windows and screaming “LET ME OFF! I WANT TO STAY!” wasn’t an option…I’m no Nureyev, after all, and I can hardly blame the French for not granting political/cultural asylum to Yank wanks.

Still, I was a bit numb as the voyage continued in its unfortunate descent back to my ghost-world realities. My passage through the Charles-de-Gaulle aeroport was almost indistinguishable from the previous four times except for a technological development which surprised me (digital passport-scanning stations to speed the clearance process!). I had made excellent time by leaving as early as I did, which served me well when I mistakenly got off the RoissyBus at Terminal 2 (forgetting that Terminal 1 is always the right one for U.S.-bound flights). The moving sidewalks and long, ramped, white-circle-tiled corridors all blurred into an unbroken continuity of indefinite trudging and vague impressions of anticipation. Sharing the waiting area with lots of loud Washington (DC) area residents was no fun, but then what of this would be? And is it just me or do all United flights depart from just that one waiting area at CDG? I swear I’ve left from the same gate every time….

The plane to DC. Customs. Numb thoughts. The plane to Seattle. Dejection. Heavily-muffled dread growing louder.

Seattle (“see-ATl,” pop. ~563,000, metropolitan area 2.4 million).

I’d meant to pick up some duty-free Bombay Sapphire gin in Washington, having recalled that my freezer in Seattle was quite devoid of hooch and that this negative trajectory would likely call for some buffering at the point of impact, but at Dulles I was informed that I could only purchase duty-free at the point of departure (a new one on me, I was pretty sure). So my Seattle itinerary consisted of 1. bus from SeaTac to downtown Seattle with a stop at the late-night State-run BoozeHaus just south of Downtown, and 2. bus from Downtown to Queen Anne, pour a g&t, and disengage all engines.

Seattle, 4th Avenue South, at the turn for the State-run liquor storeI knew for sure that I was back in Seattle when I caught the bus from the liquor store into Downtown: it was a #106 coming from Renton, and sure enough I was back at the bottom of the pit. Sitting a few seats from a teenaged black kid loudly bragging over his cellphone that “I don’t hit her like she’s my sister, yo, I hit her like she’s my nigger, y’know?” Welcome to Seattle, kids, it’s not what it used to be. Seattle is now a vast trash can…and on top of that people litter, almost defiantly…redundantly.

For sustenance and solace I placed myself in the care of my beloved pals at McMenamin’s, my local pub par excellence, and upon reaching my apartment I zapped my remaining shredded brain cells with some video numbing (probably Wonder Woman episodes, although honestly I don’t remember and probably couldn’t have remembered even the following day). In the morning I was back at my office, working a 10-hour day.

Nothing had changed.


On Flight Restrictions

While escalated terrorist attacks (assuming that’s what they are, which I don’t know for sure) have recently necessitated “heightened” (if not “improved”) security and air-travel practices, theoretically worldwide, the relative ease of air travel had been largely unhindered until this summer’s official U.K./U.S. reports of aircraft-sabotage plans involving innocuous-looking liquids. Since this development, the future of casual air travel looks extremely bleak. I’m a traveller who enjoys air travel because I can stow my gear in an overhead bin and under the seat in front of me, thus being able to walk off an airplane into the city or transit at the other end, and that freedom of movement appears to be on the verge of extinction. To say that I’m distraught about this would be an understatement, but then I don’t want to overstate “luxury” travel’s importance by comparison to, say, cures for AIDS or freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi. Still, it’s a very bad indication of the times ahead, so I’ll savor my travels as long as they’re mine to have.

So: what kind of wrapup can I give this trip? I owe an assessment of the usefulness of the Rough Guides, for starters. I’m an info junkie as well as a fairly serious history buff, and it would be impossibly impractical for me to lug sufficient study material with me on such randomly travelled journeys. The two Rough Guides I brought with me on this trip were helpful when I needed them to be so, but the rest of the time they were an unfortunate combination of baggage weight and incomplete distractions. That they provided me with some information about nearly any region (if not city) in France and Switzerland was great, but only on a few occasions did that cornucopia give me decisive reasons for going somewhere (granted: if I drove, I’d probably have found them invaluable). Yet it did so, and not just once, so I must conclude that they were successful on this trip.

How was France, to my eye, this time? Looking good. There was an atmosphere of sufficiency and unhurried but definite progress nearly everywhere I saw. Societally the French were comfortable and always very helpful—stuff THAT in your sock, clueless France-bashers!—and I got the feeling that things were going to continue in this direction for the foreseeable future. Even Paris was content…although I concede I didn’t get out to St Denis this time to see how the mood in that recently-riotous banlieu was at the moment, nor how “outsiders” would be received there (I’m an outsider nearly anywhere I wander, but I’m also good at drifting through places unnoticed and/or being merely a shadow, so paying a call on St Denis wouldn’t be likely to faze me).

Europe itself I couldn’t assess on this trip, having only seen eastern France and western Switzerland. Still, the work underway at Paris’s Gare de l’Est was an impressive heads-up to the shape of things possibly to come. If such Paris/Budapest/etc. linkage is indeed realized, a fascinating and very attractive dynamic could come into play in Europe’s internal workings, with for example France and Poland not linked merely by cultural sympathy but by a high-speed two-way route allowing for interaction no longer channeled through air traffic. I’m always looking for the news developments that will show Europe’s focus shifting back towards its geographical center, and for Vienna to re-emerge as the hub it once was and certainly could be again—if only Yushchenko and Tymoshenko could have sustained the wave in Ukraine, we might have gotten there in a few years’ time—but in any case it appears Europe is doing just fine overall. Issues such as the euro’s stability are laughably moot (if you’re an American reading this, this is your cue to cry with bitter regret for the exchange rates you wish you could have when travelling in Europe), as is clear from the range of “important” topics in local European news: internal affairs of individual countries dominate, even in the U.K.…there’s no “can the European Union survive” fearmongering to be seen this year.

And how was the trip for me, in retrospect? Oh, now THAT is a difficult one to address. I suppose it was good overall…but it wasn’t strictly necessary, it yielded no fundamental benefits, and aside from the linguistic alienation in German-speaking Swiss locales it didn’t seriously challenge me as I hope for a journey to do. It gave me a first-hand look at places both new to me and familiar, and that in itself was a welcome distraction from my continued dissatisfaction with my life in Seattle. But I was only a visitor here and found no new place to consider trying to relocate to…Paris is still the one for me even though I remain shut out from it.

The drawback to a trip like this isn’t the monetary cost, it’s the return to where you started: like a drug wearing off, it leaves you less able to cope with your reality there and more frantic to get back to where life was beautiful again. Given the growing sense of impending terrorism and the climate of oppression and fear which is darkening the realities of contemporary air travel—and travel in general, as the world has become so mad that even photographing buildings is being treated as potential terrorism—it is hard for me to know when I’ll be able to fly abroad again. Every time I return to the U.S. after a trip, it feels like gates are being closed behind me…and recently it’s felt like the gates are getting bigger and might not open again. I’m trying to find a way to be on the other side of the gates before that happens, but the outlook is bleak. A heavy sense of impending historical darkness is looming over the world these days—it goes without saying what’s responsible for that—so to have had such a pleasant and uneventful trip was in retrospect a relief. It may not have been much of a “vacation” in the modern sense, but then I don’t “vacate” well: I travel. And I hope I can continue to do so.

“This tale is doon, and God save al the route!”

Sunday 15 October 2006

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