Packing It In

“When traveling, lay out all of your clothes and all of your money.  Then take half your clothes and twice the money.”  — Susan Heller

I try, I really do, to pack simply. I won’t pack a different going-out-to-dinner get-up for every night. I don’t need to have just the right shoes for every outfit.  I certainly don’t need  coordinated purses, either. For even a nice restaurant,  a sweater, a scarf, and black pants will do the job.

Yet, packing light is sometimes overrated. People who claim they’ve traveled around Europe with a pair of pants, two tee shirts, and a sweatshirt make my nose twitch. Really? Have they done their own sniff tests of those easy-breezy tee shirts? I’ve stood in crowded galleries, been scrunched into a vaporetto, and endured cheek-to-jowl lines in the hot sun, and I’ve encountered these light packers. How I’ve wished they’d considered the rest of humankind and decided that carrying a fresh shirt wasn’t such a terrible burden.

A balance between too much and too little is especially tricky for a four weeks stay. Last year, when we went to Italy, our ten day forecast didn’t dip below ninety degrees. I didn’t even bring a sweater. But September in Paris can seesaw from eighty to fifty during the day. My list has been in development for weeks. Which tee shirts? Which pants? Which sweaters? Which jackets? Each item is considered for its versatility, comfort and coordination factor. No matter how much I love that hot pink sweater or flowery skirt, no rogue items are allowed. If  a top doesn’t go with a skirt and a pair of pants, it won’t get to strut its stuff down the Rive Gauche.

Another consideration is an item’s Parisability. My friend MJ once coined the term GOIF … good only in Florida. A pink flaming necklace might look cute at a beachside tiki hut, for example, but would look ridiculous in the Midwest. Following the GOIF rule and considering my surroundings, I’m leaving the lime green sweater and the coral shirt at home. I’ll look like a tourist no matter what I wear, but at least my clothes won’t create an eye-roll outbreak among the Parisians.

I’m still tweaking the list, and when Sunday rolls around and I’m actually putting stuff in the suitcase, I’ll be making adjustments. Obsessive? Yeah, a little. But if I forget someone, I’ve heard that they have stores over there.

Weather or Not

 

“It’s Paris. You don’t come here for the weather.” — Adrian Leeds

When our family comes down to our Florida home, I begin stalking weather.com as soon as the arrival date comes into range on the ten day forecast. No matter that a forecast for rain chances or a daily high temp ten days out is not even remotely an accurate indication of what that day will bring, I still check. If it forecasts sunny and 78 degrees, I cheer. If it forecasts a blustery 55 and thunderstorms, I groan.

The maddening thing about long range weather forecasting is its ridiculous inaccuracies. Why do they even bother? And a better question, why do I  look? Each day, the forecast flips around, tantalizes me with perfect sunshine, taunts me with downpours, sucks me in with balmy breezes. Then arrival day arrives, and it is nothing like the predictions I’ve been glued to for the past week and a half. Still, I check daily.

I also take personal responsibility for insuring that the weather during a family visit is pleasant. When the grandkids are stuck in the house watching videos on an Ipad all day while torrents of rain splash down outside, I am guilt-ridden. How could this happen on one of their precious vacation days? When everyone is huddled at the beach under a blankets, blowing sand stinging their eyes, I offer my mea culpas. When my sisters have squandered a precious day off and money for an airline ticket, only to face blustery winds and the need to buy a new sweatshirt, the onus is on me to promise that, as Annie says, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow.”

Last November, my kids, their spouses, and the four grandkids showed up for a week of sunshine and seventies. They got some of both, so it went pretty well.  The sunbathing was less than ideal, but we didn’t get rained on during our pontoon ride, an annual crowd-pleaser. Sisters’ weekend has had a checkered history. One year, two of my cousins from Boston joined my youngest sister and me and were treated to highs in the low fifties. Yeah, better than a Bostonian blizzard, but this put the kibosh on al fresco dining, hanging out at the beach, lounging poolside. I was mortified.

Now, for Paris. Here is the first forecast for our arrival day.

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We picked September, figuring the weather should be generally pleasant. I don’t anticipate sweltering heat or bone-chilling cold. Will it rain? Bien sur! But nothing is going to dampen our enthusiasm. If we’re forced to sit under a canopy drinking wine while rain drenches the street, we can buck up and order a second glass. C’est la vie!

 

 

 

Not on My Bucket List

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.  — Aldous Huxley

Once, in a conversation with my then ten-year-old granddaughter, I mentioned going to Paris.

“I would never want to go there,” she said. “It’s all pink and poodly.” And she, not being the girly-girl, pink and poodly type, had decided that Paris was not for her. Well, maybe it’s not, but I’m guessing that as she gets older she may discover that Paris, in spite of what she’s read in those Fancy Nancy picture books, is just the place for her to visit.

