Friday, January 09, 2009

Paris stole my needles

Coffeeboy and I had a great time in Austria, eating wonderful food, seeking out vegetarian and fishy alternatives to wienerschnitzel, tasting beers, and taking in the music of Hadyn and Mozart in churches filled with worshippers and fellow tourists.

But he's still in Salzburg, at a conference, and he has the camera, so I can't show you pictures yet. Instead, I have to tell you about my return journey, in which, among other things, the Paris security people took my magic loop away from me! Horrors!

The return started early on Tuesday morning, 4:30 am Vienna time, when I and my under-the-weather honey trudged to the airport bus. (He went with me, kind soul that he is, to make sure I got there OK). Turns out that in Vienna at 4:30 AM on a Tuesday, there are lots of bars still open, and enthusiastic drunk people stumbling around the streets. Other than that, it seemed pretty safe.

Once at the airport, I checked in on Austrian Airlines, en route to Paris. They checked my bag through Cincinnati, because I'd have to go through customs in Cincinnati (but I still needed to fly from there to Atlanta to Asheville to get home!). On my way through security, I could tell they were scrutinizing my knitting materials. In English with a strong flavor of Austria, they asked me, "You have scissors?" I showed them my little 1" sewing kit scissors, heroic travelers on many flights. "No, bigger," said the guard. So I pulled out my Monkey sock, sitting on a knitpicks size 1 (2.25mm) 32" needle. They examined the needles, checking out the way in which, when laid side by side, they resembled scissors, and sent me on my way, needles and sock intact. After that, everything went smoothly; I slept on the flight.

I arrived in Paris, Charles de Gaulle, at about 9:30 AM. I had a couple of hours to change flights, which was good, since I still needed to check in with Air France for my connecting flight. Or so I thought. After wandering around a terminal, trying to figure out where, on earth, to check in for flights, I finally found an Air France person to ask, and he looked up my flight. At first it seemed he couldn't find my flight, but then he realized I needed to check in with Delta, who was operating the flight, a ten-minute walk away in another terminal. So off I went, tired, needing a bathroom, badly wanting a pain au chocolat. (This was as close to Paris as I'd get this trip, so why not?)

Finally I walked into the Delta part of a terminal, where I was confronted with a seriously long line, and the unfortunate sight of very tired people sitting on the floor huddled around their baggage, with further bags under their eyes. I heard an American accent, and asked what was going on. Apparently the 3" of snow I'd seen upon landing had caused considerable delays and cancellations the day before, and the long line was full of people from yesterday trying to check in. There went my plans for both a bathroom and a lovely pastry treat. I stood in line, and stood in line, and stood in line.

Finally, after about an hour (and about 40 feet and one small cup of coffee they were handing out) I got to a small desk about 2/3 of the way up, where two women were asking passengers questions about their luggage (has it been with you always, has anyone given you packages, etc). In my sleep deprived state, I think I answered one of the questions wrong. Since my luggage had been checked in Vienna, that was suspicious. Since I was flying alone, they were even more suspicious and then somehow it came out that I'd been traveling with my husband, but he had stayed behind. So then they asked me how long I'd been married, and how well I knew my husband. This wasn't very funny to me; Coffeeboy is a wonderful upstanding man, and the thought of him using me to smuggle things into the US was just plain absurd. I couldn't say that to the woman who didn't speak English well, though, and needed to be polite, so I held my frustration and conveyed my faith in my sweetie's honesty. She might have marked something on my travel documents, though, as you'll see later...

Once passed that hurdle, I darted off to find a bathroom, locating one that actually didn't have a line, and then to find myself a much-desired pain au chocolat. Luckily there was a French bakery chain right there, Paul, so I stepped inside. I couldn't remember how to ask for anything in French, because my head was too full of German (and I actually know a bit of German, whereas I know about 5 words in French), so I simply said hopefully, "pain au chocolat"? And the cashier shook her head. Darn. I saw a basket plain croissant, though, and said, "due croissant." At least I'd get some sort of tasty treat out of this adventure!

