That's a tight connection in Paris, I thought when I saw my itinerary for a whirlwind trip: Italy to New Orleans and back in just five days. A mere hour between landing in Paris and taking off for Atlanta. And Charles de Gaulle is an immense place. But in such situations, one must simply press on and hope for the best.
It was soon clear that the best was not to be. We were fifteen minutes late leaving Pisa. Hmmnn, even tighter now. I asked the flight attendant what my chances of making the Atlanta flight might be. He went to check with someone and returned. They would do their best. Someone from Delta would be at the bottom of the stairs. Look for a person holding a sign that said "Atlanta."
By now I had discovered another Atlanta-bound passenger, and we agreed to make a run for it as soon as humanly possible. We were up and in the aisle as soon as the seatbelt sign was off, and down the stairs in no time. There was a young woman with an "Atlanta" sign. Follow me, she said, with a little smile, and we trotted along behind her across the tarmac, under the wing of another plane and into a waiting van.
Speak English? German? French? she asked, sizing up her two middle-aged blonde passengers, and settled on English, just as I was about to summon I thank you a thousand times -- something no French person would ever actually say to anyone -- in flawless high school French. But it was no time for conversation anyway -- the young woman took off like a bat out of hell, careening around corners, barreling into DO NOT ENTER lanes and coming to a halt outside Terminal D. But ours is terminal E, I started to say. Never mind that, she said, just go through passport control here. There aren't as many passengers over here in D. Meet me at that door over there, she said, pointing, and soon we were off again..
Do you have your pacemaker document, the man at the security screening in Terminal E asked me. I wasn't sure -- nobody's ever asked me for it before. I could show you my scar, I offered hopefully, and a look of faint disgust crossed his impassive face, Oh, no, wait, here it is!
Merci, Madame, he said, relieved, and took the card. He handed it back and waved me through to be searched.
Knowledge of my cardiac status always changes things a bit. Are you all right? my young guide wanted to know as we ran lickety-split down the concourse. My lickety-split isn't what it used to be, but I assured her that I was fine, and we arrived at the gate. They were waiting for us. We were the last to arrive. But we made it. I tried again to thank our young savior a thousand times in French, and this time got the words out. I tried to give her a generous tip; she smiled her grave little smile and said it was not permitted.
She was young. She was tall and slim. She had long dark hair and brown eyes, and her skin was the color of dark coffee with rich cream. Algerian, maybe? She was awfully tall, as tall as I am. Maybe Tunisian?
Wherever she was born, or her parents, or her grandparents were, she was French now. Like it is here: wherever you're from, you're American now. It can be hard for people in one country to accept that about those who come from elsewhere to live among them. It's hard in Italy and in France. It's hard in Germany and in England. It's hard in America. You read about it in the newspapers all the time, how hard it is to welcome the stranger, and many of the stories you read are distinctly unlovely. But we'll get there. We'll remember, finally, that everybody is from elsewhere, if you just go back far enough.