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Monday, 17 November
Getting There, Getting Around, Getting Back

I have a troubling confession to make. I really like airport Bloody Marys.

Not because they taste good; they manifestly do not. Least of all in Heathrow, where what you will get when ordering one of these is a glass half-filled with vodka and tomato juice, and then a bottle of Tabasco, a bottle of Worcestershire, and a pepper shaker. Hey, thanks! You fucking limey creeps. Incidentally, fuck you, Terminal Five. Heathrow's new Terminal Five--roughly the size and shape and carrying the same charm as Winston Churchill's dead, grotesque liver--is thoroughly and wholly the living international shits.

Let's clear this up: Terminal Five handles most if not all of British Airways' international traffic. When you deplane, you are immediately herded onto these godforsaken little trams, and then you take a ride to the terminal itself, a ridiculous gulag of a building with this preposterous sign posted outside of every door: "It is unlawful to smoke anywhere inside our outside of this building." I've got news for you, Terminal Fucking Five: I broke the law several times today.

(I actually broke the law while in Terminal Five itself. When I was taking a shit in the bathroom outside "Huxley's," the impressively inauthentic English airport pub, I hotboxed a good four puffs on a cigarette because I exhibiting early signs of nicotine psychosis. One of those signs is ordering a Bloody Mary from Danish waiters working in Heathrow's abominable Triumph of the Will-styled cathedral bars.

Oh, and here's an actual conversation with a waitress:

"Is there a smoking area anywhere in here?"

"You cannot smoke anywhere in here."

"Oh. So I guess I'd have to go outside to smoke, then."

[Puzzled and pitying look] "You cannot leave, sir."

This is actually true. Unless you are vomiting blood, or have a thorax full of chestbursters all erupting at once, you cannot leave Terminal Five. Terminal Five is, quite literally, Hotel California. The Brits have settled on a fairly literal definition of the word "terminal": It will make you want to die.)

Anyway. Airport Bloody Marys. I don't know what it is about these terrible things, but I always must have them prior to boarding a plane. Part of it is the wan little celery garnishes and the microcephalic sword-impaled olives, and most of all, the abrasive chemical peel you get in your mouth from the wretched seasoned salt they rim the glasses with. All of these terrible details wake up my lobes and tell me: TRAVEL IS AFOOT! Plus, they help me deal with ancillary issues, such as settling into my BA seat only to find out that my next nine hours of air travel will be unadorned with such fripperies like a working set of earphones. When I went to plug in the 'phones, the entire jack caved into my armrest, causing me to spontaneously order six whiskies and then watch seventeen silent dumbshow reruns of Martin in a stuporous gloom.

I'm just kidding. I fell asleep. I'm stupid, but I don't hate myself. Not that much.

The only other in-country travel that we faced while in France was getting from Paris to Avignon via the astoundingly awesome TGV train, which travels so fast that you get to watch time dilate. We greeted our train at the Gare de Lyon with an hour or so to spare, so naturally we settled in to . . . the cafe/bar at the train station's soaring outgoing depot. The wife had an espresso while I opted for a beer. We settled in and watched all of the charming bustle. Ten minutes in, I picked up my beer and brought it to my lips. But I noticed something.

"What the fuck?" I said. The wife beetled her brows at me, questioning. I wheeled my beer glass around this way and that. There appeared to be tiny little slugs in my beer. "What the fuck?" I hissed again, showcasing my firm grasp of this uniquely American idiom. I peered at the tiny slugs. One appeared to be clinging listlessly to the rim of my glass. I picked at it.

"Slippery fucking thing," I grumbled. It kept sliding out of my grasp. What the hell was going on? I finally got a hold of the damn thing, but then it promptly dissolved in my fingers and fell like an ectoplasmic nightmare into the depths of my beer, creating a noisome cloud.

Gare de Lyon's upper depot is basically open-air. Trains come in and out on one end, passengers do the same on the other. There aren't any doors. There weren't any slugs in my fucking beer. One of the dozens of pigeons that make their home in Gare de Lyon had taken a desultory shit into my glass. And I had just spent ten minutes fingering a good quantity of it--had, in fact, come bare seconds away from drinking it. I suddenly glared up at the ceiling, staring at these hateful little fucking vermin, and then I had to laugh. The wife called over the waiter, and, her normally very good French failing her, pointed at my beer, then at the damned birds and said, "Ah . . . . pigeon . . . ah, boom?" Here she mimed a bomb drop. The waiter smiled easily and motioned me to hand him my glass and promptly replaced it. I noted clinically that he did not wear a hat; I doubted that this was his first skirmish with the evil avian bombardiers lurking above. I peered gloomily at my shit-beslimed fingers and sought out a bathroom.

And one last thing about Gare de Lyon. When we came back from Avignon, this station was also our point of disembarkment in Paris. So we got off the train--and we could not leave the station. We walked towards the "Sortie" signs; they took us deeper into the bowels of the terrible place; we soon found ourselves staring at subterranean train stations threatening to take to places prefixed by the word "Aix." We scrambled back upstairs; the wife spotted a sign that said "INFORMATION" with a helpful arrow; it pointed to a blank brick wall.

"WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?" I screamed. Nobody cared; the noise was incredible. Everyone was rushing everywhere and nowhere at once. Any direction could have possibly been the correct one. We ran up against a bank of alarming turnstiles; more trains. These promised to take us to towns named Glottal Stop and Swallowed R. We shrieked like bats and ran in circles; I contemplated asking the nice man in full camo gear for directions, but was given pause when I noticed that he carried not only a professionally terrifying moustache but also an automatic rifle that he cradled with no small amount of paternal warmth.

We finally emerged from this Gehenna thanks to some Parisian fellow that the wife managed to buttonhole: "GO LEFT! GO LEFT!" he screamed insistently, though it is possible that this was simply his local exhortation to vote for Barack Obama. We blinked as we staggered outside, and then hailed the worst cab driver in existence; he dropped us off three blocks from our hotel, saying, as far as we could tell, that he could "see it from here." The cab smelled like degraded polymer chains.

Exhausted, depleted, we finally discovered our hotel. And, the next morning, on the flight back home, I watched The Dark Knight. Not bad! At least my headphones worked. Halfway through, the steward offered me some inedible thing purporting to be a sandwich; I think it was alleged that it contained some sort of marmalade. (British people: I know American food is, on the whole, laughable and dispiriting, but is this a competition?) I politely declined and asked: "Can I get a Bloody Mary?" It was perhaps eleven o'clock, local time.

Bless him, he only paused for a moment.

Roam | Skot | 17 Nov, 2008 |

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Comments

Ah wee, this is marvelous. I must "blog roll" you at once.

On a largely unrelated note, I never get to go anywhere.

Comment number: 017653   Posted by: Grumpus on November 18, 2008 09:57 PM from IP: 207.81.166.95

Ah, Terminal Five. If it's any consolation, Terminal Five has already become a running joke in Britain, epitomizing the uniquely English ability to take a seemingly simple set of tasks and fuck them up colossally. On that note, I'm very much looking forward to the Olympics, just for the chaos. Have you seen the logo they've chosen for 2012? The hilarity begins!

Comment number: 017657   Posted by: Robin on November 20, 2008 02:49 AM from IP: 81.155.115.226

I loved the line in SP's play (you know, the one where you were naked): "Paris smells of bread and excrement." It's so TRUE!

Comment number: 017658   Posted by: Topher on November 20, 2008 10:17 AM from IP: 76.168.74.250

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