At some point between leaving the AVN/AEE floor in Vegas on Friday evening and arriving in Paris on Sunday morning, I connected through Moscow.
Upon landing, I went around in circles with an airport employee on the subject of where I might be able to smoke a cigarette. Eventually they suggested outside, but then immediately told me they couldn’t let me outside because I didn’t have a visa.
This was a reminder that with great privilege [like a US passport] comes great potential to forget [all kinds of stuff.]
When I landed at Charles de Gaulle I filed off the plane, got my passport stamped, and was all ready to breeze through customs before all the people who’d checked their bags started lining up. Except…
…the customs check was totally closed. This meant there was no immediate way into France proper, and no way back to flights elsewhere.
I wasn’t able to understand the voice through the loudspeaker, even when it was speaking English. The man next to me, who was French, told me they weren’t saying anything informative in any language. Then he waved his hand at the milling customs officers who were decidedly not opening up the check point and said “Anarche.” I joked “I thought y’all were all ‘fraternite, liberte, egalite’?” He said “Anarche!” again, this time a sneering declaration.
A babbling monologue started up inside my head about how it seems like anarchy’s fairest shot to date was in Ursula K. Le Guin’s sci-fi novel The Dispossessed, and there are some really interesting concepts in those schools of thought, and philosophies that prioritize individual choice might be super incredibly necessary in the world right now, and the motto of “No Gods, No Masters” seems like something both the US and France should totally be able to get behind, right? until my body interrupted with signs of panic and my mind switched to “DON’T PANIC.”
Which, of course, works about as well as “Don’t think about pink elephants.”
See, one of the worst things to do around officers who are on alert is panic. Then you might look crazy and—in my experience—looking crazy opens up a decent chance of being escorted to the little room and/or spending a significant chunk of time in a place that feels suspiciously like a cage.
What I’m saying here is that it is easy for me to get stuck in a fear-of-panicking feedback loop. Especially when a situation is mirroring earlier parts of life in which I was terrified for immediate reasons and thoroughly trapped. So I went to the bathroom and used the sink water to swallow some of my psychiatrist prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which is less chewable than Xanax but also supposedly way less addictive.
Approximately half an hour later, the loudspeaker voice explained that we’d been held due to a piece of unclaimed baggage and were now free to be processed through customs.
I’m aware that our movement is controlled by uniformed officers and subject to government whims, especially during air travel. But that control isn’t something I’m used to being immediately confronted with. That control isn’t something most US citizens are used to being immediately confronted with during travel—yet.
Regardless, that frightening little room is something the US has been confronting our visitors with for years in the name of “fighting terrorism.”