J’en ai marre 2


The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently had an article about billionaire Nicolas Berggruen’s effort to set up an Institute to promote modern philosophical thinkers, with a slant to the pragmatic and effectual. Some words drawn from the article:

“… [a] philosopher whose work has been supported by the Berggruen Institute, suggests that Berggruen might best be thought of as a kind of latter-day Medici. … the Medici analogy has something to it. The history of Western culture is, to some extent, the story of rich people underwriting artists, musicians and thinkers. Patronage, Edmund Burke declared, is ‘the tribute which opulence owes to genius.’ Yet it’s also a demonstration of the influence that flows from wealth. That was certainly true of the Medicis, and it is no less true of Berggruen: His ability to pull scholars, former statesmen and fellow tycoons into his orbit is testament to the convening power of money.”

The Medicis, in particular, supported Leonardo Da Vinci. Provided by his patrons with a comfortable living, he was then allowed to apply his genius, without significant interference, to stuff. Whatever. This patron/genius model is good. One could argue, I suggest without supporting evidence, that the Renaissance may not have happened without some support from the über wealthy 1% of that time.

However, that’s not my point. My point is that the Renaissance may also not have happened had the patrons stuck their noses in everything the geniuses were doing.

And so we come to yet another recent story of a young person (13) who is scheduled to enter university to study physics. This kid doesn’t have a chance. Da Vinci had a hands-off patron, not an intrusive director. This kid, on the other hand, is going to be surrounded by tired old academics who will be anything but hands-off. His chances of producing groundbreaking works that disrupt tired old ideas will be small. Yeah.

Travelogue of 2021 European Plague Trip Part 2

This is an account of the travails of trying to travel during a time the world is trying to relax, but failing to do so.

Cancellations begin

(What is written below is a kind of diary, beginning about a week before the trip, ending after the return. It’s a very different narrative than I presented in previous memoirs … you know the ones … right?)

All right. Good. With the plague winding down (well, the CDC graphs at the time gave me this impression, since proved fallacious) we decided to risk Portugal, France, Italy, and the UK, at the end of the summer. I felt that the international covid alarm would have abated by that point to make this possible. Portugal was to have been the first part of it, and it was included because good friends – a family of four – would be there at that time, and a jolly reunion … well, maybe not too jolly, as the mother of this family had lost her father to covid recently, and her mother, who lives in Portugal, would be there surrounded by family. I thought at times that this was not an ideal time for Francesca and myself to intrude. We liked both of her parents very much, but our presence was unneeded. In the end BA took Portugal out of the equation entirely. It canceled our flight to Porto from London, and in fact it seems they canceled all flights to Porto out of an excess of concern re a resurgence of covid cases in that country. We could have flown to Lisbon, perhaps, but we ran the risk that no one else in the EU would let us in from Portugal. So we canceled our Porto Airbnb (2 blocks from the beach … sniff), and all our Portugal plans. We got tickets on BA to Milan instead, from Heathrow (LHR) the same day we were to arrive in London from Boston (BOS). We’d intended to head to Milan anyway after Porto (so I had to cancel the Porto to Milan flight), but now we were arriving in Italy a week too soon. Lake Como was nearby, so I got us an Airbnb on its shores.

Arriving in Milan, we spent a night recuperating at a hotel near the Milan airport. The morning after we planned to pick up a rental car, drive to Lake Como, then later back to Milan. (Switching tenses, as most of this was written at the time.) After a few days in Milan we are driving west to Aosta, Annecy, Lyon. Then TGV to Paris. Cafe time! And finally back to London for a few days to visit friends. Then home.

So many things could go wrong. (So many things did.) Francesca and I have medication needs that will keep us on pins and needles every day. We’re vaccinated, and expect no problems covid-wise as a result, but reality may choose to mess with our expectations. And the French may choose to do that grève thing they are so fond of, and which caused us in the past to get creative with travel plans (as outlined in my last travel memoir). The weather looks to be ok. In 2016 we were in Paris during the big flood, and in 2018 a European heatwave caused us to change plans and flee to Chamonix in the Alps. I’m hoping such flexibility is not required this time.

We leave in 10 days, and arrive in 11. There are pins, and occasionally needles.

T minus 7 days

The covid delta variant is causing cases of heebie jeebies among fraught peoples around the world. Still, we may pull it off.

T minus 5 days: Cancellations

Email I just sent to friends and family: “BA flight home canceled. Next available flight that was able to seat both of us (in our chosen class), AND didn’t have a stopover in LA, was August 30, 11:15am. We are now booked on that, until it too is canceled.” This would get us home three days later than originally planned.

