Saturday, September 29, 2012

if this is Paris I need to do laundry

We are walking the streets of Paris and the citizens of this fair city look at me and sniff down their long aristocratic noses. They regard me as they would an annoying particle of food stuck in their teeth. There are a lot of long-legged skinny women in this city wearing jaunty scarves and leather boots with patterned stockings and they get the lingering looks and men part on the sidewalks to let them through. I have to fight for every foot of space and I still get tossed into the bike lane. Paris loves only the beautiful, not the cute and feisty.

It requires grande courage to walk the avenues of Paris. Cars squeal their tires when encountering a red light and they are pissed these stupid pedestrians need to cross a street. They rev their motors like snarling animals and inch forward attempting to claim your space.  Even though you have a green light the driver can pass through the intersection if he deems it safe to do so. Safe is defined as you being mere inches away from his front bumper. And don't even get me started on the motorbikes.

Our hostel window overlooks several shops run by swarthy cigar-smoking men wearing large sparkly rings and their wares consist of bolts of brightly embroidered fabric. In the alley I can see three citizens happily passing around a bottle of Jack Daniels at this nine o'clock morning hour. The guide book said the French do not drink to excess but evidently these guys did not get the memo. I briefly think about joining them but then - eh - just brushed my teeth.

The French generate a lot of garbage, so much that trucks prowl the streets every night removing it. Part of the problem might be the city trash containers overflowing with wine bottles. It should be noted there are recycle bins on the street the size of Volkswagens specifically designed for those wine bottles and yet it's not enough.

 And then there's the dog poop, 16 tons of it comes out of those little French puppies every day and yes, someone took the time to measure it and report it in a guide book. Their owners must think it adds to the charm of Parisian streets because there it sits waiting for me and my flip-flops to discover.

We dine at a Tibetan restaurant. I always liked that Dalai Lama guy and have loads of respect for his philosophy and all that is Buddhist although I never could get the hang of that meditation thing. And wouldn't you agree that if you put a suit on this guy he would look like your fourth grade teacher?


Saturday, September 22, 2012

I keep a handwritten diary when I travel and the pages are full of glowing descriptions of amazing sites, unusual encounters and my introduction to local accommodations and foods. My notes from September 15 read:

-hostel from hell
-walk and drink
-walk and drink

Jason had booked our lodging ahead of time while sitting at my dining room table back in comfortable old Dubuque because his obsessive-compulsive mother has an insane fear that she will arrive at a destination without a prepaid bed and be forced to wander the streets dragging her overly packed suitcase. It had slipped my mind that my son was on a strict budget as he is moving to Japan and is counting every euro and mine, too.

We enter the lobby of the hostel and there were the usual horde of grubby students milling around the desk mainly because they have no money to spend in the city.

We march up the greasy looking stairs and I see that the bathroom is two flights down from our room and how will I manage this with my wildly unpredictable bowels, thanks to my mother's side of the family. And I will need to maneuver myself past a stairwell of students locked into their Iphones or trying to remain upright and not vomit on their shoes due to their state of inebriation.

checking out the landscape with my trusty flashlight
We drop off our luggage in this strange little
hole of a room and the words come out of my mouth unchecked, "this looks like a jail cell." It is barely six yards long and three yards across. The wrinkled red sheet on my bed is full of lint and other small specks so I know it wasn't washed and oh my god, did that one move? I go to bed fully clothed so that only a minimum amount of skin will have contact with that wretched linen.

I  have three tastefully decorated bathrooms in our lovely town house and a closet-full of Charmin extra-soft, extra plush toilet paper.  I stand in the rank water closet with my package of Huggie wipes clutched against my chest and hold my breath from the stench, my buttocks hovering over the bowl below me (please excuse the mental picture.)

Never have I wanted a night to be over as swiftly as this one. Okay, there was that one night when I had a bladder infection and had to sit on the toilet all night so this would be the second night I want over as swiftly as possible.

So we walked and stopped for a pint, walked and stopped for a pint, you get the picture. Anything to erase from my mind the place I must return to at the end of my ale-soaked walk. Oh, but I did have a fairly good meal of chicken, spinach and Gorgonzola over pasta. Pasta, thus my note.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I think Cockfosters is a funny word

We fly into Sweden on this our European voyage and the Stockholm airport is cold and austere and these people have the highest standard of living anywhere and so not surprisingly one of the healthiest lifestyles. So it would follow that I could not find one goddamn can of Diet Coke anywhere. I waded through rows of vitamin water, carrot juice, and exotic coffees but I found no familiar red and white can. And if that were not enough in the same airport I lost a toenail and a really good earring.
On to England. I know the Brits have coke because the Beatles always drank it.

