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Air Travel for the Commoner

AirTravel CaribbeanThere are few things better than being cramped in a flying-death-trap with a gaggle of strangers who lack common sense and manners.  A PAP test and  mammogram are much less uncomfortable, and take a fraction of the time.

Most recently I witnessed an individual wearing a, “WORK IS FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T DIVE”, shirt waltz down the aisle of a package-vacation aircraft with every imaginable piece of kitchen survival clipped to their camo-pants. There was a phone, a travel mug, travel pillow and an assortment of acoutrements jangling. We were all coming from a beach vacation for crying out loud. Chill out MacGyver. Another person followed, travel pillow, purse, iPad, hat and carry on in tow. As she swung around looking for space in the overhead, she clobbered someone in the head with her purse.

This delicate ballet continued as people kept boarding. I was fascinated by the lack of decorum, and complete disregard for other passengers. This has become a typical experience when it comes to package vacation carriers.

As a teenager sitting in my boyfriend’s living room, his very proper Irish father reacted to a belch or some other such masculine roar by calmly telling us that as we aged, we would appreciate small manners that added up to civilized society. I’ve aged. I appreciate it.

During my last experience with a trans-atlantic flight, I experienced the most absurd rushing to board I have ever seen, with a line-up forming an hour prior to boarding. What resulted was an irritated mob of unorganized boarding-a lovely way to begin an eight hour forced confinement. I’m convinced it was because people were vying for overhead compartment space.

airplaneMy most recent experience with air travel have been interesting to say the least. No, I cannot boast surviving a terrifying emergency landing like a friend and colleague.  I have never been privileged enough to witness a mid-flight take down of an irate passenger, and on the other end of the spectrum, I have also have never been graciously upgraded because I’m an obedient, no fuss traveller.

I did however witness the trio of women who swung their luggage around like a cat by the tail, spill red wine on themselves and the passengers behind them while laughing loud enough to keep everyone awake on the plane. Combined with the guy behind us who coughed up snot throughout the entire journey, it was a five hour exercise in patience.

Alas, I have been around long enough to witness the complete decline in etiquette and common sense when it comes to air travel. Perhaps it’s because the real estate inside aircraft has become more valuable. Overhead bins have become kind of like the condo market in Toronto – you know, people throwing money at 400 square feet like it’s an estate home on five acres. It’s all getting smaller and demand is exponentially rising.

Please, I beg of you, the next time you arrive at the gate, leave your ego behind, get in, sit down, and don’t be an asshole.

 

 

 

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What You Need to Know About Paris

 

First of all, you need to know that I love Paris. Like: Love as-in-I-would-move-there-tonight-with-nothing-but-a-carry-on-kind-of-love. Looooooove…..

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Recently I was asked by an acquaintance to send some information about my most recent holiday in the City of Light. It took me forever to get back to her. Mainly because I knew just how into it I would get, and therefor how much time it would take me to compose an email as full of useful information as I could muster with all of the enthusiasm I have for the city. I enjoyed every.single.second.

I went on about my favourite places, included links and maps, tips and tricks, and loads of my very own opinion. Which, of course, the world needs more of.

paris cafeYes, I adore all of the idiosyncrisies of the French. This includes terrible and rude (if not also terribly rude) service and their casual sense of elegance.  I love the tiny streets of Montmartre with the colourful shops squeezed together like hippies on a road trip. I love the billionaire-on-a-budget attitude of St. Germain, the connection to great artists I feel when I sink into the reading nooks on the second floor of Shakespeare and Company, and the thrum of those places where new worlds collide and your footsteps become unsure.

Had I only been able to make one suggestion to her though about getting a feel for what to expect, it would be this;

Find a lovely scarf which is slightly too long to wield delicately, and get thee to a crowded outdoor patio in the spring time. Order wine or coffee and a tiny glass of water, and no matter what the menu, expect an exquisite presentation of deliciously prepared food. All of this served to you by the most disinterested and apathetic server that you can imagine while your scarf blows in the wind like a prop from an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Welcome to Paris.

