Friday, March 23, 2012

The Bite of the Humblebee*

Donnie and I readily admit that we're not skilled travelers. "Hapless" is the word that comes to mind. We tumble out of the house in hurly burly fashion.  We arrive at our destination rumpled and late, having forgotten something semi-crucial, like socks, and having paid way too much for rest-stop grub.  Our sightseeing is aimless, and often gets cut short in favor of taking a nap.  We are fortunate to be in France for two years, as it might take us that long to see what others would see in two weeks.

But in the past, even as I admitted to this weakness, a little voice in the back of my mind would pipe up in protest: "But, at least we do get places!  Look!  We got to [Insert destination most recently visited]!"

Well, last week, we ate such a hearty portion of humble pie, that even my little voice of protest has fallen silent.  We did not get somewhere.  The somewhere we did not get to was Italy--Rome and Assisi to be precise.

Last year, when Donnie heard that the European Workshop in Computation Geometry would be taking place in Assisi this year, he proposed that we tack on a few days and make the trip a vacation.  We'd actually been to Rome and Assisi together on a trip with the Aquinas Institute during our junior year of college.  That trip was significant in the history of our relationship, and we were eager to walk down memory lane and enjoy the beautiful and holy sites of Assisi.

Despite knowing about it far in advance, the trip crept up on us.  On the eve of our departure, while folding clothes, downloading Rick Steves to the Kindle, and trying to figure out a way of attaching a money pouch to the baby carrier,  I bemoaned that once again, we were throwing things together at the last minute.   Still, as we climbed into the taxi at 5:40 am the next morning, I thought victory was at hand.   We just had to get on the plane.

We arrived at the airport and found the Easy Jet check-in.  At last, it was our turn at the counter.  We forked over our identification papers to a young attendant wearing metallic blue eyeshadow.  "You have a passport for the baby?"  And so we discovered our mistake.  Victory was not at hand, in fact, she was out reach.   We had assumed that the only document we would need to take Louisa to Italy was her birth certificate.  How very silly.** 

She of the blue eyelids consulted her colleague, who answered with a definitive "non."  Furrowing her shapely brows, our stewardess turned back to us and said, "maybe you can call your Mairie."  We shuffled away from the counter, thinking that perhaps calling the Mairie (townhall) or the U.S Embassy was a good idea.  In few moments, we realized that it was 6:10 in the morning, and no one would be at work to answer our call, let alone rush us i.d documents in the next fifteen minutes.  The suggestion was just a way of moving us away from the counter and avoiding a pitiful scene.

There wasn't much time to come up with a plan.  Donnie still had the workshop to attend.  There was no sense in his ticket going to waste.  We transferred his clothing from the family suitcase into a carry-on and parted.  He would go to Italy; the girls and I would return home.

I made my way down the terminal with Loulou strapped to my chest, pushing Maria's stroller with one hand and pulling our suitcase with the other.  In my mind's eye, I was a refugee; a hollow-eyed figure of mourning, bereft of husband, and awkwardly outnumbered by her children.  In my defense, I hadn't had much sleep and not much time to process my disappointment.  The prospect of a monotonous and lonely week at home loomed before me, ousting visions of a sun-soaked medieval town and fresh cannoli.  And there was our foolish and expensive mistake to digest.

Regret set in.  After all we went through getting our French visas, and the administrative red tape we've encountered here, you would think we would learn to cover our bases. Alas, no.  We had seen the gates of the Emerald city and even ridden the horse of many colors, yet our collective brain was behaving as though we'd never left Kansas.

Mercifully, finding a cab was easy and I began to rally on the ride home.   On reentering our apartment, Maria realized that our morning adventure had brought us back to where we started. "But I wanted to ride in a airplane," she said.  We both sat down and had a therapeutic cry.  I put the baby to bed, made tea, and attacked a bar of chocolate from our snack bag.  Then I wrote a list:

Silver Linings [of not being in Italy]
*No Camembert in M's bottle (On on ride to the airport, we had realized that we'd left Maria's bottle of milk in the living room.)
*No stink from the diaper we left out (We also realized we'd left a dirty diaper next to the changing pad).
*Get to work on some Projects, like labels for Bridget's Apothecary
*Girls get to sleep in own beds (We'd been nervous about sharing a room with the girls during our trip)
*We won't get turned away from Gate when trying to get to the U.S. because we will figure this stuff out!
*Donnie and I will learn how to better share these responsibilities.

I stopped writing there.  The list seemed rather pathetic.  Even the "we'll learn from this" entries didn't bring much comfort.  The logistics of going and living abroad are twisted and complex.  I didn't really expect this to be our last wrong turn.

And so I sat back and tried to focus on the brightest silver lining of all.  No matter how petty or preventable our discomfort, God can make it good and useful.  How fortunate that this happened during Lent! I was fresh from reading various articles on good Lenten topics like renunciation, mortification, forgiveness, and the like.  Here life had handed me a prime opportunity to apply my reading. 

Donnie is back from his trip now, and I find I'm having to re-offer the experience.  One of the down-sides of missing a vacation is that your husband has to get right back to work once he returns.   Though I have occasional twinges of bitterness, I feel rather peaceful about the affair.  I didn't visit the remains of St. Frances or go to Confession at St. Peters, but perhaps a round trip to the airport can be a sort of pilgrimage--especially if it leaves you just bit more humble.

Stay tuned for Donnie's pictures from Italy!

*There's actually another event behind the title of this post, but since this is already atrociously long, I'll put that in a separate post.

**It turns out that by European law, the birth certificate was sufficient for travel, but the airline, Easy Jet, requires photo i.d. from everyone, including infants.

1 comment:

  1. Jules, you should chalk the experience up to the price of art. The world is +1 for having this wonderful account, where a sight-seeing adventure would have ended with nothing so unique. Bless you for this, and do not despair. There are other days and other travels in your future. We love you.