73: Pack-Attack plus Can Luggage Get You Arrested?

Pack-attack: A subset of a traveller’s obsessive-compulsive disorder that leads to repetitive packing-planning sessions.

The second pack-attack of the season struck this week, 73 days out from our trip, which means I got to this task just in the nick of time.

I don’t want to say that I am a packing expert, although I  moved through two hemispheres, five countries, three continents and three provinces. I lose count after that. I’ve packed with an 80-lb. dog in tow, assorted numbers of offspring, and in the range from transporting full households including the kitchen garbage (packed by the moving company without my noticing – they were paid by the pound), to all the way down to what Dave and I could drag while running to catch a train (two suitcases and two carry-ons).

A fraction of our collected goods.

After excavating all our Swiss-worldly goods from our closet, I discovered our possessions have multiplied, possibly while we slept, more likely while I shopped.  I have also made the miserable discovery that our 33 books weighing 15.2 pounds will cost $500 to ship back to Canada, so there will be some serious editing going on over the coming weeks that will enrich our hotel’s library, but cause us some mourning. We love our books, but when it is cheaper to replace them than to post them, well, the typeset is on the wall.

When all was accounted for, it was decided that we need to purchase another suitcase. As if on cue, during Dave’s daily lunch walk, he happened upon a posh black suitcase among a pile of items left at the curb for pick-up. He assures me he did not dumpster-dive. And so he picked it up. It was in fairly good condition and would definitely have weathered one more oceanic crossing, however, this morning it is back at the curb.

Luggage of undetermined origins carries unlimited hazards. My first fear was lice, fleas or other minor lifeforms, but then the larger problem presented itself: What if the thing had ever been used to transport any type of narcotic? A drug dog could easily pick up trace amounts and then where would we be, but in some jail, paying a German-speaking lawyer a huge bulk of money, and all of this through the summer, which, frankly, is the worst time to be incarcerated. Not that I know anything personally about this, but why take the chance?

88: Life, Literature & Laundry

Tiny bubbles.

You would think that living in a hotel is all luxury. After all, such luminaries as Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway and Simone de Beauvoir are among the dozens of writers who made hotels their homes at some point.

Famed authors whose writing dragged along often booked in, locked up and grinded out their manuscripts. Tennessee Williams finished A House Not Meant to Stand at the Hotel Elysee (unpublished until after his death, which appears to be the publication path for my latest book). William Faulkner scribbled out As I Lay Dying in only six weeks during a stay at Manhattan’s Algonquin. After six years of research and intense writerly angst, Truman Capote is said to have completed In Cold Blood at New York’s Plaza Hotel.

So, it is a life of glory, ink, typewriters and laptops, but it is not all keyboards and Jack Daniels. Dylan Thomas died of alcohol poisoning in 1953 at The Chelsea in New York, where it happens that Charles R. Jackson, author of The Lost Weekend, killed himself in 1968.

Our fancy dryer. Dave worries readers will think that is his underwear on the left side of the rack, but if you look closely you will see it is an upside-down blue t-shirt with white trim.

I would not be surprised one bit if these tragedies were connected to laundry.

Anyone who has had laundry done in a hotel knows that the prices are geared towards people who don’t really care what they’re paying, because they’re not paying at all. Their employer is. And so, some business travelers report a single laundry load can cost $68 US, or a week’s worth at $300. One month of this and it is a wonder travelers don’t just pack a washer and dryer around with them. It would cost about the same. There is no “per load” bargain to be had either. Every item of laundry is listed and tagged and laundered at a per-piece rate. It is cheaper to treat socks as disposable items and just keep chucking the old and buying new pairs rather than send them to the hotel laundry.

And so, we the ever-cheap, refuse to wash anything through the hotel laundry. We don’t have a sugar-daddy corporate boss to sign the check. Instead, we handwash our clothes in the sinks (our suite has four sinks – imagine that), and in the winter dry them over the heater and in the warmer months outside on a rack on our post-stamp-sized deck. It is a little like living as a young impoverished student, but with better wi-fi service. I did try to find a laundromat, but the town only has two full-service laundry shops that charge the same as the hotel, although a desperate mother of two recently was given a laundry pass at one of them after the most persistent of campaigns. I could go and try that shop, but I did once and the Germans laughed me right out of the establishment. I’m not going back.

Hand-laundering is not as hard as it seems. The hotel changes the bedding every week and provides towels. Without children, our laundry load is surprisingly light. This gentlest of washing methods means that our clothes hardly look worn out at all, except for our socks. I’ve learned a few tricks, such as that sports-clothing dries very quickly; heavy sweaters and jeans very slowly, so my wardrobe is dominated by sportswear. I can speed up drying by pointing fans set to maximum at the drying rack. I have yet to resort to Seinfeldish oven-drying, but given the right circumstances, I would give it a try, if only I could figure out the settings on our state-of-the-art wall oven.

92: Geneva, Protestants + Catholics and Bookshops

Geneva is garbage, so people say, but we’re not taking anyone’s word for it. We’re going to check it out ourselves today.

We heard the same thing about Zürich and that turned out to be a lovely city with just about everything an urban sightseer could want – including some place with James Joyce’s name inscribed on the wall, but with Germanesque – or was it French? – hieroglyphics so we’re not sure what that was about.