 

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Paris-It’s a Love/Hate Kind of City-Part 2

eiffel tower.jpg

As you read in Paris Part 1, I have a bias toward Paris, so let me start there;

The French, like any nation/culture have their own way of doing things. A way of eating, drinking and socializing that has earned them a place in history as gracious host to a generation of writers and artists who shaped the western cultural world. I can respect that.

Merci pour la petite cafe.

What I cannot respect, regardless of where I am, or who I’m interacting with, is rudeness.

As much as I love, love, love Paris, my most recent visit was a much different experience than that of years ago.

In general I find that human interaction during our day-to-day interactions lacks patience, empathy and kindness. More often than not, whether I am the client or the professional, people tend to express an inflated sense of entitlement and lack basic manners. The elements of civilization have been lost, and it shows in Paris.

Wait staff,  famous for snooty service throughout recent history, were stretched too thin, and much less charmingly rude as they were flat out over-worked.

This is a global phenomenon rather than a French one in my opinion. The world is becoming more economically divided, with access to security much less attainable. Consumer appetite for more, more, more has replaced any sense of spirituality, and everything is expected at the speed of our mobile browsers. We have lost our appetite for connection as our appetite as consumers has grown.

moveable feastParis is a city locked into a nostalgic identity. That’s why we flock there. We are there to see the places where great artists and writers were inspired, lived, worked, and sacrificed for their art. We are not there for the reality of out modern world.

Like any tourist destination the line-ups, pick-pocketing and general collection of human grime is inevitable. The airbrushed photos of the modern city set us up to try to create an unattainable reality, kind of like the airbrushed photos of Beyonce’s thighs.

We like the image of people relaxing on patio cafes, sipping coffee or wine, talking about ideas and art and sensual pleasures, but we find it almost impossible to embody this lifestyle. Addiction to our mobile phones and giant paper-cups full of coffee is a cultural phenomenon unto itself, but it is not compatible with our nostalgic idealism of Paris.  And this is why some people hate it there.

My partner described the city as Disney for Adults. Travel has become a collection of passport stamps rather than an experience. Line-up upon line-up of people at historical sites were more concerned with trying to take instagram-worthy photos than enjoying the actual experience. Watching this, I thought that handing out Valium and wine at the ticket booth would likely make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable for everyone. Even I got tired of my own posts with classic images of the city strategically placed in the background.

The idea of a person or place is often not the same as the reality.

The romance of Paris is like a real romance. Quite often we delight in the potential of our partner, but can’t acknowledge the reality; they’re a shitty person. With regard to Paris, we love it, but personalities don’t always mesh with a city so romanticized by history.

Personally, I can linger over a tiny coffee or scrumptious glass of wine all afternoon while writing or daydreaming, or being engaged in discussions about what matters to me in life; happiness, love, the creative process. For others, slowing down and living the ideal is a much harder thing to do.

 

 

 

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Paris-It’s a Love-Hate Kind of City-Part 1

Café_de_FloreI’m jerked awake  from a fevered slumber as the hotel door bursts open, ” What the f**k is wrong with these people?! I can’t get a f*****g cup of coffee!

Realizing what had just happened at the cafes next door while I was curled up in the warm blankets of my Paris hotel room makes me laugh out loud, and then I cough.

Did you ask for your coffee in French sweetie? Or did you walk in and say, ‘Can I get a large coffee?‘”

At the first place they didn’t even f*****g acknowledge me!

Did you ask in French?” I said, sitting up in bed and grinning at him.

No.”

Honey, if someone came up to you at home and asked you for something in Mandarin, you’d be pissed they weren’t speaking one of our national languages.

He carried on his rant, letting the truth of what I just said sink in knowing, but not admitting that I was right. “At the second place they just said, “Non” (imagine the worst french accent ever), “Cafe this big“. He holds up his fingers like he’s going to pinch a baby.

You may want to try using your French while we’re here honey, or find a Starbucks.

EmbracingCoffee_web-824x549

Less than half an hour later he discovered there was coffee at the hotel, and he lugged up three cups to our suite while I got ready to go out for the day.

My partner was appalled by not being able to order a drink without food, a mammoth sized coffee and the slow service at restaurants. His discomfort was my entertainment. You see, I love the complexities of French service, social interaction and just being in such an amazing city.

