A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of sandals from a shoemaker in Nice. These sandals, they’re two pieces of leather nailed together and, while ideal for strolling through charming, ancient streets, they are truly terrible for running through recently renovated airports. The motion of flat sandals hitting flat concrete is painful, as it turns out. I wasn’t aware of this until a few weeks ago when I had to run through an airport. We had made a good guess at when we should have left the house in order to get there on time, but then we left about half an hour later than that. We ended up dealing with two agents because of course we had to redistribute the contents of our luggage as we were all of a kilo over the allowance. One of the agents, while handing us our boarding passes, said “ah, yeah, so you might, ah, just want to keep an eye on the boards because the French air traffic controllers might strike,” while the other one said something really useful like “uh, you’d want to get a move on, your gate’s closing in like ten minutes,” as though we could do anything about the fact of time. We ran to the security gate, only to realise we’d left one of our boarding passes behind. Back I ran to the desk and then back again to security, my sandals slap, slap, slapping all the while. My bladder began to feel sloshy.
We ran the whole long way to the gate and got there with a few minutes to spare.
“I have to go to the loo,” I say to Joseph.
“Hold onto it!” he says.
“I’m bursting,” I say.
I get to the toilet but I’m not really bursting. I just have one of those lacklustre nervous wees. Not as relieved as I’d hoped, I re-join Joseph and Boone, just in time to hear the announcement that our flight has been cancelled. No explanation, just a flat instruction to reclaim our baggage and go back to the departures hall. I want to do what Boone does, which is cry and wail “but I want to go to Nice noooooow! The pebbly beach! Whaaaaaaa.” But instead, I have to swallow back the tears and anger and try not to take it personally or let thoughts like the following break me down: every time we try to get away and do something nice for ourselves, it ends up like this. We have no choice but to follow the crowd that’s going backwards through the airport.
Later, Boone would tell people that during this situation “Mama was disappointed and Daddy was disappointed but I was happy because it was an emergency.” We had described the chaos of hundreds of people trying to grapple for some sense of control as an emergency, not knowing just how much magic this word held for Boone. From his perspective, waiting for hours on end wasn’t boring or frustrating. How could it be? This was a real life emergency, the stuff of his Fireman Sam dreams.
We started hearing snippets of news: the air strike was affecting not only those travelling to France but everyone flying over France to Spain and Portugal; this was the second time this year “the French” had done this; all of this was nothing to do with Ryanair, oh no, this was all down to an “unnecessary” strike. While I did curse the French and their penchant for strikes, I wouldn’t go so far as to call any strike unnecessary. Joseph had said that we were a union, too, and I thought yes, and we’re being used for leverage. None of the other airlines cancelled.
Once we got to the desk to rebook our flights, the agent started listing out dates, one of them being the third of July—my Dad’s birthday. I noted it, but that was all. Just another day. We got flights for a few days later, on Saturday morning, with a return flight a week later on the fifth.
It worked out all right in the end. Our accommodation in Nice was available for most of the following week; we just had to book a hotel for the last night. We had originally planned on a week in Nice and then a week of relaxation in Dublin, now we just had to switch the order around. (Except our week in Dublin wasn’t entirely relaxing as we were waiting on news of the strike every day.) It was strange to go back to our own apartment on the same day as we’d left it, back to a cleaned out fridge, stripped beds, and an empty laundry basket (there was nary a pair of knickers to sully it.) We went out for dinner to commiserate, drank, took a lovely and elaborate trip to Greystones so that we could get coffee and vegan desserts.
The strike was called off, we got on the plane and somewhere in the middle of a fluffy white cloud, grief settled in, pressing on my chest, wrapping itself around my throat. We’d gotten off the island and away from the everyday but in so doing, the floodgates that I usually try to hold against depression and anxiety flung open. I was supposed to be having a nice time. I was supposed to be getting a break from it all. I was supposed to find the sunshine and turquoise sea beautiful. I was supposed to be happy. Instead, the darkness seeped in, making me hate my skin, my bones, my brain. Being surrounded by uniformly tanned and air-conditioned looking French girls did not help.
But yet, everything was better on the beach. I went into the silence of the sea, the salty water leached the sadness from my bones. I found that if I tried to swim, I ended up expending a lot of energy getting absolutely nowhere, but if I lay on my back, motionless, the salt and the waves carried me along the length of the beach. I think this might be a life lesson.
As Boone stacked pebbles and we got into our on-the-beach-trance of thinking and not thinking, people watching and not watching people, Boone sighed and said “I love this.”
Every day at noon in Nice, a canon goes off in the park on the hill. On Thursday, my Dad’s birthday, we climbed the hill in search of it. We almost found the cannon but at noon, it found us. Boom! The shock of the sound, even though I had been expecting it, exploded through my chest, making me jump and cry out. And once that one cry had let out, I couldn’t stop the rest of the crying. My Dad should have been 62, not dead.
The last day, after a morning of dark skies and downpours, we got to go to the beach one last time. The sea was rougher than usual. All the hottie lifeguards were on high alert. I came out of the sea grateful and shaky and especially glad that we’d bought those dorky beach shoes.
“The cure for anything is salt water—tears, sweat, or the sea.”—Isak Dinesen, Seven Gothic Tales