Evan from Emirates had seen too many episodes of ‘Mean Girls’.
If I’m honest, I’ve never actually watched a single episode of ‘Mean Girls’, but going by the title, it would seem that the themes of the series in question, are probably not too hard to decipher.
Lumping my bag onto the weighing belt at the airport, almost breaking my back in the process, I offered up a smile in an attempt to get off to a good start. ‘Hi Evan,’ I said with a baby Labrador skip in my (not so baby Labrador) stride, ‘it’s been a long summer, family you know, so many Christmas presents,’ I went on to squeak, almost having a baby suitcase in the process.
‘Handle up,’ Evan warned as I lay the suitcase down on its side. Following his instructions, I stood the suitcase on its wheels just as he pressed ‘go’ on the conveyer belt, almost causing me to ride the bag like a miniature pony all the way down the chute to the aircraft.
‘Ha, all good,’ I laughed, ‘nearly got me!’. Evan went on to explain that I had too much luggage, and when I agreed, asking what he proposed I do about it, he simply advised that I could find some ‘friends’ in the airport to take it ‘home’ for me, or (even better) just ‘pop’ the excess into the bin behind him. Just like that, never to be seen again.
‘Ok Evan, it looks like I’ll be paying for some extra luggage, I understand, but in return do you think you could possibly see if there are any spots on the aircraft with a spare seat beside it – I’m traveling alone, you see’. Evan then went on to advise that traveling alone is my ‘choice’ and he doesn’t do favours, I’d be seated in approximately row 7,062 in the aisle near the closest ‘torlet,’ ‘mkay?’.
With that, I went to Jeff in customer service and dobbed on Evan. Bugger Evan, I don’t ‘choose’ to do anything alone, and if I had an endless pit of money I’d be flying in my own private jet to Paris – speaking of choices.
Jeff was the kindest man I’ve ever met. Ever. He assured me that he’d have a word to Evan, and went on to block me a row of four whole seats – away from any children with ear issues, at the back of economy and right near where the staff sit, ‘they’re just there, you can press the call button for anything you need Virginia, have a safe flight,’ casually adding ‘oh, and the excess, I’ve waved that for you, enjoy Paris’.
I wanted to climb the customer service desk and kiss Jeff, but had and early premonition that Jeff wouldn’t really have liked that so much, so I refrained, short of telling him he ‘completed’ me. Instead, I explained that his kindness had ‘improved my day exponentially,’ like I was suddenly an accountant staring at fiscal growth on a spreadsheet, not a civilian in an airport who’d been picked on by a man named Evan.
The end of two blissful months in Australia was almost destroyed by Evan (watch me be dramatic here), but thanks to Jeff, all was looking good. As I passed through Gate 11, it was Evan who checked my boarding pass and wished me a ‘bon voyage,’ before flashing a big smile.
Short Evan had a short memory – must be all those episodes of ‘Mean Girls’. Or, maybe Jeff was a bit of a heavy hitter when it came to ‘having a word’. Sweet Jeff.
As a combination of it being Valentines Day and Chinese New Year, the aircraft was almost empty. My four seats, making up row to myself, were a first after many years of flying and a welcome godsend. After placing my bags overhead and settling in, I wiped my eyes only a little bit as we headed up into the great big sky, destined for my ‘other’ home, miles away from my beloved family and friends.
Almost as soon as the seatbelt signs were turned off, a man in a short t-shirt barely reaching the waistline of his tracksuit pants, giving me full view of all that I didn’t want to know about, threw himself into the forth chair of my precious, hard earned row. He’d been eying ‘my’ row off throughout takeoff from his seat over the way, and proceeded to stretch out over all three seats that Jeff had so kindly allocated me as reverence for earlier ‘Evan-attude,’ and snored for the next twelve hours. Too tired and only the slightest bit emotional, I sat upright in my chair and watched about eleven films. Fifteen hours later, as we approached Dubai, he woke again and asked if I might like to ‘stretch out,’ for touchdown. I stared straight ahead and said nothing for fear of crying.
‘Hey, come on, ‘we’ have all this space – you should use it,’ he laughed, before asking me ‘what was the Eminem film you watched, what channel’. I swallowed, thought long and hard and responded with a weak, ‘It wasn’t anything to do with Eminem, I detest Eminem, the film was called Goodbye Christopher Robin’.