Few would argue that the Royal Family is useless, boring to the point of pain and dress badly on a regular basis but I gotta tell you - you should see their party rooms. We toured Buckingham Palace and they confiscated my entire bag - even my medication and lifesavers - at the entrance and told me I could pick it up later in the garden. So while the palace staff were laughing at my driver's license picture I walked through room after room of priceless paintings and porcelain, diamond-studded crowns and very old mangy-looking tapestries and tiled floors with inlaid jewels. We could sell all this on ebay and solve world hunger and pay my dental bill all in one swipe. If I were a Brit I would be jabbing my finger in Liz's chest and saying, "wake up, sister, you don't need another brooch to go with the purple gloves and purse. And by the way, go a little crazy kid, mix plaids with stripes."

These English are polite and unknowingly funny as are most ethnic groups to the American tourist but I have to stifle a giggle when I'm riding the metro and the canned voice comes over the intercom and says, "you are riding the Piccadilly service all the way to Cockfosters. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform when leaving." Jason reminds me that words of dubious nature and that are unmentionable in polite company in the states can be quite allowable in this fair country and vice verse. For example, what do I see coming at me but a middle-aged couple wearing matching bowling shirts and wearing (shudder) fanny packs around their ample waist lines. I point this out to Jason and he tells me that here the word fanny translates as vagina and so I stay quiet with my observation. Always ask, I say.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

and so it begins

We fly into London and I have sleeping pills and ear plugs and I intend that trip to be a blur. I don't know how a sixty-year-old body handles jet lag but I don't think it would be a pretty sight, I don't want to see it nor should anybody else.

Jason met Wasp in India a few months ago. The guy is in his 30's, outrageously gay (is there any other way?) with multiple facial piercings and lots of tattoos, once they start sticking you with a needle you don't want them to stop. He was traveling across the Mideast using funds he received from a lawsuit he filed and won against the British police. The details on that are cloudy and mysterious as is the origin of his strange nickname. There are so many odd things about Wasp that it's difficult to catalog all of them.  He finally responded to Jason's email and he is currently living in an abandoned house outside London and he has indicated there is an extra couch should we desire lodging during our stay. And this is one of the reasons we travel. We get to talk to people who would never move into our neighborhood.

Another reason I need to leave my comfortable couch is that I have a lot of questions. Did you know they clip the ravens' wings at the Tower of London to prevent them from flying away, garsh those crazy Brits and just how do they do that?  Where is PETA in this equation? They believe if the birds fly away the walls of the Tower will crumble and like London Bridge come falling down. I don't understand the connection and I will be checking this out and reporting back to you. Did I mention that we will travel by train through an underground tunnel from London to Paris and how the hell do they do that?  So many questions.

Jason has printed pages of London and Paris vegan restaurants and health food stores. If nothing else I will come back from this trip very healthy or very hungry or somewhere in between. I have reminded him that I do need to have a slice of meat occasionally or I may turn into a cabbage or a turnip and my passport photo will no longer be applicable.

So cheerio and up, up and away I guess, the time has come to leave. I will visit the castles of Henry VIII and Marie Antoinette and I won't have to make anyone's lunch or scour out the recycle bins. See you on the other side of that proverbial pond.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Frankly, Mrs. Welter . . .

"Frankly, Mrs. Welter I find it hard to believe that one, you cannot remember passing a stopped school bus and two, that you would do so in the first place," says one of the police officers exiting my home.

I am a good citizen. I pay my taxes on time and I recycle and compost for the city. I am a library card carrying woman and I bring my own cloth bags to the supermarket. I never litter and I hold doors open for old people. I just swept my sidewalk clean of the dead begonia blossoms my neighbor refuses to water. I have only one idiotic blemish on my record and that was a speeding ticket back when I was a crazy reckless young thing.  Yes, I was doing 60 something in a 35 mph zone but I had a good reason. Some man in my life had stood me up and I had drunk a bottle of wine except for one inch and I was headed out on the highway and decided to speed up early because there was no one around and it felt good. Ah, frivolous youth but I do need to add I was not driving erratically.  I could always steer well even when under the influence, it's a gift I tell you.

A bus driver with the school system reported to the police that I passed his stopped school bus. I would sooner light a burning cross on some minority member's lawn than commit such an atrocity, christ I'm a grandmother and attend all my grandsons' events, even the boring ones which are pretty much all of them.

The young rookie officer with the red crew cut seems embarrassed by the whole situation. Lord knows I don't look the part and there is the smell of beef stew bubbling on my stove and fresh baked bread on the counter. There are no overflowing ashtrays in my house or fast food containers and Mountain Dew bottles strewn on the floor. But there it is and he hands me a carbon copy that says I am a lawbreaker and an enemy of children everywhere all wrapped up in one egg roll.

