Way back in the dim mists of time (which is to say, 1985), my family took a trip to France. I’d been studying in London and my mother, an eternal Francophile, had planned a two-week family driving tour through France at the end of my semester. A two-week trip that she planned before the internet. There was no tripadvisor, people; there was no google map. It was like an artisanal trip: crafted entirely by hand.
Her plan: Paris, Versailles, Mont St. Michel, a few days driving through the Loire Valley and visiting historic chateaux; then Brittany, and the Normandy Beaches. What a fantastic itinerary, you say; that must have been the trip of a lifetime, you say.
Yep. Trip of a lifetime: My sister, sporting a slicked-back hairdo ala Princess Stephanie of Monaco, complained because the only sightseeing she wanted to do was in the Paris shops; my father threw his back out and was in dire pain for the entire two weeks; my brother only put down the book he was reading (Thomas Covenant) long enough to dart from the car to the highest allowable point of whatever chateau we happened to be visiting. I’d like to say that I was a paragon, a perfect traveler, but alas dear reader, I fear that while studying in England I’d picked up the habit of smoking Gitanes and while I didn’t smoke in the car, I must have always smelled like a French bar at closing time. Plus I was all weepy-eyed and forlorn at having said good-bye to my Irish boyfriend, he of the peroxide-blonde hair, sea-green eyes, and cheekbones like scimitars. I’m not even going to mention the hour we spent on the first day looping endlessly around the Arc de Triomphe, listening to my father (who didn’t usually swear) let loose a string of blue language that would make a Marine blush, as he tried in vain to get from the innermost lane to the outermost so he could make the turn towards Versailles.
Yep. A beautiful trip and mostly we were all assholes, in one way or another.
Oh the wheel of life, how it does turn. Last week we were in Italy—there were school holidays here (the States get Columbus Day, we get Eid-Al-Hadha), the boys have been curious about Pompeii—and wait, really, who needs an excuse. Italy: ruins, art, pizza, gelato, shoe shopping. Did I say gelato? Perfect family trip site, with something for everyone, right?
But the ghost of France in ’85 was never far away.
Liam’s feet hurt. Caleb was hungry. Why do we have to take the train? Why do we have to walk? Can we have more gelato? I don’t want more gelato. This church/building/museum/painting is stupid/boring/lame. I’m hot. I’m cold. It’s raining. It’s too sunny. He hit me. He hit me.
Ah yes, the Bicker McBickersons had apparently come along for the ride. They had needs, dammit, and Italy was falling short of their expectations. Liam wanted to know why episodes of “The Daily Show” weren’t downloading to his phone. I mean really, no wifi? In the middle of Pompeii? Who can live like that? No wonder the Pompeiians died. Caleb wondered why Husband didn’t want to discuss the finer points of “Star Wars The Old Republic” as we climbed to the Vesuvius crater, which was a grave disappointment to him because of the lack of molten lava. He climbed all that way for what? A few rocks, a whiff of steam? Lame.
They wanted to know why it was a problem that they were just doing a little shoving, some fun shoving, just some happy shoving, and they were just goofing around because they were sooo bored. Why did I have to get so angry?
BECAUSE YOU’RE IN THE GODDAMN VATICAN MUSEUM SHOVING EACH OTHER INTO PRICELESS FRESCOES THAT’S WHY I’M MAD, GODDAMMIT.
That may have been a bit of a low point. The loud swearing in the Pope’s museum. Yes. Well, Um.
Luckily we were surrounded on all sides by Chinese tourists with headsets on, so I am hoping they didn’t understand, or just thought I was praying loudly and with gesticulation.
And I was praying. Praying that someday my kids will take their kids on a lovingly planned family trip and that the karmic wheel will circle around yet again. Amen.
from a detail of a beautiful & rather disturbing tapestry titled “The Slaughter of the Innocents, in the Vatican Museum.