For the record, Goodbye Christopher Robin is a really beautiful film that did a good job of leaving me with no napkins left for supper, I highly recommend it.
Which brings me to films.
Just five minutes way on foot, along the ancient cobblestones of Cour du Commerce Saint André and left on Boulevard Saint Germain, I have ‘Cinema Odeon’. Downstairs from chez moi, just five steps away I have ‘Christine 21,’ a bit of a cult hero in the Parisian film scene where one can enjoy classic films in both French and English. Over the past five days, hemmed in by a rare, Siberian chill, I’ve seen four films and had Evan not taken up so much of the segue in getting to this point in the piece, I’d have given you a full debrief of all of them.
Set in a 17th century villa in Lombardy, Italy, Call Me by Your Name is a story set in sun drenched splendour of the surroundings of the Perlman family holiday home. Dr Perlman, the father, invites a handsome doctoral student to spend the summer with him and his wife and their young son, Elio.
Flies buzz, fruits are picked from the trees in expansive orchards, swims are had in cold and vast water holdings, and the Italian countryside begs for the viewer to leap through the screen in moments of pure, unadulterated, nostalgia.
I was taken by this film, not just for its breathtaking scenery and the beautiful love story between two young men that unfolds, but also for the journey back into the 1980’s decorated with Elio’s erratic and gifted playing of the piano. I downloaded the soundtrack to this film days before I went to the advanced screening last Tuesday, and have played it on repeat ever since.
In the final moments of the film, Dr Perlman delivers a (questionably idyllic for 1983) monologue to Elio in the sofa of his study. He speaks of a ‘beautiful friendship, maybe more than a friendship’ going on to add that he ‘envies’ Elio. In Dr Perlman’s place as a young boy, most parents would hope the whole thing would ‘go away’ or ‘pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough’. Dr Perlman is not such a parent; in Elio’s place, he urges him to ‘nurse it,’ and if there is a flame ‘don’t snuff it out’.
He finishes by advising ‘we rip so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should, that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing, so as not to feel anything – what a waste’.
That is not a spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film already, because the whole way through the film you anticipate Dr Perlman’s dignified, understanding, and kind words that will eventually be delivered from him, to his son.
In the moments before heading in to watch the film, I hid from the chill outside in the relative comfort of the cinema foyer. An older man of about 70 years old entered and waited beside me. He was beautifully presented in pressed trousers, a sports coat and a tidy shirt (his collar may have been only a bit askew). His hair was not dissimilar to steel wool, the sort you’d clean a cast iron pot with, and his eyes were incredible and dark brown. As a younger man, he would have been even more handsome. As we were called in to take our seats, he put his seeing glasses on – one arm missing on the left side, but they had obviously continued to do the trick, lopsided as they appeared. He proceeded to get lost and headed for Cinema 3, muttering ‘merde’ before following me into Cinema 2.
As the credits rolled at the end of the film, I was holding a tissue up to both of my eyes, sobbing fairly decent tears after Dr Perlman’s words, as were my seating companions on both sides. As I stood to leave, I noticed my friend from the foyer sitting behind me, glasses lopsided and tears streaming down his face as he tapped his novel against his right knee crossed neatly over his left leg, as he stared vacantly into the distance.
A gentle reminder that we are never fully aware of anyone’s story and what might be going through their mind, and what may have happened in their past.
I’ll even apply this to Evan.
Today marks my first day of Monday Bookclub held in the beautiful Hotel Le Crillon, just off Place de la Concorde where many notable public executions of royalty took place during the French Revolution. In 2018, it is more of a frenetic roundabout, littered with taxis doing their best not to mow down tourists. The book for March is The Bettencourt Affair, an addictive read of over 1,000 pages which I also devoured during the cold days delivered by the ‘Beast from the East’.
Tonic for the mind and soul is often delivered in strange ways – long flights and forced lockdowns delivered by weather patterns from Siberia, included.
Pictured: the beautiful mosaic walls of Boissonerie, a fabulous restaurant not far from home in the Rue de Seine.