Thursday, August 25, 2022

Ah, les vacances

French people get way too much vacation.

You who are reading this, and who may not have taken more than 2.5 days of sick leave in the past 18 months, may think that I’m crazy to say such a thing, so perhaps I should be more specific:

French children get way too much vacation.

Why might I say that? Read on.

Just another World Heritage site (were over it, Mom, seriously). 

My parents had the dubious honor of flying out from California to visit us for a romp through southern France this summer, even though it was technically our turn to go to them. But seeing as how I’m still recovering from our Christmas trip, plus the fact that my brother is tying the knot in Florida this coming March, we figured this was a good compromise.

Where to begin? Let’s start with transportation:

First of all, there are six of us when my parents are here and our car only seats five. But my father-in-law has an old Peugeot equipped with a sixth seat and a rooftop storage unit, so hey.

Of course, that sixth seat feels a lot like the proverbial back of the bus, i.e. hot and bumpy with zero leg room, but WHO’S COMPLAINING?

Afoot and lighthearted we take to the open road.

I’ll tell you who: my kids. Both of them. Screaming. Wailing. Temper tantruming. Rolling on the ground. The only way to get either of them to accept sitting “in the trunk” was to offer them my portable fan and my Snapchat account.

Here is but a small taste of what that led to:

Thespian #1

Thespian #2

Group travel is an interesting sociological experiment, and ours is always a particularly dysfunctional unique brand of that. Take two American grandparents who are used to having calm and quiet, add two Franco-American children who are the exact opposite of calm and quiet, one Frenchman who feels neither heat nor cold nor pain nor fatigue, and myself, who wants nothing more than two months of absolute solitude in a mountain monastery, and cram them all into a 20-year-old car with sketchy air conditioning for a three-week, 1,000-mile trek through southwest France in 90° heat … and what do you get?

A lot of drinking (obviously).

Negotiating everyone’s various and often conflicting needs was interesting, between my dad’s swollen ankles and my husband’s view that any day registering under 20,000 steps is a day wasted; between my mom’s natural amiability and my natural irritability; and between my daughter’s aversion to car rides/heat/walking/eating/sleeping and my son’s equal aversion to all of those things, its a wonder that none of us throttled the others with our bare hands (the temptation was real). 

Look at the camera, folks.

But for all our differences, we managed to visit quite an astounding number of places, and to have rather a good time of it to boot. Sprawling cities and perched villages, medieval castles and neolithic caves, craggy mountains and lush valleys, meandering rivers and tranquil lakes, and “oh Mom, not another church.” You name it, we did it. My dad’s ankles survived, my husband’s inner athlete was appeased, and the kids will (maybe) thank us one day for offering them so much culture.

Is it September yet?

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Here’s to your health

For the past several years, I have been reading my way through the Bible from cover to cover. In December, I finally reached Revelation. Do you know which word is generally associated with Revelation?


And that brings me to our most recent voyage. If you’ve read any of my posts over the past decade, you will know that travel and I have a very intense love/hate relationship, i.e. I love visiting new places, but I hate getting there. Disaster seems to strike every time I venture beyond my front door, yet I keep on travelling. Why? Because as soon as it’s over, I forget the bad part and retain the good ... until the next voyage-related calamity, when it’s too late to back out.

Anyway, 2021 being what it was, I probably could have guessed it would come to an unpleasant climax. Mad optimism, however, drove us to buy tickets to visit my parents in the US for Christmas, seeing as how the last time we were able to do that was in blithely ignorant 2019. 

So we bought tickets. Or, more accurately, my husband bought tickets; my travel anxiety is such that the mere thought of visiting triples my heart rate. Anyway. We acquired tickets. And a rental car. And a taxi. And I printed out my famous, excruciatingly-detailed packing list in 9-point font. And that was that.