We all have formed impressions of places around the globe. Some of our images may be dead-on, other may be stereotypes. It wasn’t long ago that when one claimed to be from Chicago, the non-Chicagoans would mention Al Capone, not exactly our most beloved citizen. Then, it was Michael Jordan, certainly a step up from Capone. Sadly, today our image focuses on the violence. None of these snapshots show all of what Chicago is — a world-class city with a beautiful lakefront, surrounded by diverse and thriving neighborhoods. Then there’s my hometown of Naperville, called “kid-friendly” and “snobbiest” — depending on whose Top Ten list you read. We can’t sum up Naperville or Chicago — or any other place —  in a word or two.

Recently a friend asked a group of us, “Where have you not gone that others have raved about, but where you have little interest in visiting?” A good question, isn’t it?

One spot that pops into my head is Las Vegas. Sure, I wouldn’t pass up a free trip there, but if I never see the fabled glitzfest, I’m okay with that. For one thing, I don’t like to gamble. Throwing my money away on slots or blackjack makes me uncomfortable, even though I can happily toss down cash for dinners out or new clothes. Also, I’d get anxious seeing others squander their money. I’d be tempted to head to the tables and scold  people about frittering away cash needed for mortgage payments and groceries.

Now, some of the shows in Vegas would be fun to see, but I could go to shows right here in Chicago, too. Dining out? Don’t need Vegas for that, either. As far as the spectacle of the hotels and the strip, all the razzle-dazzle sounds like fun. But a gondola through the Venetian? The Italian ambiance of the Bellagio? and the Eiffel Tower of Paris? I’ve been to the real deal, and all of this fakey-fake stuff sounds silly.

Las Vegas fans are sure to find my comments ridiculous. She doesn’t get it, they’d say. Yeah, I know. I don’t get it. Still,  I’ll probably never know about the stuff that happens in Vegas that’s going to stay in Vegas.

 

Getting Close

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”    Mark Twain

An email came today from Paris Address, our Parisian apartment rental agency. They’re finalizing details for our arrival. A taxi driver at Charles DeGaulle Airport will be holding up a placard with our name on it just outside customs. A man named Nicholas Rousseau will be meeting us at our apartment to show us around.

Things are falling into place for the trip we’ve been planning for nearly a year. We’ve got new luggage tags and a phone charger and ever-changing packing  lists. I’m thinking about the stuff in the freezer that we should thaw and eat before we go. We’ve read the guide books over and over.  My saved items on Trip Advisor have piled up. We’ve planned an early birthday dinner for our grandson’s September birthday. My Paris haircut and mani-pedi are set. This week, we’ll figure out how many euros to get ahead of time, and book a taxi for O’Hare.

What’s left to do?  Count the days, learn as many French words as I can cram into my brain, start stalking Weather.com as soon as the ten day forecast includes September, bring up the suitcases from the basement, and cherish my  anticipation and excitement.

 

 

My List of Not-To-Do’s

People don’t take trips. Trips take people.

John Steinbeck

Here’s some stuff I don’t want to do in Paris:

Dine in trendy restaurants whose menus are peppered with buzzwords like deconstructed, foam, liquid nitro, and infused, and whose entrees are the size of a golf ball. I prefer to savor traditional French dishes, like coq au vin, beef bourguignon, soupe aux oignons, and mousse aux chocolat.

Visit Disneyland Paris. Even if we had the grandkids in tow, we wouldn’t spend valuable Parisian time with Mickey, Cinderella, or Buzz Lightyear. WDW outside of Orlando or Anaheim just seems wrong.

Discover that our cute little apartment is bug-infested. I shudder just contemplating it.

Video the Mona Lisa. When we saw her in ’96, the gallery was packed with tourists aiming their hefty Camcorders at her. Were they expecting Mona to burst into song? Instead of recording famous works of art, I plan to just look at them. My brain can store their images, or I can pick up postcards in the gift shop.

Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower. There are about 668 steps, give or take, to the second level. I’ll take the elevator, si’l vous plait.

Eat at McDonald’s on the Champs Élysées. Maybe a big Diet Coke with ice, but a Big Mac? No way! Same goes for Pizza Hut or Subway.

Shy away from speaking un peu l’Francais. I’ve been studying and practicing all summer, so I hope I can avoid stage fright.

Hang a padlock on the Pont de l’Archeveche. This ugly and rampant love locks fad is destroying the bridges of Paris. Why doesn’t the city put a stop to this self-centered vandalism?

Shop at the Gap, the Disney Store, Abercrombie, Banana Republic, Guess, Nine West, Tommy Hilfiger, or any other place that also exists at the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora. I won’t be buying any Parisian couture either, but I might find my nose pressed to the windows at Chanel and Louis Vuitton. No euros needed just to look.

Whine. It may rain buckets, my feet may be killing me, some food may be subpar, the Metro may be packed with sweaty people, and a waiter may be snooty. But I will not whine. I’m in Paris for four weeks with the love of my life. Something wonderful is sure to be just around the corner.

 

 

Atlantic, Iowa: Far From Home

 

There’s no like home; there’s no place like home.

Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

My father-in-law’s ninetieth birthday was last week,  so the family all headed to Atlantic, Iowa to  celebrate.  For us Chicago suburbanites, Atlantic is a bit like a foreign country. The town, with a population of about seven thousand, sits south of I80, about an hour from the Nebraska border, in the midst of  rolling  green farmland.

On Saturday afternoon, we were among a handful of shoppers on the nearly deserted sidewalks downtown on Chestnut Street. The best store on Chestnut is a five and dime that sells embroidery patterns, Turkish Taffy, seasonal decorations, pin cushions, kitchen gadgets, stuffed animals, Scrabble score pads,  cap guns, chiffon headscarves, and other sundries. Atlantic’s downtown also has a shoe store, a couple of women’s shops, a hardware store, and a taxidermist where furry, glass-eyed creatures gaze out in the window at passers-by.

We went to 5:30 Mass at the prettiest place in town, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, and the golden statues on the altar basked in the glow. It’s cozy and conducive to worship, unlike some suburban churches that look like theaters in the round.

Atlantic restaurants are pretty casual. The HyVee was advertising a dine-in special on Friday — all-you-care-to-eat frog legs for $7.99. On Sunday night we treated ourselves to dinner at Oinkers, whose motto is “Dine like a swine.” Several family members raved about the Oinker burger– ground pork in the shape of a pig. I opted for a Philly steak sandwich — delish!

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We missed AtlanticFest by one week. There’ll be a craft show, a car show, a race, and live entertainment. Sounds a lot like Naperville’s Last Fling, just on a smaller scale. In September, Atlantic, the Coca Cola Capitol of Iowa, hosts the second-largest Coca Cola collectible event in the country. (The largest is in Atlanta.) There will be a swap meet, a parade, and a tailgate party. This year’s theme is Coca Cola: Thirst Knows No Season.

Atlantic residents, my father-in-law included, find contentment in their hometown, a friendly place where traffic snarls, crowds, and crime are nearly nonexistent.  When International Harvester transferred my father-in-law to southwest Iowa about 38 years ago, he and my mother-in-law could have chosen Council Bluffs, Adair, Griswold, Ekhorn or any place in the region. With its location smack dab in the middle of the two big cities of Omaha and DesMoines, and its golf course, Atlantic ticked the boxes for them.

For the folks from Atlantic, all our suburban commotion must be a recipe for migraines. I guess I need big city diversity and the dozens of  shops, parks, restaurants, grocery stores and people that surround me. Traffic? I’ll take it.

Pickpockets, scammers, and thieves….. Oh, my!

 

No matter what happens, travel gives you a story to tell. — Jewish proverb

On a busy street in Paris, a man bends down, picks up a gold ring from the pavement, and asks you if you’ve dropped it. When you say it isn’t yours, he demonstrates that the ring is too big for him, and offers it to you. If you decide to take it, the pressure starts. Now, you’re harassed  to give the guy a bit of money for his generous gift. And the ring? Worth squat, of course.

“Will you sign my petition for saving the environment?” asks a perky young woman. While you’re scanning the clipboard to add your support to cleaner air, the petitioner’s pals are reaching into your backpack and lifting your wallet.

At the Arch de Trimphe, you crane your neck upwards, taking in the magnificence of the famed monument. Lurking among the throng of gawkers is an artful dodger, slipping a wallet from your back pocket.

The Trip Advisor France Forum is loaded with inquiries about Paris crime. Plenty of Nervous Nellies and Neds worry about being  victims as they window shop on the Champs Elysses or gaze at Notre Dame Cathedral. One tourist even inquired about what weapons he could bring, to ward off would-be criminals. Paris experts advised that guy that maybe he ought to just stay home, and they continually reassure others that Paris is very safe, as long as one employs a bit of vigilance.

Whether in Naperville, Illinois or Paris, France, it’s never a good idea to keep valuables in a wide open bag slung over your back, or to plop your purse on an unoccupied chair or on the floor of a restaurant,  or to be sucked in to a juggler’s street performance while your wallet is in your back pocket.

In Madrid, a woman approached and offered me a flower. When I shook my head, I was surrounded by several woman who materialized out of nowhere. Instinctively, I clutched my purse with both hands, said no, and walked away briskly. The women disappeared before my husband and friends even realized what had happened. Was I scared? No, just relieved that some street smarts had kicked in and I still had all of my possessions.

in my hometown, I wasn’t so lucky. Two years ago, I left my purse on the floor of my locked car when I went for a walk on a river trail. I returned to smashed car window and no purse.

In Chicago, where gun violence is a disgrace, I don’t feel unsafe when we’re enjoying neighborhoods or tourist sights, Meanwhile, horrifying and tragic murders occur daily in some areas of our beautiful city. If only stopping pickpockets were our city’s biggest headache!

No where on earth is immune to crime. We’re taking all of the sensible precautions, hanging on tight to our stuff, and crossing our fingers that our Paris stories don’t include one about a pickpocket.