Friday, September 16, 2011

Traveling

by Sheila Connolly



Travel just ain't no fun any more. When you read this, I should be mingling with a couple of thousand of mystery and thriller writers at the annual Bouchercon convention in St. Louis. I say "should" because you never know if you will arrive at your intended destination (or you’re your luggage will be there). Things happen, as we have been reminded this week. Disasters, natural and man-made, disrupt the best-laid plans.


It's easier than it used to be to get from Point A to Point B. Once you needed human assistance to reserve a space on any conveyance—boat, train or airplane. Now you can sit in front of a computer and arrange to go anywhere. Several years ago I booked a flight to Australia, and all it took was a couple of mouse clicks. Somehow I felt that there should be more drama when committing to flying halfway around the world, but all it took was a single "Enter" to make it happen.


I know people who are terrified to fly. Admittedly it is unnatural, getting into a shiny tube and hurtling hundreds or thousands of miles through the air. The human brain did not evolve to encompass such things. I don't know if it takes faith or fatalism or willful denial to climb onto a plane and expect to walk happily off at the planned destination, but thousands of people do it every day (one source says there are 30,000 commercial passenger flights every day!). I find the whole thing unreal and managed to distance myself mentally from the reality—after all, you're at greater risk on a local street than on an airplane, right?


But terror or inconvenience does not quash the desire to go somewhere, or to be somewhere else, whether it is for business or pleasure. I suspect that in the future more and more business will get done electronically, now that you can call meetings on-screen and look your client or competitor in the eye. But travel for pleasure is something different: you want to experience being there, or of not being where you usually are.


If you are familiar with Golden Age mysteries, such as those by Agatha Christie, you will know that many authors set stories in what was once the pinnacle of luxury means of travel—cruises along the Nile, the Orient Express. These books are populated with a certain class of people, who expected everything to be made easy for them. Have you ever looked at steamer trunks from the old days? They are huge, and they weighed a ton. Obviously no gentleman, much less a lady, could be expected to haul those around. That's what porters and bellmen were for. A discreet bill slipped into a palm, and the humungous objects were spirited away, to be found in an opulent hotel room, where a maid had neatly upacked milady's garments and ironed the ones that needed it. Did that world ever really exist? Not for most of us.


In 1958 my grandmother made a grand tour of several European countries, for business: she was showing off the Lipton Tea collection of antique silver, which she had assembled for the company. I suspect it was a bit of a boondoggle, or at least a parting gift for her, as she retired that same year. She took the (original) Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth—we have the 8mm movies to prove it. And she took with her a matched set of Louis Vuitton luggage. Let me tell you, those things are heavy—a person can stand on them. No way was my five-foot-four grandmother dragging those up gangways. She was, however, an expert tipper.


Save for a very few lucky people, this is not the average travel experience. Now you can get on a plane and walk off five or ten or fifteen hours later and be in a very different place (assuming you survive being squashed like a sardine for that time period). More time for exploring the destination, you say? Perhaps, but you've missed the fun part of luxury travel—the elegant meals, the games, the hairdresser a few decks away; the flowers sent to your stateroom; the telegrams wishing you bon voyage. Something's gained, but something's lost as well.


I really hope I'm in St. Louis now. With my luggage.


1 comment:

Kyla said...

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Kyla from s├Ęche-linge Bosch