Photos by Jan Behmer Text by Steve VandeGriek Copyright April 1, 2021
Late October, 2019. We were packing to go to France for a month, in part so Janet could tour the early Christmas markets. Then she fell and broke her shoulder. End of that plan. We unpacked.
Spring, 2020. A good surgeon and a lot of rehab later, she was ready to try another venture. Spain for Semana Santa. It was still the good old days when “If We Were Going” was entirely up to us. We began packing. Then the virus boomed into being and scotched everything. We unpacked again.
Summer, 2021. We’re pandemically still not going anywhere. So we’re planning a trip to somewhere we’re not going anyway, and packing accordingly.
Picasso said that art is the elimination of the unnecessary. So it is with the art of packing. The art becomes the art of unpacking. Nothing is going, so everything goes. You put your passport in, you put your passport out, you put your passport in and you shake it all about. You do the – anyway.
Erma Bombeck’s first commandment on this subject – “Thou shalt not travel with anything that thou cannot carry at a dead run for half a mile and store under thy seat.”* is a bit Spartan, but worth entertaining with a grain of salt.
Packing to fly to a place you’re not flying to doesn’t require much restraint, or even much specificity. My wife is reveling in shoes. And best of all, there are no TSA worries. Carry on all the liquids you want. I’m carrying on my nail clippers. This pandemic nonpacking packing can be liberating. Takes you all the way back to the pre-9/11 travel of yesteryear.
I’ve always been a fierce advocate of the art of packing light for flight – carry ons only. It’s a hard habit to break, but what the hell, maybe I’ll get into that shoe thing, too. Huaraches for the Mexican coast. Mukluks to hike the Arctic. Uggs chukkas to roam the streets of Bratislava. We may be virtually gone awhile.
Over the decades we had a long locational wish list. Some we got to, some we didn’t. In recent years we’ve had to necessarily whittle down the remaining list to a short one. It’s even shorter now. And it contains a few favorites we’d like to go back to. For the moment we can return to those and more in pictures we’ve taken and stored. Packing accordingly. Shod in slippers.
* Chapter One, “When you look like your passport photo, it’s time to go home.” (Also worth a thought.)
…A SECOND GO.
Now click your heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home”. You eventually realize this – after a long trip, or a long lifetime of trips. Even after a long journey through decades of photographic souvenirs – some of them so pre-digital that they’ve acquired a time induced sepia cast. As have we.
Re-tripping through thousands of travel photos, we were re-apprised of certain evolved themes and recurrences.
We don’t even remember the genesis of this compulsion, but we never do not give in to it.
Vast French Sunflower Fields
From just cute to representational to Elm Street eerie.
Driving through the Spanish countryside
It can change spectacularly every fifty miles. And eventually a parador will appear. And goats.
Oozed from somewhere into our DNA.
Pride of place. The gamut from hole in the wall niche kitsch to the inimitable D’Orsay and the Prado.
Janet’s favorite dot on the planet. Repeated repeatedly. I have generally loved it, too, only occasionally not so much. I can no longer walk her alluring streets all day long, but we’ll always have Paris. We didn’t, we’d lost it, but – oh for f—- sake, Bogart begone. And the cathedrals.
Janet has a passing religious tic. I have none. But magnificence it magnetic. The Art. The Music. The Structure. Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance variations still stand, from England to France to Germany to Spain to Italy and eastward. Beyond their tactile assets, they breathe out an inherent humanistic aura, humbling and reflective. It’s embedded in the walls by centuries of collective human endeavor and sacrifice. The politics they engender aside, in here peace predominates. As a regular respite during long city rambles, in between the masses and the masses, these spaces are open, uncrowded, quiet and out of the weather. Caveat – there is no beer here.
Well. When a cathedral isn’t handy, what’s a weary walker to do?
Pandemic aside, foreign travel inevitably becomes more difficult than it used to be. Bodies don’t do what they used to do, and do more of what they once didn’t do. This entails a few more things to pack. Our old reliable budget transport and accommodation options aren’t as available or comfortable as they once were. The twenty first century’s proliferation of tourism has triggered barriers to standing unshoved in front of the Mona Lisa or walking alone at sunrise right into the circle of Stonehenge, as I did many years ago. Breathing room in Prague’s Old Town Square or Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is a distant memory. Yes, the hordes have a right to be there, as we have the right to miss their absence, and the world is not going to change in our favor. But we did have our day.
Not that we’re quitting. We have a few re-visits still in the hope chest, if and when the pandemic allows them in a safe and comfortable fashion. And whether we go or not, the planning goes on. It’s half the fun and well over half the time involved.
In the meantime, photographically re-acquainting ourselves with cherished places is affirming. Times like those we bear now are the reason we took and kept these souvenirs.
And also, as we wind it down, there’s a lot to be said for home time with all those non -travel standards: rejoining a favorite book, and an affectionate squabble over a specious Scrabble tender, and the DVR in front of your recliner, and making your own martinis and your own bed.*
I would have added “walks on the beach”, but then it would read like a centerfold profile.