There is a first and a last time for everything. Last Wednesday I boarded an Air France plane headed to Atlanta where I was to change planes for a Delta flight to New Orleans. Nothing was out of the ordinary. The night before, I did the usual check-in online and chose a seat. The schematic showed that the entire back section of the lower deck of the Airbus 380 was available — the ENTIRE back section...strange.
Past history has told me to choose a seat at the very back, because the seats are sold from front to back and often I can score two or three seats together if the plane isn't very full. I don't mind the back, either, because there are bathrooms at the very back where the stairs go to the upper deck, and in my mind, I think the back of the plane is safer because if and when it goes down, it dives nose first, therefore the chance of survival is better. That is wishful thinking, I know, but it contributes to my decision, even if it's a bunch of malarky.
I chose seat #46D, the second row from the front of the section, on the aisle with three seats to one side. Boarding, it was "Zone 5" and we were the last to board. Okay, here's where it gets really nutty: I WAS THE ONLY PASSENGER IN THE ENTIRE SECTION OF 70 SEATS. And I swear this is true!
I had four or five flight attendants to myself. I had two bathrooms to myself. I had all the food and drink and attention I wanted. No one from the other sections of the massive plane ever even came to join me. It was strange, but wonderful. One attendant said she had never seen this in 15 years of flying and suggested I dance around the cabin to my heart's content! I made friends with a few of them and they took care of me like a queen. First class would not have been better.
The apparent reason for this was that the route was a new one for Air France and it simply hadn't sold out like they usually do. The return flight the next day was projected to be full. So, as I said, it was a first and am sure it will be a last.
Sisters - From Left to Right: Lee, Robin, Diana and Adrian
The reason for the trip to New Orleans was my oldest sister's 80th birthday (there are four of us daughters), which is actually tomorrow, the 28th. She celebrated by holding a weekend-long party with family and friends. I wouldn't have missed it for the world! All the sisters were there and all but one of the nieces and nephews, who came from all over the U.S. to be there.
Returning to the U.S. is always a bit of a culture shock. Landing in a U.S. airport hits you in the face like a ton of bricks. You are immediately bombarded by fast-food/bad-food kiosks and bowled over by the sheer enormity of the average American. Americans are simply big creatures on the whole and they clearly dress very differently than the average European. After living in Paris so many years where there is a kind of dress code respectful of the city, Americans' general lack of decorum (short-shorts too short, for example) ceaselessly surprises me. I did love, however, how one man (a big one, of course) with beautiful long dreadlocks and braids, was wearing five or six outlandish ties on top of his T-shirt, along with a plasticized Budweiser imprinted cowboy hat. I overheard him say to someone who had asked about his attire that he wore the ties every day just for the fun of it...and that kind of brazenness is very American and admirable in my book.
One of the very pleasant surprises happened when picking up the rental car — it took about 30 seconds to sign a couple of documents, then less than a minute to pick out a car on the lot offered up by "Miss Sylvia," who couldn't have been sweeter and wanted to make sure I caught her name so I could give her a good report. That's when I was reminded of good ol' fashioned U.S. customer service and efficiency. The same process would have easily taken 30 to 45 minutes picking up a rental car in France and it might not have been nearly as pleasant.
Inside Kenner Seafood
Gem de France, in the French Quarter
My sister had a mountain of spicy boiled crawfish waiting for me at her home. Without taking a breath, we sat for over an hour eating them until we couldn't breath...and this was close to midnight. For me, it was 7 a.m. and my fifth meal of the day. That didn't stop us from trekking to Kenner Seafood for dinner the following night for more boiled crawfish, but also crabs, shrimp, gumbo and an "oyster loaf" — a fried oyster "Po-boy." Before the dozen oysters we ordered came to the table, we had to cancel them — none of us could down another bite.
We wandered around the French Quarter in the sunshine and heat one afternoon stopping into interesting shops. One was called "Gem de France" and was run by a French woman from Cannes. It was filled with Provençal linens and other French products. When my niece took out her smart phone to take a photo of something she fancied, the proprietor stopped her, "No photos, madame." For a moment I thought I was back in France, where protectionism overrules promotionalism and where treating customers like adversaries can feel like more the norm than not. It's one of those interestingly different points of view between our cultures and I have often wondered why the French don't realize that not only is "imitation the sincerest form of flattery," but that copying something original makes it immediately more valuable because it's the original. But, c'est la vie Française, even in La Nouvelle Orléans.
