Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Happy birthday to Kearney! It doesn’t seem like a quarter of a century ago that she was born. There’s a lot to celebrate today.

Thankfully, our travel was without incident. Arriving was grand: it’s as beautiful or more than we remembered. The approach into Nice swings out over the bay, so there are widescreen views of the water and shoreline. When we saw our beach (well, the beach we go to) from the plane, we thought “we’re here!” In the papers on the journey, we noticed that the New York Times has returned to Sam Abt for its coverage of the Tour de France. We’re very pleased, as he’s a great reporter, otherwise retired, and his Tour coverage has always been the best. Last year, they tried to replace him with a generic sports reporter, even though the cycling blogs said he was still willing and interested in writing about the Tour; let’s just say from the news consumption perspective, it was not a great decision and seeing it reversed was pleasing. Another point for the old and wise among us.

We had an interesting retro experience upon landing: since there were only two of us this time, we needed to think ahead, plan, and communicate a bit more than regular life or past times have required, since we didn’t have girls to assist and our cell phones don’t work here. (Well, they do, but we’re not willing to pay what ATT would charge for international roaming, so we have them turned off for the duration.) Michael usually goes straight to get the car, a generally bureaucracy-heavy and very slow process, while the girls and I corral luggage and file missing luggage reports and get through customs. This year, Michael went to get the car, but without girls to run as go-betweens and serve as lookouts, and without the ability to call and say “where are you now?,” we had to plan a little better. We’d sort of counted on all our luggage arriving, since the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow is supposed to have worked all the kinks out of the high-tech baggage system by now. Thus, when the car pick-up process was smooth and efficient, Michael was left waiting without information while I stood in line and filed the required reports. Then, we missed each other somehow when I finally did emerge, so each of us wandered around aimlessly for a while before reconnecting. Being able to call each other would have been nice. Anymore, it’s not often that we stop and think about the extraordinary convenience of cell phones. BC (before cellphones), we routinely used to make contingency plans, set meeting places and rendezvous times, etc., especially when going to new places with small children. While I guess families must still set meeting places in case children get lost (“go to the clock tower or ask anyone in costume for help” at Disneyland), adults, each with a phone, don’t need to think ahead so much any more. I guess this goes on the list of ponderables along with “does Google make us stupid?”

On the topic of Heathrow, BA advertises that “The creation of Terminal 5 was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to redefine air travel. Our aim was to replace the queues, the crowds and the stress with space, light and calm.” When we checked with BA, the gate agent enthusiastically reminded us we’d be going into the “beautiful new Terminal 5,” and that it is a “silent terminal” so flights are not announced and that we must take responsibility for watching the departure boards. A silent terminal sounded good and we looked forward to the new design. The pieces we saw are neither particularly silent nor very attractive. They might not be making flight announcements, but they still make a million repetitive security announcements, along with other frequent squawking hard to make out over a PA system in a large and noisy space. Here’s another bit off their website: “Whether departing, arriving or connecting through, to travel with British Airways and to fly from or to Terminal 5, is to change the way you fly forever.” It didn’t do much for us. We flew into and out of Terminal 5, and to our surprise, found you STILL must go through security twice: most planes arrive in Building 1 of terminal 5, and to connect, you must take a train to Building 2 of terminal 5 and, guess what?, go through security again. The new security lines, despite there being many of them and in custom-built space, appear to work as slowly or more so than the ones in the old terminals. Inside, the new terminal is barely distinguishable from other Heathrow terminals, except the ceilings are perhaps even lower. The furniture even looks the same. Given the new baggage system, we were also hoping that, for the first time, we’d arrive with all our luggage. Nope. In previous years, having some of our luggage delivered has actually been a nice feature, since with four people and lots of luggage, it can be a tight fit in a small car. This time the lost bag wasn’t positive at all, since its delivery meant being awakened in what was, for us, in the midst of much needed sleep. Do you think there are any lotteries that award private jet travel? I’ve never gambled, but I might enter that one.

In any event, we’re here, and happy. The sun is shining, the quality of light is luminous in a way that’s hard to describe or hold in memory, and the bougainvillea is spectacular. We’re unpacked, settled in and preparing for our first adventure, to the Loire valley for a fourth of July party.

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