Poser ses valises

Set down your suitcase

How I love the French expression, ‘to set down one’s suitcases’. Although it hints of travel, ‘poses ses valises’ means just the opposite: to stop moving around and settle down somewhere.

Ah, travel. The romance, intrigue, the sheer chic of wheeling that expensive Samsonite trolley bag around. Of taking off in one language and landing in another, of leaning back in your seat and being served while selecting from various entertainment options.

Readers of this blog will see where this is going. I love going places. I just hate getting there.

Why do I dislike travel so much? I’ve mentioned before how much I hate packing. I used to enjoy the idea of a few empty hours in which to read, catch up on work or just let my thoughts go idle. And I still do: on a train or a boat. But when it comes to air travel, it’s another story.

Travel for me is a great many small details and a few sweeping generalities. Most of them are aggravating. It seems that effort required to move from point A to point B across borders and seas with suitcase intact is inversely proportionate to the increasing democratization of international air travel.

First there is the airport security check. The removal of personal items, the stacking of your stuff in plastic boxes, the impatience of the staff and fellow travelers. The shoes that ring alarm bells and must be removed. The full bottle of water that goes down the drain, only to be replaced by one that costs twice as much on the other side.

Rinse and repeat. Hurry up and wait.

If purgatory exists, it must surely be in an airport departure lounge. Where, despite the unpleasant state of being on hold, the upside is the chance to people watch. And the endless parade of humanity, with all of its foibles, is by turn entertaining and repugnant.

The fact is that I do not wait well. I am unable to settle comfortably into one of those molded plastic chairs with the immovable arm rests that prevent people from lying down. My eye wanders continually to the departures board, to check if there are any changes in flight status. I look for signs of life at the gate, in case we may be called to board. I watch the people for signs of lunacy, check for the nearest exit, ever vigilant in case a disaster should be about to occur.

In another scenario, I race to the gate for fear of missing the ever-earlier boarding call, where I learn that my flight is delayed. Then look around hoping to get a good coffee or a nice strong drink to dull the pain only to discover that this particular terminal or departure area is devoid of anything as civilised as a proper coffee shop or bar. Vending machines only with their astronomically priced distractions.

Finally we board (bored) and I learn that the only thing on offer are soft drinks and hot beverages, served at boiling temperature in carcinogenic plastic cups and so late in the short haul flight there is barely time to gulp them down before we land.

If we land, says my ever-paranoid self. Despite the fact that time and again seems to prove that we will indeed deplane in one piece. But that little voice has been drummed into my psyche and nearly always makes itself heard somewhere midair.

If the flight is long enough to have food and drink service, I order the Frenchman to get wine even though he no longer drinks, just so I can have a second tiny bottle. He is highly amenable to my inflight alcohol dependency.

Possibly he hopes it will take the edge off my nerves enough to hunker down and read or watch a film for a few hours. He, of course, has downloaded a slew of his latest series, something involving drugs, violence and bloodshed. His iPad is primed for hours of entertainment, which is he able to absorb under almost any circumstances. Turbulence, delayed food service, even amidst the crowds in the departure lounge. I do envy his ability to focus on pleasurable pursuits while I self-inflict mental anxiety and count the minutes. Either that or he is asleep. He often nods off before we even achieve altitude.

With a raging thirst brought on by being so unnaturally high in a pressurized atmosphere of the plane, exacerbated by nerves and boredom, I down each and every beverage on offer. Wine, water, coffee, tea, more water…which is why I always take the aisle seat. I’m frequently up and visiting the loo. Husband will go perhaps once in an 8-hour flight, often just before we land.

Another form of limbo for this reluctant traveler is circling in the sky over an airport for endless loop de loops waiting to land. When all of the highly impatient, nervous flyers like moi are thinking to themselves: is everything all right in that cockpit? I imagine the copilot, suicidal, having slipped a mickey to his unsuspecting captain. I can almost see terrorists having cracked the door code and insinuated their way inside. Or worse, having taken remote control of our plane somehow and sending us for a nosedive into the sea.

Welcome to my twisted writer’s mind. There is a great deal of drama. Travel only fans my flames.