The moment I landed at Jackson Square I thought of Place des Vosges in Paris, although the atmosphere is quite different between the two. The Pontalba Apartments that line two sides of the square were built by Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba in the 1840s and are the oldest rented apartment buildings in the U.S. These red brick buildings constructed over a shaded arcade are reminiscent of the Place des Vosges buildings and both squares are perfectly square. They are thought to have been designed based on what was first known as "Place Royale" (a.k.a. Place des Vosges), hence the natural resemblance and my feeling very at home with the Paris version.
The Self-promoting Notary
One afternoon, my daughter, Erica, needed to have a document notarized. We discovered that the banks aren't set up to perform the service like they used to be. With a bit of Google research we found a notary service in the neighborhood (Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans). It turned out to be unlike any notary we've ever encountered — a guy who promoted himself with a Capital P, wearing a T-shirt touting "Notary" along with his phone number, surrounded by flashy signage and him revealing a big personality. It certainly wasn't the same kind of set-up you might find in France! And FYI: Americans who need a U.S. document notarized in France, the only place one can have it done is at the American Embassy. Plan for it to cost a pretty penny, too. See usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/ for more information.
A couple of afternoons we spent just riding down Saint Charles Avenue under the shade of the old Live Oaks, parallel with the streetcars. The avenue follows the curve of the Mississippi River and in my opinion, is the most beautiful street in the world, even more so than the Champs Elysées. Lined in wedding-cake mansions, it's also a major Mardi Gras route and beads hang down from the trees like Spanish Moss. That in itself is just so "Noo Awlins!"
Part of the celebration included a special remembrance of my mother at our family's synagogue on Saturday morning as this is exactly four years since her death. It's what's called "yahrtzeit," meaning “anniversary,” but the word is used specifically to refer to the day on which a person passed away. When the Rabbi talked about my mother with a very personal story, I started to weep. I wasn't the only one. Many of us family members were wearing things she once owned as a way of feeling her presence: I had on her earrings, my niece was wearing her dress. She was very much there watching over us.
At lunch Sunday with 70 of my sister's closest family and friends, I saw people I hadn't seen in many years. Many of my cousins are planning trips to Europe and we spent a bit of time talking about the best way to see and enjoy the most of it. "Where would you start?," they asked.
"Paris, of course. There's a reason it's most visited city in the world!," was my response. "You don't understand. Once you land in Paris, you won't want to go any further."In some ways it's a joke, but in other ways, not at all. That's what happened to me way back in 1979, the first time I landed in Paris on route to a two-month tour of Europe. I could have stayed then and eventually did — now celebrating almost 25 years in the City of Light — but I suppose "Noo Awlins" will always be home.
P.S. HGTV's House Hunters International...We need to know what you fans think! We are contemplating a spin-off show from House Hunters International working with a few of their key agents (like me) and we have a few ideas, but want yours, too.Please cast your vote for any of these below or comment if you have another idea for them to contemplate!
Idea 1: Making the dream to live overseas a reality...from conception, to the point of having a new home: the trials and tribulations of getting a visa, leaving your home, confronting the new culture.
Idea 2: Buy move-in ready or buy a wreck and renovate? What are the pros and cons of doing both and which is a better solution?
Idea 3: Story of Americans living overseas -- how they got there, why they stayed and what life is like outside of the US. One show could highlight three different people, hosted by one of the agents.
Now, what do you personally want to see? And how do you see the agent fitting in to the story line?
P.P.S. Friends of Patricia Laplante-Collins: A niche has been reserved as a final resting place for Patrica’s ashes. A short ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. June 4th at the Colombarium of the Cemetery Père Lachaise, entrance at 71, rue des Rondeaux, 75020 Paris. Please meet at the reception of the Colombarium which is next to the crematorium, preferably at 2:45 p.m. All are welcome so please forward this announcement to anyone who may be interested. For those who have the time, a few of her friends may meet for a drink after the ceremony. For more information, contact Elizabeth at +33 6 27 56 80 59.
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