by Willem Lange
EAST MONTPELIER – By the time you read this, I’ll be home from what I hope will have been an idyllic 10 days traveling with friends of New Hampshire Public Broadcasting down the Rhone Valley from Chamonix to Arles. I’m writing it during a serious welter of getting ready, reminding me that the longer and more avidly you look forward to an event, the more enjoyable it will be. That’s not only my opinion; science supports it.
You might well ask how much trouble it possibly could be to get one old guy ready for a little less than two weeks away from his home. Good question. This situation may be a world different from the days that my wife and I had to pack everything for two adults and three children, which included at various times a soybean formula for one, a pink security blanket that got trimmed by half with each trip, and one very large hugging bear named Bruce. All I’ve got to pack is one small rolling suitcase and a shoulder bag with stuff I’ll need until my suitcase, should it stray from its appointed course, arrives with my clean duds.
But there’s all the stuff that has to be taken care of here. The mail has to be stopped and saved for my return. That used to involve only a quick call to the post office, where Stanley or Jean would remember the dates. Now that the Postal Service is up to date, it involves either going in and filling out a form or (I don’t recommend this) if you choose to try it online, it’ll take the better part of half an hour to fill out a questionnaire designed by someone who grew up in Chicago or Brooklyn. Then there’s the newspaper to suspend during my absence, so that the scattered, soaking-wet issues lying in the mud at the foot of the driveway won’t advertise to the entire passing world that I’m gone (in one sense or another). None of my previous attempts to stop delivery ever has worked; so we’re kind of plowing new ground every time.
I’ve got to pick up a copy of a prescription to stash with what’s probably a suspicious-looking plastic bag holding an ampule and a syringe (that goes into my checked bag for sure). The puppy has to take her monthly pill against fleas and ticks. I’ll deliver her for an extended play date at my daughter’s house. One very tricky job that I’ve literally never yet mastered is distributing my pills in the organizer. This time I swear by all that is holy to overcome that failing. We shall see.
Through the miracle of the internet, I can monitor the weather at the various places we’ll be visiting. It seems the temperature rises about twenty degrees Fahrenheit between Chamonix and Avignon, and then 10 degrees more in Aix-en-Provence. The first day features a funicular up a shoulder of Mont Blanc; the last, a boat ride along the shore of the Mediterranean – from alpine to subtropical. This being, along with the tour, also a public television shoot, I should have a wardrobe person beside me to hand me appropriate clothing. The operative word in that sentence is “public.” No dresser; I’m on my own. So what to take? A fleece overshirt, maybe, even though it won’t be needed most of the way, and a rain-and-windproof parka that rolls up almost as small as a banana. A Great Gatsby cap (what they call ’em in Ireland). One pair of sneakers; nobody looks at your feet, anyway, unless you wear yellow shoes. Several magazines that I’ve put off reading. The beauty of magazines is that you don’t have to carry them back with you.
For years I’ve pleaded with tour organizers to schedule multiple-night stays in hotels, which gives us travelers a chance to do (and dry) laundry. This one is ideal: three three-nighters. That cuts down on the amount of underwear that goes with me and, as the British used to say, I wish to shift my linen. It also cuts down on the number of times we have to listen to the dread announcement, “Luggage down to the lobby before breakfast. The bus will leave at seven.”
The house should be okay. I’m husbanding my groceries so that I’ll polish off the last of them the morning of the day I’m leaving. The eggs, butter, and cider will keep, thanks to that other marvel, the electricity-powered successor to the icebox. My downstairs tenant has the numbers to call in the event of a surge, a blockage, or an outage. The emergency generator has enough propane to get the place through my entire absence, if necessary. Hagar is lurking in the garage ready to take me to Nahant the day before our flight leaves. What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a few things, actually. My greatest dread is forgetting my passport, especially after watching a friend turned away at check-in because his had expired. Then there’s my tiny pen knife. It goes into either my checked bag or into the TSA collection bin. I’ve already made too many contributions. Three charger cords. I’ll tell you: The good old days are truly behind us. Unfortunately, this old-timer is still living there.