Ch. 6 – A Long Strange Trip
What had seemed like such a fun idea at the time (staying up all night!) turned out not to be so smart! As soon as I boarded the flight to Atlanta, all of my bravado crumbled. I was bone-tired, sleep-deprived, over-emotional, and hoarse. I could barely speak. Whenever I am plagued by colds, the flu, sinus troubles – any illness, almost! – the troubles always begin in my throat. It looked like I was coming down with something now.
I don’t remember the flight to Atlanta – I don’t remember who I sat next to, and I don’t remember being social. I probably did mention that my boyfriend and I had spent the night in the French Quarter, because that was the kind of impression I wanted to give. That of a social butterfly: impetuous, adventurous, popular with men, and a little crazy. I am sure that the “a little crazy” part struck home! I sat there in a delirium for the 2 hour flight.
When we arrived in Atlanta, we had some time before our evening flight to Brussels. I took advantage of that time to call and worry my mother. Dialing her number and calling collect, I croaked hoarsely at her about how wonderful Pablo had been. I told her that I didn’t want to go to France. I told her I was sick – that seemed obvious. I don’t know what I expected her to do, but I did have an idea. I wanted her to send some flowers to Pablo from me to thank him for driving me to the airport. I seemed to need yet another grand final gesture, in case the last grand final – spending the night in New Orleans! – was not enough. In the end, she talked me out of it. I hung up the phone, determined to go through with my year in Angers.
The trip to Brussels took a long time. We were seated in one of those huge jets, wide enough to seat 10-11 people across. I was in the colossal middle bank of seats – 6 or 7 seats across – smack dab in the middle. I don’t know if I even got up during the whole flight. I certainly didn’t catch the movie, although I noted that it was The Philadelphia Experiment – a movie that Pablo had mentioned wanting to see… I probably slept, but it was not a restful sleep. I think that I summoned the energy to play a game of UNO with a couple of my fellow students.
It was early morning the next day when we arrived at the Brussels airport. When I finally revived myself and got to a restroom, I realized that I had started my period and there was a spot on the back of my pants. To my dismay, I was not able to get to a change of clothing, so I was forced to wear my new London Fog coat for the remainder of our journey – no matter how warm it was inside the airport terminal and in the bus. I was also feeling less than glamorous and not at all like a traveler of the world.
As promised, there was a chartered bus waiting for us in Brussels, and we set out. First, we stopped by Mons, Belgium, to drop off the two students who would be studying there. Then we headed for Paris. I fell asleep again – by that time, I think that everyone was sleeping – suffering from jet lag. All that I remember about Paris at that time was traveling through a series of tunnels – and a view of a tiny Eiffel Tower in the distance. I was not concerned – I knew that I would visit Paris again this year.
We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafeteria frequented by truck drivers. The food was not remarkable, but it wasn’t bad, either. I was too tired to be concerned about the unglamorous location. By the time we entered the city limits of Angers, it was mid-afternoon, and I had not seen a proper bed in 48 hours. As promised, we stopped by our new home, the Residence Universitaire Leon Pavot, and dropped off our luggage. My room was on the second floor. It was mainly a women’s dorm, but the ground floor housed male students. Most of our guys were there.
We weren’t given much time to rest before we were rushed off for a tour of the town. We walked through the centre-ville and stopped at a cafe for a drink before heading for the Catho. We climbed 5 flights of stairs to reach the CIDEF. In France, there is a ground floor, and then they start numbering floors. That means that the fifth floor is actually the sixth floor. (My dorm room was on the “first” floor, but it really was the second floor.) We endured a greeting reception hosted by Mademoiselle Cochin, the directrice of the CIDEF, and then were led to the dining hall for dinner.
Finally, we were allowed to return to our dorms and sleep. My room was part of a suite of two rooms. There was an entryway after you entered the suite. To the right were two small closets – one for me, and one for my future suite mate. To the left was a bathroom with two sinks, and a shower stall that passed through to the adjoining suite and which would be shared with the people rooming there. To the right of the door to my room was a door leading to another room.
My room was spartan. There was a built-in study desk with shelves over it. I think that there was a dresser. The bed was next to the wall. My new bed was hard, and had a strange roll at the head of the bed where a pillow should have been. It was called an oreiller, I think. I folded mine in half and made do for the night. I was supposed to make up for two days lack of sleep in 8 hours. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.