I watch in fascination as people go by in wheelchairs, with babies and toddlers, with pets in carriers, folding strollers and various paraphernalia. How is that I, an able-bodied middle-aged adult, find this so hard when others with real baggage seemingly grin and bear it?

On a positive note, I may have missed my calling as a consultant to the airline industry. By the end of our trip, I had completely redesigned overseas air travel to be more comfortable and efficient for the modern-day passenger. More on that later.

For now, vive l’été chez soi!

Just as many in France are packing their bags for a much-anticipated summer vacation, I’m home from holiday and very pleased to be staying put for awhile.

How about you?

 

Faire ses valises

overpacked suitcase
This is not my suitcase but it could be

I hate packing. You’d think I’d be good at it by now. But after thirty years of schlepping suitcases and other stuff back and forth outre-Atlantique, I’m still no star.

Part of the problem is that I don’t really like to travel. Don’t get me wrong – I love discovering new places and revisiting ones from the past. It’s the process of getting from point A to point B that gets me. It starts with a necessary narrowing of options. You can’t take it all with you, although I have tried a few times. So you need to decide in advance what you need. Obviously that means anticipating the weather, the situations – who knows if you’ll want to go hiking? What if they don’t have any firm pillows? Inevitably, I over pack.

When visiting family and friends, I usually add a few two (Canada Customs oblige) bottles of bubbly or good red. And then a few odd things from France that people will appreciate: herbes de provence, sea salt, chocolate. This time I made strategic error of bringing some lovely French honey. I thought it well buffered in my running shoe but the glass jar shattered somewhere in transit and spilled its gooey contents all over my suitcase. Thankfully most of my clothes were safe as they were in packing cubes, but those shoes are sure going to get a lot of traction!

I wish I could travel like my husband. He casually tosses a few well-chosen items into a bag and off he goes, carefree. If he forgets something essential, he buys it there. So relaxed is he that inevitably, as the plane takes off, he snores.

img_2083I have taken to capturing these moments on my phone. They provide souvenirs of each trip we take, as well as a bookmark in my photo library. Apparently the tendency to nod off enroute runs in the family, as this recent snap from a holiday flight shows.

I am on a rare solo trip back to Toronto to visit friends and family. It was husband’s idea that I make the trip on my own as he already  all his vacation time skiing. I love that he wants me to enjoy life, although I suspect he’s been plotting ways to get me to pack my bags (‘faire mes valises’) for awhile now.

This morning I’ve unpacked my stuff (which I far prefer to packing), and cleaned all the honey and broken glass from my suitcase. I have vowed that from now on, I’m keeping it simple.

Do you like to pack? Do you travel light or prefer to stay home?

Mayday, m’aider!

Did you know that the expression ‘mayday’ used as a distress signal comes from French? I did not, although I speak the language and have lived in this country for over twenty years.

Amazing what you learn watching television. I was glued to the news last night watching reports of the Germanwings plane crash in the southern French Alps. A former commercial pilot being interviewed on France 2 says that the mystery of this crash is the fact that there was no call of ‘Mayday, mayday, mayday’ – which must be repeated three times according to international protocol. And suddenly it clicks. Mayday is ‘m’aider’ – meaning ‘help me’ in the formal or infinitive form of the verb.

Like you, I am horrified by this crash. The loss of innocent life, the tragic fate of 150 people who took off for a short-haul flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf on Tuesday morning. Something that low-cost travel has made almost like a taking a bus for many Europeans today.

It is all the more shocking considering that the flight was operated by Germanwings, a low-cost affiliate of Lufthansa, one of the world’s safest and most technically reliable airlines.

Perhaps because it has happened here in France, I find myself obsessing about that 8-minute descent into oblivion. The strange trajectory of the crash into the worst possible mountainous region. The gut-wrenching fear of the passengers, the impossible news for the families, the courage of the crews who must sift through the debris for bodies at 1500 meters near Seynes-les-Alpes.

Like many, I’ve considered the possibility that it could be an act of terror. Suicide or a medical emergency is now looking likely with the discovery that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit just before the crash.

My thoughts are with the victims and their families, the hundreds of police and investigators trying to recover the bodies on treacherous terrain at high altitude.

And for anyone who has to get on a plane knowing that their worst fears could be just a ‘mayday’ away.