Another Bite From The Universe: Thanks Air France
Updated: Feb 1, 2020
The Black Dress
I spent three days in the same black dress.
It was a fetching dress, to be sure. Cotton with a little spandex, 3/4 sleeve, scoop neck, brand name Splendid. Yes, the details are indelibly etched in my mind. I had a black scarf, black coat, and black shoes as well.
I generally contrive to spend most of my life covered in black. Not because I’m morose or funereal. It just seems more chic, simplifies dressing and packing, and is slenderizing (or so I tell myself).
How did this situation come about?
It was a bite from the universe. And the bite came when I was already bitten, bleeding, and could feel my bones straining under the weight of life’s so-called “teaching situations.”
The Bane of Blood Clots
I was coming off a gauntlet of excellent swim meets. (If you’ve read the “About” page, you’ll know I’m as master swimmer.) I had just set four masters world records in one afternoon at the Albatross short course meters meet in Maryland. True story. I was feeling indomitable, unbeatable, and immune to the deleterious effects of aging.
driving home with a swim friend, all smiles after the Albatross meet
Except I wasn’t.
Just weeks later, my life was hijacked, abruptly hijacked and stolen from me.
I had a sudden swelling in my right arm. I rushed myself to the emergency room, fearing a blood clot. Mayo Clinic reviewed scans showed nothing.
I eventually scored an appointment at Johns Hopkins with one of a handful of national experts in the rare condition known as Venous Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is what I had self-diagnosed. I'm sure you've never heard of it; no one has. A Hopkins’ scan showed two large blood clots in my axillary and subclavian veins. If my life were a Victorian novel, I’d be dead.
Surgeries commenced, and my first rib, scalene muscle, and pec minor tendon were excised to decompress the thoracic area. I can’t help but regale you with this gory bloody picture of what my surgeon called “the largest female rib I've ever seen.”
I'm not only good at swimming, I have supernatural size body parts. Seriously, that 10 centimeter chunk came out of my chest and I survived.
an excised first rib from venous thoracic outlet surgery at Johns Hopkins
As you might expect, this all put a bit of a damper on my swimming career.
I sat home on the couch more or less being a dutiful patient. I consumed Netflix, popped oxyoctin, felt continually nauseous, cuddled my cat, and endlessly pondered and cursed this absurd life detour.
Then, I got shingles. Shingles?! Wasn't I down enough already? Did I need to be hammered again right at that very moment? The universe was clearly chomping me up bit by bit, in what seemed like a terribly sadistic way. Abject misery may seem like a cliche, until you've felt it.
A Much Needed Geographical Cure
Time passed. Anti virals replaced oxycontin. Amazon Prime and Hulu replaced Netflix. I started watching foreign shows. My friend Sara recommended Call My Agent (French), which is an incredibly charming dramedy.
Perhaps inspired by the show, I had an epiphany.
I decided that I deserved a trip to France. I did. I deserved a trip to compensate for my trauma-filled sedentary life and to rejuvenate my battered psyche. Who could begrudge me that?
Besides, my youngest daughter was driving me bonkers. Without the mood elevating effect of badassery exercise, I was growing weary of the daily drama, mood swings, and outright bitchiness. Teenage girls are so very hard on their mothers, apparently even if their mother's veins and spirit are crushed. There is no sympathy, even then.
And so I planned a geographical cure.
I decided to meet up with my long lost BFF, stationed at the American Embassy in Paris the last three years. We would tour the “City of Love,” seek out hidden gems, and then embark on a tour of northeast France.
Northeast France in April doesn’t call to you? It would, if you were a lover of all things medieval. We were. And so I planned an elaborate itinerary, including stops in Lille, Arras, Laon, Reims, Troyes, Chateau de Coucy, Pierrefonds, Provin, etc. We even had a stay booked at the very chic Chateau de Fere in the champagne region, if we needed to hit pause for a bit.
It all seemed très magnifique.
The Chateau de Fere, our intended relaxing retreat, set amid medieval ruins
Air France Bite from the Universe
So I boarded my flight to Air France Paris feeling relatively carefree for the first time in ages. The future looked rosy. I was about to be geographically cured by the magic tonic of travel.
I landed in Paris with nary a delay. But there was just one hitch.
I was on injectible blood thinners and had packed them in my checked luggage. Sadly, very very sadly, my bag did not come off the belt.