After that came the security lines. If the previous lines were an hour long, you can imagine how long the security lines were. When I finally walked through the x-ray, I could see that the technicians were spending time on my bag, yet again, and once more, and I thought, oh no. Sure enough, when my carry-on came out, they took it to the special desk and beckoned me over. They quickly located my magic loop sock (it was near the top as I'd been knitting in line), and frowned. Then they spoke amongst themselves in French and the only word I caught was "crochet." I didn't know if these two French men were simply ignorant of the finer points of fiber paraphenalia, or if the word for "knitting" in French indeed sounded like "crochet," but it didn't matter, because they switched to English and uttered my fate:

"Is forbidden."

I replied: "But in Vienna they said it was OK."

"Is not Vienna. Is Paris," came the entirely expected answer. I thought to myself, oh yes, I probably shouldn't have stepped on those particular toes! Then they asked, "Do you have scissors," gesturing that I could cut off the offending five inches of metal. At that, I could only stare. Did I have scissors? Wasn't this a security checkpoint? Shouldn't I not have scissors, not even my little 1" sewing scissors which they seemed not to have noticed?

Because it was a security checkpoint, I said, "No, I don't," and hoped they didn't find the little scissors. Instead I asked, "Is wood OK," but they apparently didn't know the word for "wood." So I pulled out my 6" bamboo DPNs and asked, "Are these OK?"

The security guards consulted. "Is OK." Then while standing at the security table, I laboriously transferred the heel onto on DPN, and the held stitches of the top of the foot to the other. Had I been less tired and felt that comedy was appropriate, I might have dramatized it, transferring three stitches and glancing at the guards, then transferring three more. As it was, I just did them all, and then held the magic loop needle for them to take. At least I had the DPNs, but oh my... never had I had my knitting meddled with by security!

I arrived late to Cincinnati, of course, because of the delays in Paris. I went through customs just fine -- the only thing I had to declare was 6 balls of Regia sock yarn, bought on sale in a real live German knitting store (more on that later). I got my suitcase, rechecked it on US Air (onto which I'd been rebooked), and went off to get my boarding passes. I took the train to one terminal, and found that Delta didn't have them, so I hiked over to US Air and got my passes and went to security.

Whereupon they asked to see my other boarding passes. I thought, Great, they'll see I've been through security at least three times today, and let me through. No such luck. The "$$$$" on my ticket meant special screening, not "already screened way too much, with needles stolen besides." Had my confused answers to the security questions put a black mark on my ticket? I'll never know...

Now, Cincinnati had a device I'd never seen before. A box into which you step, and then it blew a loud and vigorous puff of air at me. I jumped and started to panic while I waited for the light to turn green and the doors to open. I hadn't expected that - and besides, it was 6 pm on the East Coast, midnight in Vienna, and I'd been traveling for about 20 hours at that point. Finally the doors opened, I went through the usual x-ray device, and a woman who in any other situation would have looked kindly took my bags and started poking through them. It was all I could do not to cry as she swabbed things and fiddled with my beloved iPod touch.

Finally I got out of there, got myself a bagel for dinner, and sat down to wait for my flight. I flew from Cincinnati to Charlotte, and from Charlotte to Asheville, sleeping on the flights so I didn't crash on the drive home. I got home just after midnight, or 6 AM in Austria. The cats were hungry and happy to see me. I had been awake for twenty-six and a half hours. I had traveled on four different airlines and seen five different airports, lost some needles and good bit of sanity. Day was dawning across the ocean, I fell asleep right away and slept the whole night through. The absolute worst travel of my life was over.


The A.D.D. Knitter said...

What a hideous tale, and you didn't even get a pain au chocolat to take the edge off!!

Marcie Kligman said...

That sucks. A lot. I have had security guards try to scan my film and I raise a total fuss and they act like I'm a terrorist. You feel so helpless because they have total control over you and the one thing you are holding onto to maintain a sense of personal normalcy is being threatened and the whole thing is very dehumanizing and SUCKY.

Jessica said...

Holy hell what a ride!! Glad you're back safe and sound. You've made me really glad I'm taking the train to Chicago next month. I know it's not the same, but I just don't want to put up with airports right now.

Anonymous said...

Hugs! I've been through the puff air things (I think in Baltimore?) and they are very odd. Sad for the lost knittingness. =( At least you didn't get marked for a patdown - air travel, blech. ~Mir (who can't seem to sign in below for some odd reason)