To France Sans ApologiesMay 20th, 2010 © by Susan Swartz
There are so many good reasons not to go to Europe this year. The ashy cloud out of Iceland is still hovering and who knows when another volcano might decide to erupt and mess up a two week vacation? It could rain in Monet’s garden. The baguette bakers might go on strike.
Besides, how can we indulge ourselves when the world is so volatile and the economy so insecure? We’re getting close to that fixed income part of life. Will we be spending money that we will one day wish we had?
Think how sad the dog gets when we leave. Think of all the email that will pile up. What if the house sitter forgets to water the tomatoes? What about our promise to be frugal and buy local?
There could be a terrorist on our plane. There could be one on the airporter getting us to San Francisco. There could be an angry, anti-American zealot lurking at the Marais café where we lounge with our au lait and croissant. There could be bomb-makers at the adorable inn in the charming Loire village with all the great castles.
Well, we’re going anyhow, calling it our “pensioners to Paris package.” Even though maybe we should be biking through Utah while our legs still work. Or spending two weeks working on a kibbutz or teaching English to kids in Malaysia.
The last time my husband and I went to France was during the Bush years when the French were still smarting over that dumb crack about French fries and embarrassed U.S. travelers sported maple leaf flags pretending to be Canadian. But now the French seem to be smitten with Obama and liking us again. And the dollar is no longer defenseless against the euro.
It still takes almost a day to get from our house to France and I look forward to that dazzling moment after flying all night when you push up the window shade and the sun is coming up over what must be Ireland and then England and then there’s the English Channel and a swath of green farmland and brown and white cows and stone farmhouses with blue shutters.
I’m still in love with foreign travel. I know people whose long careers had them airborne so much that once they retire they’re thrilled to hang out at home. Not me. I get giddy just thinking about going to another part of the world. We’re traveling with another couple and we’ve been playing at going to France since winter. If you only have two weeks to actually be there, you want to stretch it out with a long countdown. We have French radio streaming from our laptops, Paris weather on the Google map. I’m reading memoirs of France by Gertrude Stein, MFK Fisher and Julia Child.
The world has shrunk since those Americans discovered France as a second home. Travel was more exotic and distancing then. Now we are a global village with a world economy. We share airspace, cyberspace and each other’s bad days. Each of us is only a ripple away from another part of the world’s failed economy, earthquake, oil spills, violence, corruption, wars and retaliatory attacks.
We may be separated by culture and language – my French, as they say, (heh, heh) est pathetique – but we know each other. The storybook farmers we will photograph in the Dordogne worry about holding onto to their fields just like California farmers. The chic people we will ogle on the Right Bank likely fret over cutbacks at work and how to keep their apartment.
To them we will bring our tourist dollars, affection and empathy.