It was another bite from the universe, a small bite this time I fervently hoped and prayed. I slogged over to customer service to log a lost baggage claim. I explained that “important life saving medication” was in the lost bag.
They scolded me. Yes, I was a blundering idiot, I conceded. But carrying aboard a huge package of stomach stabbing injectibles in an already crammed small carry on bag hadn’t seemed a good idea at the time. Plus, it seemed unlikely that I could just waltz through security with a large cache of needles in my bag.
Air France assured me I’d get my bag the next day. My friend assured me all would be well soon. Assurances abounded.
Except I was not terribly reassured. I was skeptical, as I am prone to be.
Gamely, I tried to suppress thoughts of dying and clotting. After all, I had just been on a transatlantic flight, altitude compressing my veins and had emerged alive. I brushed off my black dress with some alacrity and resolutely toured Paris.
Les Philosophes in the Marais where I had a lovely warm goat cheese salad
We started with lunch at Les Philosophes and a walkabout in the Marais. We ended with cocktails and dinner in Montmartre before ubering home to Rue Picot in the 16th arrondissement.
Rue Picot, site of my apartment in the 16th arrondissement of Paris
I slept like a log. The next day I awoke and donned my trusty black dress. As inevitable as death, I had no message from Air France and no bag had arrived. Menteurs!
A call to Air France yielded a promise that the bag would arrive “soon.” I wondered if Air France had any concept of linear time.
I tried shopping in Paris. But the boutiques were quite intimidating, and I couldn’t readily find the ideal black outfit. Plus, I really really hate shopping.
I am also typically dreadful at compartmentalizing. But I tried to put my never ending well of neurotic thoughts about blood clots aside and enjoy the sights of Paris.
We bought expensive champagne. Champagne makes the world better every time. And unlike the US, you can actually buy great champagne in the grocery store.
enjoying some Veuve Cliquote at Rue Picot in Paris
Third Day with the Black Dress
The next day dawned and I waited for my bag, expectantly, in some borrowed gym shorts and a tee. No bag.
This time, runners were the main culprit. The Paris marathon had closed down Rue Picot that morning. As I later ascertained, Air France drove to Rue Picot, saw that it was closed, and drove away without even attempting to call me.
I could have walked one block to retrieve my bag.
Another bite from the universe.
Customer service is apparently a foreign concept to Air France.
By this time, my coping mechanisms were starting to unravel. I was utterly sick of the universe at this point. I didn't need any buck-upping lingo. I had been worried for a perfectly good reason.
The French would be neither accommodating nor rushed. Basically, the human race falls into two categories: those who are reasonably concerned about the fate of other people and those who couldn’t care less. The Air France employees clearly fell into the latter category.
I was as cranky as a cat.
Crankiness Sets In
I was starting to feel really cranky. Who among us wouldn’t feel the onset of a low grade temper tantrum in those circumstances?
Besides, we were supposed to embark on our grand adventure the following morning. I couldn’t leave without the damn bag ...
I put in another call to Air Fricking France. I tried to clarify, if it wasn't already clear, that I might die soon without my medication and, if I did, they could expect a lawsuit. From my even more litigious bulldog husband. I’m not sure they understood all my bluster, but they promised to deliver the bag around 5:30 pm. That at least seemed better than "soon."
the one towered Basilica of St. Denis in Paris, which consistent with my then mood, is the burial place of French royals
Having extracted that promise, I attempted to enjoy my day while the hours clicked ever so slowly by. The Basilica of St. Denis and the Musee d’art Moderne were on the agenda. A dose of art and culture is usually a potent distraction, and that mostly proved to be the case.
I arrive back at Rue Picot at 4:30 pm. (I am always early.) Surely the bag would come. Surely my grand adventure wouldn’t be delayed or cancelled.
And then, voila, a van pulled up and my bag popped out, battered and dirty but still intact after 3 long days. Indescribable relief.
baggage tags and champagne, a good combination
My black dress had seen better days. Truth be told, I never wanted to wear it again. I had to resist tossing it in the garbage.
We broke out more champagne, this time to celebrate my medical salvation, not as a balm against an incessantly biting universe.
Then we took our last stroll through Paris.
a last stroll through Paris at night in clean and mostly black clothing
The next morning, on schedule, we embarked on our road trip. I hoped that the universe was done with me and had a new victim in mind. I hoped that only joy would henceforth ensue. Despite everything, I had high hopes.