A reunion in Reunion

Trip Start Jul 07, 2009
Trip End Aug 02, 2009

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Flag of Reunion  ,
Thursday, July 9, 2009

Checking in at Air Austral was a patience-tester. I arrived at Terminal 2A, one of the oldest of the Charles de Gaulle 2 terminals, and found a slow-moving line about 50 yards long. Air Austral is independent, Reunion-owned, and has no agreementss with any other airlines, so I couldn’t get in any fast lanes with my frequent flyer cards. It took more than an hour to get to a check-in desk.

I noticed as I got closer that they were weighing not only suitcases but also carry-on bags. A look at my ticket showed that I was to be allowed 25 kg total. I knew my suitcase weighed about 21 kg, and my computer and camera bags together would weigh another 10 at least. I saw some people having to pay supplements, and I hoped I wouldn’t also have to do the “over the limit waltz” which requires dragging one’s bags around to at least one other counter and paying a fee per extra kg one has over the weight limit, before erturning to check in.  By the time I reached the counter, the staff was shifting to high gear to make sure they got everyone processed on time for the scheduled departure. When my time finally came, the agent didn’t even look at my two carryon bags. I left as quickly and as unobtrusively as possible, and finally got away without being called back to pay: a small victory.

Passed emigration and security a few minutes later, I found quite a line to board . I was in the third row from the back of the plane, not the best seat, and they had squeezed an extra seat in each row to maximize use of space, so things were tight, but the aircraft was a 777, new and comfortable with a state-of-the-art entertainment system.  There were individual seat-back screens which showed movies, documentaries, games, flight maps, and even video camera views looking forward and down from the plane. There was also an interesting lighting system of indirect purple and blue, variable-intensity illumination, which gave the cabin a very futuristic look. One had the vague impression of being on a space ship from a sci-fi movie.

We departed on time, and had dinner shortly after the 8:00 pm takeoff. I watched a French film that came out last year: Bienvenu chez les Ch’tis. This comedy had been a hugr hit in France, and I had been meaning to watch it for some time. Ity was really very funny.

After sleeping several hours, I followed our progress on the flight map off-and-on as I read Mrs. Dunnett.  We flew down the west coast of Italy, right across Luxor in Egypt, and then followed the Red Sea. We passed Jedda near Mecca in Saudi Arabia, crossed Djibouti, then flew over Somalia, making a slight course modification right over Mogadishu (Blackhawk Down, pirates, chaos, anarchy) before reaching the Indian Ocean for the last leg to Reunion.

As we deplaned most of the passengers went to the transit line, they were going on to other destinations, probably Mauritius for the vacationers (much less expensive and nicer beaches in general). I went to the immigration line and was told to fill out another swine flu contact form, then was admitted without trouble. I noticed then that I didn’t have any completely blank pages left in my passport; and made a mental note to have some new pages inserted at the US embassy in Mauritius. South Africa will refuse entry if one doesn’t have a fully blank page for its visa sticker.

It was cool and drizzling slightly as I left the terminal. Laval Prodigue arrived just about the time I went outside. We greeted each other warmly and walked to his car. There was a great deal of activity around the airport, including a heavy police and military presence. Laval explained that the French Prime Minister, François Fillon, was to arrive about half an hour after I did. There would be protests and possible road closings (a popular way of protest in the French world) and heavy security which could hold us up for a long time if we didn’t get away quickly, which happily we did.

We drove up the mountain side to Sainte Clotilde, and stopped at the Prodigues’ house to say hello to Patricia and to chat for a few minutes over coffee. The plunging view from their house to the coast was as beautiful as ever. Their son Thierry had kindly offered me the use of his apartment, located just up the hill. So after a while Laval drove me up and I unloaded my luggage. I showered and changed and had a brief rest until just after noon when it was time for lunch: rice and beans, Creole-style chicken, salad and several French cheeses (for my benefit – Reunionais don’t usually eat much cheese) and a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, which we sipped sparingly. This was followed by a fruit cocktail for dessert and coffee. We talked about many things over lunch: the state of the Church and it’s work - French-speaking areas in particular, the situation in Reunion and Mauritius, the fall festival in France – where the Prodigues plan to attend this year – the visit of the Prime Minister, the social and economic situation in Reunion and the world, and many other topics as well.  It was 3:00 pm by the time we finished and my eyelids had grown heavy after two short nights and a glass of wine, so I excused myself, and went back to the apartment for a siesta.

I was back down for dinner at 7:00. Thierry was home from work; he joined us for dinner along with his beautiful lady friend Annabelle, originally from the mountainous interior of Reunion. We had a very enjoyable dinner, again accompanied by a wide-ranging conversation, which included our various family origins. They were interested to learn that our family can trace some ancestors back to the middle 1600s. Most Réunionais can't go back so far.

I learned more about the culture and history of Reunion as we talked about the micro-cultures of various regions, especially the “cirques”, three bowl-like valleys in the highlands, one of which is Annabelle’s native region.

Thierry left to drive Annabelle home after dinner, at which time I set up my laptop and showed Laval and Patricia some PowerPoint slides of developments in various parts of francophone-Africa. They asked many questions and were quite interested to see the photos and hear the stories. Though th
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