Going back to Canada wasn’t an option—no plane plus new tough (and expensive) quarantine requirements. Of course, I had considered flying to France but inconveniently, the country had also closed its borders on January 31, including to French citizens living outside the EU unless they had a “motif impérieux,” i.e. a compelling reason to travel.
I wasn’t really “motif impérieux” material. I mean, I have a French passport but I don’t actually live in France so it wasn’t as I was going home, “motif impérieux” #1 on the paper you had to show when boarding along with proof of residence.
“They have to take you,” Feng argued. “I mean, you are French, you’re not living in Brazil and you have nowhere else to go.”
“If you think logically,” I replied. “COVID threw logic out of the window. I have the feeling boarding a plane is like getting into an exclusive club. Will I have to talk my way past flight attendants? This is ridiculous. And what do I do if I’m denied boarding? I don’t want to be stuck in São Paulo, especially considering the lockdown!”
But I did have to go somewhere so I bought a last-minute one-way Air France ticket from São Paulo to Paris. Expensive, for sure, but cheaper tickets with stopovers in Madrid or Amsterdam could be tricky. Brazil is basically plague country these days.
Lo and behold, a couple of days after buying my ticket and two days before flying, the Conseil constitutionnel, the highest constitutional authority in France, ruled that the travel ban for French citizens outside the EU was unreasonable and disproportional because few cases are currently linked to travel.
Phew. Good timing. But I was still anxious because I didn’t have a plan B.
Air France flies to Brazil every day. It baffles me. Technically, French can’t leave the country and Brazilians aren’t allowed into France. How many people are in my case, really?
Turned out that most passengers—150 of us last Tuesday—had a connection in Paris to North America, Africa or other EU countries.
I went to GRU—São Paulo’s international airport—early, not quite sure what to expect. There was already a long lineup for the Air France check-in counter. I was only asked for my COVID test result, done the day before, and I got my boarding pass. The rest of the process was fairly typical except most airport stores were closed.
It was a long 11.5-hour flight across the Atlantic but a relaxing one. Middle rows seats were empty, food was pretty good and the plane looked brand new.
We landed in Paris an hour early. Passports were checked by the police as soon as we disembarked, then I had to show my COVID test result a bit further. At the immigration checkpoint I was asked for my passport and COVID test again but the police only glanced at the various forms I had to fill out before leaving—they didn’t even take them.
I picked up my backpack and I was free. If only entering Canada was as straightforward…
Roissy was empty at 7:30 a.m. and it was cold. I texted my brother who was already on the way—we met minutes later at the train station, then went to Montparnasse together where I bought my ticket to Nantes.
I took out my passports in the train and started laughing. I felt like a secret agent on an undercover mission. In my right hand, my French passport, zero stamp in it, and in my left hand, my Canadian passport, most pages full of stamps. I entered and exited Brazil with my Canadian passport but I entered France with my French passport.
I took the plane I should have taken exactly 19 years ago. The past always catches up to you. In 2001, I met up with Feng in Mexico City and we travelled together through Central and South America by bus all the way to Brazil. We were supposed to part ways in Rio de Janeiro after Carnival, he was going to buy a return ticket to Canada and I had a return ticket to France. Except I didn’t feel like going back to France (mostly because I was very much in love with Feng) so I had my return ticket refunded. We both bought a one-way ticket to Toronto and the rest is history.
And now here I am in France. In a way, it’s my dream trip, travelling from one continent to another, buying last-minute one-way tickets, not knowing when I’ll be back.
It would be more fun without travel bans and the pandemic, though, because not being able to travel to Canada easily is stressing me out.