Tuesday, May 3, 2011

may day

As I stepped off the plane, a smiling lady sang « Bienvenue!», and pressed a small white lily into my hand. She had a whole basket of them tucked under her arm, and as I passed into the spidery maze of the Charles de Gaulle airport, I noticed that each woman who whisked by was holding her own lily. Perplexed but honored, I tucked the flower into my bag to free my hands, ready to blaze a trail out of the aeronautical maze.

Upon returning home, my host mother told me that the distribution of sprigs of lily of the valley is a May Day tradition in France. In 1561, King Charles received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm. On the May firsts that followed, he offered a sprig to each of the ladies of his court and apparently, it is also tradition that the lady receiving the lily gives a kiss in return. Luckily I was unaware of this earlier—I may have been caught in awkward hesitation between French tradition and personal space boundaries with strangers.

As usual, I am surprised to have made it out of that airport alive. I can see myself wandering the passageways for days, braving the tarmac, or curling up with my flower in a concrete corner to wilt away.

The place is a 1970s interpretation of a space station on Mars; it is composed of three, giant pods crouching amidst a network of roads and runways. Approaching the airport aboard a tram allows for a bizarre vantage point of the barren metropolis before the car lurches forward on its tracks and dives underground into a mess of passages and stairwells. Personally, I find the oddest feature of the airport to be a series of bouncy, moving (moon)walkways that wander up and down between the concourses, wiggling unsettlingly underfoot and drawing nervous giggles from travelers. The control tower in the shape of a giant mushroom, on the other hand, is inarguably a nice touch. 

In theory, Charles de Gaulle is impossible to navigate. It is way too weird. However, I always seem to move through the airport in a flash. According to the official count from 2010, fifty-eight million one hundred sixty-four thousand six hundred and twelve (whew) passengers passed through the terminal pods in just that single year. The only explanation of this efficiency is some sort of sci-fi magic at work.

Yes, this airport is wild. It is also pretty unsightly, but I suppose that first glimpse of the Seine sparkling under the morning sun warrants a layover in space. Break is over, which means that it is officially springtime in Paris.