To watch someone rage against their own ways while being hosted by ‘others’ was rather entertaining. While he was stewing about how he was going to score his next ginormous caffeine fix ( this morning he had two pots of coffee ),  I was marveling at the architecture, lounging in the warm comfort of the reading room at Shakespeare & Company, and people watching from the famous cafes on Boulevard Saint-Germain. I was in my glory.

My partner now fondly refers to anyone from France as a Euro-Weenie. We differ in our perspective regarding the French as we differ with regard to our politics.

The French, like any nation/culture have their own way of doing things. A way of eating, drinking and socializing that has earned them a place in history as gracious host to a generation of writers and artists who shaped the western cultural world. I can respect that.

Merci pour la petite cafe.

 

 

 

 

 

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Travelling Light: My Very First Travel Companion

mapTravelling companions can make or break a travel experience. Or so they say.

I wouldn’t know. I’ve only ever travelled alone, but for one wild weekend in the Bahamas with my BFF, and we shall never speak of that again.

Pretty soon I’m off on an adventure with my sweetie-bear, my puddin’ pie, my hunk’a-hunk’a burning man love…you get what I’m talking about don’t you ladies?

Basically what I’m saying is that having passed the age of 40, I’m travelling for the first time with a man.

There are only two words for it; Yu Ikes.

Seriously.

Just the thought of it makes me giddy. Because giddy is my inappropriate nervous reaction.

Sweet Jesus. As I look around my hotel room, I see a sight that only a busy, single parent of an active teenager could smile at. My bra is hanging over the corner of the television screen. The large garbage can that is meant for the main living area is full of ice and wine. A French version of a popular food and drink magazine is drying out beside the sink (it got soaked by a half open bottle of coconut water while I was struggling to carry everything in from the underground parking garage), and deep purple remnents of said magazine are stuck to the towel that is hanging from a hook meant to hang up jackets in the entrance. There is a wet creamer package sticking half out of a coffee bag, and my shoes are scattered on the floor. Don’t even attempt to try and picture what the bathroom looks like afer a full-on gal-sprawl of cosmetics, towels, panties and hair accoutrements.  It’s pretty only in a way that that Parisian artists of the golden age could appreciate…while on opiods.

So this travelling without a companion has been a wonderful freedom that very few of my gal-pals have been able to enjoy. I totally get loving this freedom to not give a crap about anyone else’s space or comfort. After all, when you travel alone, your ‘stuff’ is all in one place and nobody bothers the organized chaos. There is also no cleaning up after anyone else either, which is a heavenly bonus. As is the fact that there is no one else’s schedule, priorities or aversions to be considerate of.

There is also no one to share it all with either. Not the messy bathroom and bra and the television set stuff – the good stuff. Well, not unless you go out and find someone to enjoy it with, but I digress.

Simply put, I need some valium and a good whack of booze to get me over my nervousness. But maybe a hug from my sweetie will do. I’ll let you know how it all pans out, hair accoutrements and all.

 

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Cloud-Watching; Dreaming Back to Life

clouds
We are all music makers and the dreamers of dreams.

A brown painted fence. A gnarled and sprawling crabapple tree. The sky. Blue like the lake that was just a short walk away; always changing, wide open, endless and without possibility. This was the sky that was the object of my meditation as a child. It was second only to the endless landscape of water which met the horizon, always leaving me feeling full of hope, like the world had so much to offer.

In my grandparents side yard, facing a brown-painted fence, with my bum resting on the criss-crossed vinyl weave of lawnchair mesh, my bare feet dangling, not able to touch the ground, I would let my head fall back so I could take in the changing shape of the clouds.

Often my granny would be sitting next to me in deep daydream mode.Through squinted eyese, I could see airplanes  break up the serenity  of the sky, or the confusion of clouds twist and reform over and over again. Old before my time from witnessing so much of the of the broken world of adults, I remember often saying, “Granny, I wish I were on that airplane going somewhere far away.”  And just as often,  she would reach out her hand to mine and matter-of-factly reply, ” Me too. But you know, you always have to come back. No matter where you go, you always come back“.

