I found Ro. That’s right. You heard me. I found him. And I feel damn good about it.
Let me explain.
I am currently in Paris, France. (It seems weird to add “France” to the word “Paris” as the city has a unique way of standing on it’s own with no need for identifying its larger boundary -as opposed to Perris, California I suppose).
This time around I am with a group of about 20 twenty-somethings yet, ironically, in the context I find myself I am merely a fellow traveller along with them. I am not their “boss” or leader – I am, in many ways, a type of peer with them. I strangely feel like Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School” or Will Ferrel in “Old School” as I travel on a pretour trip through Europe before I begin teaching for the semester in London (do I have to add England?). In any case, here I am while our leader and guide is all of 25.
Though the old man of the group, I feel in many ways I am as vulnerable and as very much a travelling “newbie” as they are. This came to light this morning.
We arrived last night and I had some dinner with some French friends (and 5 twenty somethings, btw) and actually had a rather pleasant first night after not sleeping for nearly 35 hours.
It was when I awoke this morning and decided to go visit my French friend Ro, who lives on the outskirts of Paris –only a mere 40 minute train ride from where I am staying- that I realized my traveling vulnerabilities. As I found myself straying from my twenty something tour package and opting to venture out on my own, I was in essentially the same place I was about 3 years ago when I visited Paris for the first time- alone, in a strange city, with a strange language, with strange geography of which I knew absolutely nothing about.
I experienced some moderate anxiety concerning my traveling to see Ro. What if I get lost? How can I communicate with anyone? I then realized I am in a big city with civilized human beings and a train system that is very internationally friendly. What is the worst that can happen? I am forced to eat bread and cheese until an English speaking French person can give me a hand? It is not like I am in the deserts of the Sudan – not knowing how I will survive Ebola and have to decide which insects to eat for survival.
Thus I put on my big boy traveling panties and off I went.
I safely made it to my final train exit when things got a little tricky. The directions provided went like this: “Exit on the right through the tunnel.” Wait…did that mean the several tunnels that encounter each stop immediately when you get off the train…meaning I would have to go the far right immediate exit? Or did it mean enter any tunnel and when you exit the train station to go to the right? So, like any good grammatical contextual analyzer, I decide to read on and see if it offered any additional clues:
“Then pass the glass building while following the street on the left.”
Fine. I will exit the train station and look for a glass building and just head that direction.
I looked left. A glass building! Well, kind of. It was definitely more glass than your average Paris building but could it really be considered a “glass building?”
I could only guess what a “glass building” meant to a Frenchman in comparison and contrast with what it means to me…a California surfer-type with little interest in building design yet has seen his fair share of Los Angeles glass buildings.
“Just look for a glass building, Jimmy, do not freeze with directional analysis paralysis,” I informed my meta-self. “Just go with your gut.”
The problem was that only in Paris are most buildings made of 100 year-old bricks and cement with very few windows –as if windows were designed as an afterthought by engineers who decided that a small view may be a good idea, for some much needed ventilation at the very least. I determined that if you find any building that has more than a few glass panels in Paris it could be considered a “glass building.”
Yet still, was I looking for a building with a few extra windows or the damn Crystal Cathedral?
So I followed this glass building with suspicion. Again, I did what any good contextual analyzer would do, I read on for the next clue.
“Turn right at the bakery,” it read.
Great. Every corner in Paris is a bakery with mouthwatering carbohydrates and fattening cheeses. However, I became wary of the suspicious “glass building” I was following as it appeared to lead me to a residential area hence, no bakery. So I walked back to where I came out of the train station and went the other way. And, alas, I saw THE glass building. There was no mistaking this one –glass from bottom to top.
I guess glass buildings are like porn –hard to describe though you know it when you see it.
Now where was the damn bakery? I walked a couple of blocks not knowing at which bakery to turn right at. So I looked for more clues:
“Just past the hotel,” it read.
I do not know the word hotel in French though I saw a logo on a building that seemed “hotel-ish” and, lo and behold, a bakery just beyond it.
“I am freaking Columbo mixed with Sherlock Holmes with a dusting of Hardy Boys,” I thought with smug satisfaction.
Not really. But I was pretty proud of me as I continued to successfully avoid the potential of Paris Ebola.
But my work was not done. Not even close. I had to meander a few more turns and buzz a door that had the number 11 on it, walk in, go up the stairwell on the left to the second floor and knock on the first door on the left.
I did all of this successfully…or so I thought.
When the door opened it was an old Frenchmen with a filthy apartment who did not speak a lick of English.
“Ro? Is Ro here? Do you know Ro?”
“Beswee boo doo doo oiu oo0 Dubai,” I heard…or something like that.
It is so strange how when two people do not know each others language keep talking to each other as if repetition will bring sudden linguistic enlightenment.
“Ro,” I repeated. “Ro. Is he here. Where is he? Do you know Ro. Ro. Ro Ro.”
My nonverbal skills kicked into full gear. It is at times like this I wish I was a feminine woman –trained in the art of nonverbal subtleties- searching for some universal nonverbal common ground and understanding.
He appeared a very kind man as he knocked on the neighbor’s door and a woman answered. He then again said, “Beswee boo doo doo oiu oo0 Dubai,” to the woman. I spelled out Ro’s name on a sheet of paper he provided and she smiled and pointed up another floor.
“Thank y ..ahhh…Merci,” I proudly told her, quite proud I could finally use one of the three words I know in French.
As it turns out those weird French people consider the first floor the ZERO floor and our third floor is their second floor.
I went up and knocked –on the third floor door, not the second, as some things Americans just have flat out right- and out walked Ro.
I did it. I survived the rough jungles of Paris.
I am that good.
An hour of conversation later, I departed and just went back the same way I came.
So this 51 year-old did what any 20 something admittedly could do much better –navigate through a strange city with a strange language with strange people- yet I feel so accomplished and satisfied as if I told my 51 year-old neurons to quit carving that neural rut. I told my neurons to live a little, to carve new paths.
Damn, I want to make my neurons my bitch.
I feel younger already. Watch out twenty somethings –you have a match. Why?
Because I found Ro.