Thursday, April 30, 2015

Swiss Miss, or How I Was Detained

I suppose there are worse things than getting deported back to France.

The bored border patrol officer at Luton Airport refused to grant me entry to the UK. There was nothing I could do though the reasons were rather flimsy. Basically, it was:

  1. I didn't have a return ticket (my excuse was that I was planning on going back to the states with my boyfriend & I didn't know when he would be able to go
  2. I only had $1,200 in cash and checks on me (but that's more than I ever have! and I didn't tell him that the checks had already been cashed remotely so I really only had $120) and 
  3. There were two (old) resumes that I didn't bother removing from a folder that I used to put some informational sheets about the film

His conclusion was that I didn't have enough money to stay in the UK for two months and I might end up looking for work. He didn't seem capable of understanding the concept of working remotely. And if $1,200 plus some more coming in isn't enough to live on for two months, well, then you wouldn't believe what I can live on.

I was told that I would be put on the next plane to Lyon, which was at 11:50 the next morning.
"Not New York City?" I asked, thinking that would actually allow me to solve a problem I had been ignoring back home.
But the policy was to send people back to the last place where they came from.
"What am I going to do in France?" I wondered. 
My phone had been confiscated but the custody lady gave it to me so I could text a few people. She had platinum hair in an asymmetrical cut and fuchsia colored lipstick. I texted my subletter in London that I wouldn't be meeting him to get the keys. And then I emailed a friend in Paris, thinking maybe I could go stay with him. I typed as quickly as I could but I did have to explain why I was dropping in on him so suddenly. Ms. Platinum reprimanded me when she realized I wasn't just texting, "This is high security here!"

They wouldn't let me have my computer but I convinced them to let me have my journal for my night in custody. It wasn't so bad actually. I was in a little room that seemed to have no other purpose than to mitigate boredom. There were toys under the table and educational posters on the wall (Words in Spanish, Words in French, a dog wearing sunglasses). A Rubiks Cube, a deck of cards, board games, and a dozen books. I found a Kurt Vonnegut novel I'd never heard of, Cat's Cradle, and spent the night reading the book, watching the news, and trying to sleep on a faux leather lounge chair.

There was another room where two other guys were detained, both of them brown and Middle-Eastern looking. It turns out that one of them was Turkish and because he had a French wife, he was allowed into the UK after spending the night in custody. We looked at each other through the glass just before he left, shook our heads at our mutual predicament, and shrugged, what can you do?

Yeah, what can you do. I'm sure I wouldn't have been in custody if I were a white American.

The other guy was a small wiry fellow who was going to be deported to Barcelona. He seemed quite worried as time came for his plane to leave, approaching the door of his little room several times to ask questions that I couldn't hear. Something about money. Yes, I was eavesdropping. Best way to pass the time. I wished the custody people were more chatty with the detainees. Then one of the custody people got on the phone and I heard him say that the Barcelona guy didn't have any money. Poor guy, worse off than me, worried about what would happen when he reached Barcelona with no money to even get to the city. Apparently, he was hoping that they would take him to a police station. At least he would be sheltered and fed. Sort of.

The custody people seemed to be rather amused at the way I was skulking around quite obviously listening to them and occasionally writing things in my journal. They propped my door open with a small banged up ceramic cat and when I got too curious for their comfort, they kicked the cat to the corner and closed the door. Then they would open it again. The guy's room didn't have a banged up ceramic animal, cat or otherwise. They propped open that door less often with a chair.

I stopped eavesdropping when I got hooked by the book. I'm rather ashamed to say that I've never read Kurt Vonnegut. My excuse is that my education stops around 1960 and I'm still working my way to the present day. Cat's Cradle was rather boring in the beginning, but then it got really interesting when the action moved to the island of San Lorenzo. Acerbic is a good word for Vonnegut. I liked his rather cynical and absurdist take on things. Some of his lines were laugh out loud funny. Particularly this line, which was spot-on suitable for my situation, "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." Maybe God wants me to learn a French jig?

My knapsack and phone were returned to me before I was escorted to the plane. I saw that I had received a text from the Polish paraglider in Lausanne whom I had just been staying with when I was at the Visons du RĂ©el film festival. "I sort of miss you," he wrote with a sad face. Which made me wonder if Lausanne was a better option than Paris. Though there's the mythos of being a penniless artist in Paris that was quite tempting to fulfill.

When I got to Lyon, I learned it was €45 to go to Lausanne, versus €85 to go to Paris. Plus the Polish paraglider would probably be happier to see me than Jim in Paris. And he's leaving anyway to go paragliding in Italy. So I decided to make my way to Lausanne. And here I am stranded in Switzerland for the moment. But there is some dough coming in so maybe I can get back to London next week?

Well, if you can't go home anymore, maybe it's just best to keep traveling.

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