I remember the alleged crime. I was coming around a curve and suddenly - tah-da! - there was the bus, man that guy was plowing. His yellow lights were flashing and the arm with the sign was just starting to move. We were nose to nose and I remember I could not see the whole word STOP because the arm was still in motion as I passed.

I am befuddled and betrayed, shaking my head over the incident and wondering how can I possibly wait until October 2nd to get my day in court. The next day I park on the curb facing the ill-fated intersection and I am stalking my accuser.  There he is!  I see a tall figure with a strangely creased grayish face and he looks like a predator out of a cheap rate slasher film. Does this guy want to be a hero at my expense or did I miss something?  I go online and the law says I did OK - I don't need to stop when approaching a school bus with yellow lights, excuse me amber lights flashing.

 As usual, the wheels of justice move slowly and I write all this down in my little notebook should I forget anything in the next three weeks which I undoubtedly will.  My slacks will be ironed and I'll take the good purse when I walk up those courthouse steps next month. Oh, bother.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

there are no cows here

Uh-oh . . . pressure's on . . . expiration date on this unopened two-pound box of Velveeta is 9/24/12. How could I let this happen? I'm supposed to leave the country in nine days and how much mac and cheese will I need to stuff down my family's throats to make this problem go away?  God, I'm so irresponsible.

 I should clean before I leave. I look around my townhouse and find it hard to believe I once read a book on feng shui. Every flat and horizontal space is cluttered with grand children's pictures, cheap mementos from trips and the occasional sea shell. I long for clean minimalist Swedish decor but I need my stuff, lots of it, need to see it, know it's there, home.

The trip looms before me, I say looms. It takes me two days to decide whether I should attend a local event even if it's only minutes from my comfortable couch.  And yet I am winging off to foreign countries and airports where half the citizens don't speak English and are quite content with that.  I am not flexible enough for this project and I should just stay home.

It is the sensible farm woman in me speaking, the one who needs to stay home and milk those full to bursting cows every day.  There are no cows here.

I have always had wanderlust, I spent my first two years of college thumbing it across the state and beyond. And then I got pregnant, a deliberate choice and I would go on to live in the same town my parents and their parents resided and raise this child and a couple more and that was correct on all levels.  But I am older now and in need of very few material things, just new underwear now and then.  What monies I accumulate at this point will be used for traveling, lovely traveling.

I have seen the odd movie, The Odd Life of Timothy Green twice in the last week and I am not recommending it, eh.  But there was that one line that came at me, "and what are you going to do with your one and only life?"   Don't want to be sappy but I do want a really good answer for that.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

a really sick monkey

Unbelievable. Once again I am spending precious weekend hours sandwiched between a teen-ager with a really drippy eye and an ancient wrinkled little man whose coughs sound like they're being scraped off the moldy floor of an abandoned well.

Oh wait, those pathetic choking noises are coming from yours truly and the reason I am sitting in an emergency room full of welfare clients waiting to see some physician's assistant, all the doctors are golfing at the country club this Saturday afternoon. I can't seem  to make an appointment with my regular doc on a week-day.  I only allow him to see me at my bi-annual exams when I am healthy and robust and bragging about all the fiber I eat and how many hours I spend in the pool, a 60-year old poster child for aging broads.  I can't betray that image to him, it's a matter of intense personal pride and I don't want my doctor finding out I get sick.  Now that's sick.  In my defense I was raised by this short little German couple who considered illness shameful and not an allowable excuse for a day missed from work or the general arena of life.

And the phlebotomist is setting up jars, jelly jars I tell you, to fill with my blood. "Hey leave some behind, could you, I still have to drive home."  I'm tring to lighten up here.  No response. "Do you like your job?" I try again. "Yes," and she smiles this really strange little smile, no eye contact,  and I am just noticing the homemade tattoo on the inside of her wrist that looks like a gargoyle or a really sick monkey.  So I think it best to remain silent and get her out of here before she finds another empty jar on her cart. It seems I have pneumonia and they need to figure out which bug thus the need for half my blood supply being hauled away.  At least I won't need to be begging for antibiotics as they are practically throwing them at me, huge horse pills, only five, really powerful stuff and they come with a shitload of possible side effects including inflamed tendons. I am rubbing my calves as we speak . . .

And it seems they want me to see my regular doc on his first available convenience and the bubble will be burst and I just hope he won't get weepy.  In ten days I plan to be on a plane to Sweden and this is my main motivation for showing up for the dreaded weekday appointment.  He may need to approve an iron lung to be sitting at the airport.  Just in case.