Geneva is home to the CERN collider, some giant underground tunnel where scientists say they are trying to do something with particulate matter, but we suspect it is just a massive public-funded man cave.

It’s also the home of the Red Cross, the U.N., and the location where in 52 B.C. Julius Caesar blew up a bridge. Some say it is also the home of the Reformation, but I thought that was in Germany, but then perhaps it really was all over Europe. Surprisingly, the Reformation was actually intended to reform the Catholic church itself as opposed to dividing it into two Christian entities.

Off the Shelf English Bookshop - Oh glory be!

In what may have been the genesis of Swissness, in 1533 A.D. some Catholic priests tried to incite the citizens to massacre the Protestants, but this being Switzerland (well, not in 1533, but sometime later it would become Switzerland), the Catholics shrugged and said whatever.

That wasn’t the end of it – there was back and forth, a few street riots and so forth  until a treaty was signed that agreed Genevans could choose their own religion, which certainly is in line with what Jesus seemed to teach when he told people to investigate for themselves the claims about him. Seems fair enough. Otherwise this country would have turned out to resemble Iran, religion-optional-wise.

But we are not the type of tourists to troll museums and investigate such lofty things: Dave has discovered Geneva has a bookstore with an English section. It might even be an entire store of English books, which will be something like uncovering the Holy Grail in this land of Languages-Other-Than-English. That will be Stop One of today’s trip.

English bookstores are to be prized. In our time in Spain in the days before Amazon.com and The Book Depository (the real name of a European online book supplier, that seems completely unaware of the American cultural significance of the words “the book depository”) we fed off a tiny airport-store-like bookstore that had one little rotating tower of English books, forcing us to become fans of Maeve Binchy romance books. For some reason Irish authors are popular in Spain. Maybe they do it to poke at the British.

FASCINATING SIDE NOTE: Rick Steves, American travel guru par excellence is well-hated in Switzerland for this fact: Geneva does not even figure into his guidebooks. In fact, Geneva does not appear even in his index, although Lake Geneva does. How’s that for a slap in the face? Yet, Geneva’s tourism office, in very offended tones, says most of their tourists come from America, so even U.S. citizens know to ignore Steves. Sniff. How about that for  travelogue tiff? I will put on my impartial journalism cap and let you know whether to skip this city or not).

SECOND FASCINATING SIDE NOTE: One year ago today we left our Victoria, B.C. home to come here.

102: The insanity of insomnia

Gargoyles seem entirely plausible in the world of Hans Christian Andersen.

Blame literature. I am a lifelong insomniac, an affliction that in its early stages had me sneaking my lamp into my bedroom closet where I soaked in the company of many a weird book, all so my parents wouldn’t notice the light under the door while I read late into the night. Technically, this makes me less of an insomniac and more of an obsessive-compulsive reader for whom every book is a “page-turner.”

By weird books, I don’t mean anything as terrifying as monster picture books, unless you want to include Wuthering Heights, and other Victorian-era missives, which when you think about it, are monster stories. This explains so much about my knee-jerk expectation that things will always go wrong.  A steady diet of Charles Dickens does terrible things to a pliable mind.

This unusual reading list through my elementary school years had everything to do with poverty – not that my family was down-in-the-dirt poor, but we were too poor for many children’s picture books, if any – I don’t actually remember anything but printed pages full of text until I hit school, but for my older brother’s school reader, Dick and Jane.  Then my younger brothers came along and entered the land of Dr. Seuss’s green eggs and ham, a line of fables that I rejected because none of the Bronte family mentioned green food or if they did it was in the context of having to consume mouldy spoiled fare. So the only books handy to me at home were those that came in my mother’s affordable subscription to a buck-a-month Book of the Month Club, the collection of which was entirely based in The Classics.

These chairs have nothing to do with this blog post. I've included them to offset the nightmarish gargoyle photo, although they do make a great place to read on a warm spring afternoon, and this post does talk about reading, so I take it back about the chairs being out-of-place.

My gloomy outlook did not improve much when the book club acquired a ‘children’s list,’ which included the unwashed version of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales and the Brothers Grimm in a two-in-one book volume where you flipped the book over and upside down on the other side was another whole collection of horror stories crafted especially to keep children in line. My mother thought Black Beauty would be a good read, so she ordered it, ushering in my introduction to the world of animal abuse.

It was handy to get my Grades 11 and 12 reading list out of the way before puberty, but awkward to arrive in Grade One without a clue about even a single Mother Goose rhyme and to have only the most scant familiarity with Little Red Riding Hood. Worse yet, because I was an early reader, every teacher assumed I knew things I did not, such as the alphabet. It was a miserable day in Grade 4 when Miss McMurray laughingly said, “Let’s review the alphabet, although I’m sure you all know it.” The class laughed, because they knew that in fact, I had never been able to recite the alphabet, an educational oversight that branded me for way too many school years.

All of the above is a long way of explaining that I was up past 4 a.m. last night, which is not really that unusual, but it is not a good thing when living in a hotel bachelor suite where my beloved husband is trying to get some sleep because he has to go to work in the morning. I lay in bed and stared into the dark until after 2 a.m., but then had to get up because there is only so much blind-staring I can do at a stretch.

But in 102 days, we will have a bedroom with a door on it, and I will be able to tiptoe into the living room and read away without waking anyone. Bliss.