I was never one hundred percent sure what she meant by that, but it made me just a little bit uncomfortable. I liked to think that one day I could just pack and up leave without coming back for anything, ever.As an adult, I know that she’s right. The things that we want to escape from and the things that keep us up at night, travel with us wherever we go; loss, love, fear and joy. They are silent, uninvited, travel companions.

This morning I had a rare opportunity to wake without an alarm. But I did wake with alarm. A difficult dream, but not horrific enough to drop in the bucket of nightmares. Dreaming now is left to rare moments when I forget my obligations, or when I wake slowly, aware that I’m dreaming, but not yet fully awake.

Quite often when our minds wander, daydreaming, lucid dreaming, or dreaming during our sleep cycles, they either bring great escape and offer wish fulfilment, or they take us back to unresolved elements of our life that dare rap on the door of consciousness for some attention. Such was the case this morning.

We are all still the child who daydreamed at the way the wispiness of the clouds changed shape from seashell to fire breathing dragon. We  all carry universal fears and dreams in our tender hearts.

I have learned that my granny was right though. No matter what I do; degrees attained, professional accolades, adventures sought and conquered, we all have to come back. We come back to our own selves, time and time again; vulnerable, fearful, curious, and always looking for the tiniest spark of hope.

 

 

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Water: The Element of Truth

Marina Cay, BVI
Marina Cay, BVI

When I was a little girl, I fell in love. I fell head over heals in love. With a boat. My beloved allowed me to romp and roam, never do my hair, or care what I wore. There was a freedom in that loving that was so innocent and complete, that it has stayed with me, and never left.

In my youth, I would spend hours climbing down the clay cliffs along Lake Erie, and sit on the rock wall watching the waves roll by. Stormy weather was always my favourite, when the water seemed to speak to me, and the timeless knowledge of stillness that it taught would seep deep into my tender bones.

It never left even as I moved further away from a shoreline. The water has always had a pull that some call seductive. In my case, it’s a matter of survival. For too long I have been landlocked; working, momming, worrying about what comes next.

Estrangement from family at a young age is a wild and wonderful thing. Although there is no anchoring in genealogy or tradition, it gives you the freedom to heal and create a life of your choosing. Having done that, I have a visceral knowledge of the famous lyrics, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose“.

So, as I felt my breathing become more shallow, my anxiety at the breaking point, and my heart void of the ability to recognize hope or joy, I took a leap of faith. Instead of a sterile all-inclusive getaway, I put my money and my favour on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a crew of 8 on a sailing adventure through the British Virgin Islands.

A sailing course would have been a good idea, but I tend to jump in feet first. Sink or swim. Love it or hate it. I (gulp)…committed.

I did very little of the ‘sailing’ and a lot of learning. Having had some experience on a boat with regard to the importance of speed and preparedness, I did what I could, and tried to stay out of the way.

JVD White BayYears of counseling and working in crisis situations has given me a keen sense of relationship dynamics, and having a new group together in a confined space for a period of 10 days is a telling crucible. Boats and water have a wonderful way of distilling our personalities and revealing the most miniscule cracks. Flaws that were easy to ignore on land, burst open and whether you like it or not, you’ve gotta face whatever it is.  Water has a wonderful way of washing away the superficial crud of every day. It is a truth-revealing element.

During this particular adventure, I gained a new respect for people I’ve known casually for a long time, a clear picture of who the new folks really are, and let’s just say the ugliness of another was rinsed to sparkling, and filed in the ‘Barnacles of Life’ pile and left to dry in the sun like discarded sea-creature entrails.

The ocean is vast and claustrophobic all at once. Once upon a time someone told me that when they stood on the cliffs and looked out over Lake Erie that they were at the end of the world. I knew that we were not kindred spirits. When I stood on those same cliffs and looked out over the lake with nothing but water, horizon and sky, I always felt like I was just at the beginning of everything.Sunset Boat 3

When I was a tom-boyish ten year old, with wild hair and sunkissed skin, I often dreamed of one day living on  a boat and being rocked to sleep by the sound of the water lapping at the hull. As a workaholic adult, I finally got the chance, if only for a couple of weeks.

It was just enough to reset my mind and body. It was enough to throw open the weathered shutters of fatigue and allow sunlight to shine on hope again.