Thursday, 13 December 2007

A la recherche du temps perdu

Ever since I lived in the DOM and, indeed, rather surprisingly did a thing for a while (on loan from someone, seconded to someone else) in Haiti, I have always had a soft spot for Air France.

In 2002, I crossed the Atlantic 19 times with them. Epically comfortable, at the front of the plane, it was like a monthly+, Michelin-starred lunch-date at 40,000 feet.

There used to be an Air France flight that left Miami – jolly early, 06.55? – and went, like a bus, down les Antilles; first to Port au Prince, in Haiti, before Guadeloupe, Martinique and Cayenne. I wonder if it still does? Miami I used to go to – for R&R – about every 4-6 weeks.

On landing in Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture ‘International’ Airport, for post-9/11 security reasons, everyone had to de-plane, and I will never forget the strutting, sexy (I was younger, thinner), *assuredness* as I ‘turned left’ – entering Haiti – as discount tourists all gawped at me, as they turned right (in transit to a holiday Isle).

True, they and I knew Haiti was relentless and unforgiving chaos. But they were going on, to calmer islands further south, to drink lame cocktails at some sub-Sandals hotel (those most Weybridge of resorts). While I, on the other hand, was doing stuff, meeting my gun-packing, chauffeured Hummer waiting outside the airport. These were literally the best days of my life: I never earned so little, or lived so much.

Today I was passing through Paris Orly Ouest to fly Paris-London City (for a grand total of 16 hours: I fly to Kyiv tomorrow).

Bizarrely, this itty-bitty – but jolly useful – flight uses the same gate-suite as the Air France flights to Cayenne, Fort de France and, the airport for the island that was my base for 2 ½ years, Pointe à Pitre en Guadeloupe.

I have used these gates several times since my Caribbean posting – Air France uses them to fly to Morocco, which I have done several times since living in the FWI – but this afternoon, as I was flying to London (for a 16 hour trip mostly spent at in an investment bank), they were boarding the main daily flight to Guadeloupe.

And I was engulfed in a wave of warm, humid and slightly noxious *nostalgie*.

My colleagues with me, laughed. My English became more obviously Frenchified – i.e. in an accent that, for Francophone English speakers, was more easily understandable. I was engulfed.

Stealing a moment away from my colleagues (including my boss) I called my mother. I set the scene. “You miss it, darling. Of course you do. I miss the winter sun there, but I do not miss, darling – and every day I am grateful – that you decided to come back. I don’t think you were ever cut out for [that life]...”.

Gwada-French has a distinctive accent, the one, now, with which I speak French (as Parisians never fail to remind me) and, hearing it all around me at Orly airport today, was almost unbearable.

I have now the most interesting life I have ever had – the work I do in Moscow is some of the most intellectually and professionally…blah, blah… but when reminded of what I had, and who I shared it with, in Haiti and Guadeloupe… sighs. In Paris today I met worked with someone with whom, wonderfully, I collaborated 10 years ago. They have aged better...

So now I know why Proust was such a preternaturally miserable git. Temps definitely perdue

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