Traveling to foreign countries is always a mind-altering experience. You know? Seriously? Forget lighting up, tuning in and tuning out or turning on or whatever they called it in the Sixties. If you live in America, traveling outside of this country will blow your mind.
Because it all happened in a blurry dream state, I barely remember the past 24 hours. I know that we woke up at 3am in Los Angeles and drove to LAX, parked in a reliable airport parking spot which shuttles you to the airport. I know that they dropped us off at the Delta terminal but that it was the wrong terminal and so we had to roll our baggage half way around the airport (“It’s just about a five to seven walk. I do it on my lunch break every day.”) to Alaska Air, which partners with Delta. I know we waited about 45 minutes to check-in and get on board. This, because of heightened security measures which did not let you check things in automatically.
I know that we then flew to Seattle, where we had about a four layover. We wandered around that giant airport — which has its own subway system — and I know, at some point, I used their free wi-fi. I know that we got on the plane there, Air France this time, and flew seven hours to Paris. I know that we had our neck pillows and our eye covers and our blankets. I know I tried to sleep that whole time but really just laid there, with my eyes closed.
I know that, at some point, they began serving breakfast. Somehow we would get to Paris, wait in two more very long lines before finally getting on a plane to beautiful, peaceful, extraordinary Nice. And we would rent a car and get lost driving around the hills behind Nice. We would drive a long time before realizing we were lost. We would find ourselves on toll roads with no euro, having to use the intercom to speak to the workers to explain in English (which none of them speak) why we had no euros. What morons they must have thought we were. One guy just let us through without paying. An alarm went off. I hope I don’t get charged a fine.
But through all of this, a running dialogue is going on in my head as I explain to my daughter yet again why I am making yet another stupid person mistake: “This is how you learn things,” I said. “You make a mistake and you learn something.” And it’s true. We keep learning things as if we’re headed for some kind of plateau of knowledge – because THEN, maybe then we will have figured it all out. Only to then die. Yes, life. Ah, life.
She looked at me like she felt sorry for me. Poor mom. Someday she’ll realize how cool I am. Right? Right? Kids are funny when they travel. They always want to come until they actually start realizing what a hassle it is. Things are made so comfortable for Americans. We really are like those soft, chubby passengers on that giant cruiser in the sky in Wall-E. Just hook us up and take our money.
But when you travel to other countries you see that it’s so not about you, especially here in France in parts that don’t cater to American tourists. I keep saying “je suis Americaine!” as if it’s some excuse as to why I’m so clueless. They just blink back at me: “And I’m supposed to care because…?” In America we are mostly raised to respect the almighty dollar. That’s really what customer service is all about. You know they can’t really treat you that badly because it will cost them in the end. In France and Italy, the two foreign countries I’ve traveled in most, they don’t give a crap about that. They appreciate your politeness more. It’s hard to get your mind around. In America, it’s backwards: the customer is always right. Here, it’s more like, the nicer you are the better service you will get. Act like an entitled American and be prepared to have people treat you poorly.
It is surreal.
Today is officially the first day here. We will drive from Juan Les Pins, where we ended up staying, to Cannes proper, where I will fight the crowds for a parking spot, then walk into the Palais du Festival. The South of France, the coast near Cannes, has many beautiful villages. Like Italy, there are those the tourists flock to and those the tourists don’t yet know about. All up and down the coast — except Cannes and places that everyone already knows — you can find the prettiest, quietest, sweetest little French towns. And those are really what France is all about, I dare say. I am acting as though I’m an expert when in fact, this is my third visit to France and two out of three of those times I was only in the tourist areas. Now we’re staying in Juan Les Pins, which really doesn’t have many Americans. The reason being, most people who comes to the Cannes Film Fest prefer to stay within walking distance. Now that I’ve rented a car, I know the reason why: it’s god-awfully expensive.
For the amount of money the car cost, plus the hotel, we could have stayed in one of the expensive hotels close to La Croisette. Oh well: live and learn. Make mistakes, lots of them, and then learn more.
Onward and upward. Day One.