The day before our departure, everyone took the requisite Covid test at our least-favorite neighborhood pharmacy, where every visit means standing in line to register indoors, then standing in line again to take the test outdoors, while certain childrenwho shall remain namelessrun, screaming, up and down the sidewalk and/or blow raspberries against the storefront windows and/or activate (and re-activate. And re-activate. And re-activate) the pharmacy’s automatic doors. 

At least we all tested negative.

The next day, we arrived at the airport FOUR HOURS EARLY, which is what one must do now in the Pangolin Era. It went as well as could be hoped for us; we managed to actually board our plane, which was a definite improvement over our last voyage, and 12 hours or so later we landed in Los Angeles, where we promptly headed to our usual mediocre-yet-reliable airport hotel. For dinner, we had the option of either Taco Bell, where I had not set foot since age 17, or Subway, which we have in France. So we chose Taco Bell for its “exoticism.” But this was no ordinary Taco Bell; this was Pandemic Taco Bell, where the order counter is behind a wall of cellophane and the seating area is roped off with crime scene tape. Come to think of it, that might actually have been a crime scene; LA is dangerous.

The next day, we picked up our rental car in a singularly bizarre location (inside the lobby of a nearby Marriott? Why?). And off we went, despite the fact that my husband felt a bit weird. “Jet lag,” I assured him (*queue ominous music*). We didn’t want to go directly to San Diego, as that would have been too easy, so we stopped at Venice Beach. It was sunny. We took photos. We strolled up and down the sidewalk, trying to sufficiently appreciate the tackiness of the excessively-colorful commerces selling everything from healing crystals to 12-flavor corndogs to underwear with saucy quips splashed across the derrière. We saw, among other novelties, a bare-breasted woman on roller skates; we bought lunch from a dude with what looked like a golf ball in his left eye socket; our son attacked some seagulls with a giant Snoopy glow stick that he found outside the public toilets; and everyone (but me) got covered in sand and seawater. Then we climbed into the car and drove straight into LA Friday afternoon traffic, thus taking five hours to reach my parents’ house instead of three. 

Maybe next time we’ll skip Venice Beach.

Oh, but then wed miss out on this.

The actual visit was great. We celebrated Christmas as only the Holts can; we hiked all over the place, went shopping, visited friends, went to church, sang carols, lit a whole lot of candles, drank many gin & tonics, ate a ton of Mexican food (which is always my #2 reason to visit home anyway) and agreed once again that there’s no one quite like Paul Simon. Check it out:

Oh yeah, and we all caught Covid-19. 

Turns out my husband felt under the weather because he quite simply had been infected with Omicron. Oops. “But wait!” I can hear you saying. “You said everyone tested negative!” Indeed, we did test negative. But that was only because my husband had caught the virus mere hours before getting tested. He caught it at his company’s Christmas luncheon, and we know this because we later found out that EVERYONE who attended it also caught the virus. They actually had to close and disinfect the entire office. 

But hey, on the upside, our symptoms were mild. In fact, I didn’t even know I had it until I took a home test the day before our scheduled return date “just to be sure” and it came up positive: Two bright blue lines appeared with the same speed and certitude as a pregnancy test taken when you’re already three months along. 

The folks at Air France, to their credit, were very understanding. We changed our dates, extended our car rental, emailed a few folks and added four days to our vacation. After that, I took another test. STILL POSITIVE. My husband couldn’t take any more time off from work, and since HE was negative, he and our son headed back to France while I remained with our daughter at my parents’ home for another three days (which was fun, don’t get me wrong). Ultimately, my immune system dispensed of the accursed virus and we too were able to board a flight back to Paris. Whew!

So that was the 2021 season finale. Shall we call it “challenging” for lack of a non-four-letter synonym? It was challenging. But what is it we’re supposed to always say about challenges? That they conceal opportunities! And sometimes, they conceal said opportunities so well that they are completely undetectable! Actually, one opportunity made itself abundantly clear throughout this particular challenge: wine. More, more wine.

Its 5 oclock somewhere.

And that, as they say, is all she wrote. Until next time!