This is the second canceled flight. The first cancellation caused us to replace friends in Portugal with no friends on Lake Como. Meanwhile, amuse yourself by guessing, on a scale from 0 to 0.000007, how confident I am that there will be no more glitches in the Matrix. I’ll check back later and collect your guesses.

Oops, sorry, three canceled flights. Our flight BOS to LHR had to change by a couple of hours. Am I nervous? Three flights canceled. Three new flights left. And one flight canceled by me, replaced by another. I confess I am experiencing some unease.

T minus 4 days

UK being pissy, even to the point of threatening 10 day quarantine. As our stay in London was intended to be for 6 days, spending 10 days of that in quarantine seems likely to be a game changer – if I’ve done the math correctly. (It is now 6 weeks after our return, and according to recent data the rate of infection in the UK is presently much higher than the USA. And they were afraid of us?)

France and Italy have no such restrictions, so we might extend Paris, fly BA from there to LHR, stay a couple of nights there before flight home, now 3 days later on 30 August because 27 August flight canceled – the third cancellation so far.

You know, part of the point of this memoir is to document the travails involved in traveling during covid years. So far covid has been doing a great job of providing material. Of course, the more material it supplies, the worse it is for us. But, after all, there’s that death sentence thing hanging over my head like a particularly unpleasant Dementor, so, uh, half speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes.

Evening. London portion of trip canceled. Too much fear and trepidation, and a threat of quarantine. London’s charms are meager in our view, so without the option of spending time with friends, I mean, really.

T minus 3 days

8am. Already exhausted trying to synch our new travel plans. Anal Parisians kindly allowed change to our Rue Cler Airbnb. Doubtless the addition of two extra days, très cher, helped motivate their decision. I remained cordial throughout. (Indeed, Lyon hotel was also only too glad to add 3 extra nights. Woof.) The cancellation of a week in London has led to these extensions at other stops. Juggling … forever juggling. Throw in a mime, and the experience would be perfect. And who doesn’t love a good mime?

T minus 2 days

Recently a British politician suggested it was time for the citizens of GB to stop cowering (a behavior evidently prevalent out of fear of the latest covid mutation Deathstar, or whatever it’s called). Sufficiently many citizens felt the politician’s statement was a gross violation of their safe spaces that he was forced to recant. He didn’t really, except to apologize, and to suggest the wording of his statement was unfortunate. (Suggesting they were wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beasties may have been less offensive. He should have led with that.)

So, they’re (UK) out of the EU, and now many regret that. And the English team lost to Italy in that big soccer match, denting their national pride significantly. Exacerbating this was the fact that the citizenry of no country other than England wanted England to win (Wales and Scotland may have been teetering, but I doubt it very much). And the UK covid restrictions are the tightest in western Europe. One might almost say, yes, they are cow’rin, like wee sleekit tim’rous beasties. It is widely acknowledged that they have sticks up their butts, a trait that becomes all the more unattractive when mixed with the cowering, which causes the sticks to protrude in a most unattractive manner.

Our decision to fly BA was made on the assumption we would spend several days in London at the tale end of our trip visiting friends we have not seen in a few years. The cowering put the kibosh on that (we still plan two nights at a Heathrow Hilton before returning home, primarily to provide a buffer against the irrational vicissitudes of BA scheduling). So, there no longer being any need to fly BA, it is extremely unfortunate that we need to stop in London at all. Were it any longer financially viable, we’d discard all BA flights, and go 100% AirFrance. And yes, they did once cancel a flight on us, but they have the extenuating circumstance of being French. Still, BA never made us anywhere near as happy, once onboard, as has AirFrance each and every time we fly with them.

So, anyway, in two days we are set to fly BOS to LHR, then later that same day LHR to LIN (Milan). As we needn’t go through customs, while not exactly optimistic, we suspect things may go as planned. And then this morning, when I checked the status of those two flights, my BA app informed me that the Milan flight was delayed. I decided I had better check Alitalia, and discovered that if our BA Milan flight died horribly, Alitalia could easily come to the rescue. (Huge irony: near the end of our trip Alitalia announced bankruptcy and would cease to be an airline in future. Postscript: at the time Francesca (half Italian) suggested that Alitalia would not stay dead. Yesterday, over 7 weeks since our return, Alitalia rose Phoenix-like from its ashes. I’m thinking this is how Italians do restructuring. I’m always telling Francesca, when she starts cursing when one of her electronic devices misbehaves, to just reboot. That’s how Italians handle troubled businesses; they reboot, thereby cleansing the system of vested interests and outdated gadgetry that gum up the works.)

You know, more and more I begin to suspect the internet is gaining consciousness, and fucking with certain people gives it a digital version of pleasure. In support of that conjecture I offer the following: 15 minutes after I checked if Alitalia could fly us LHR to LIN, I checked the BA flight again, and it was now listed as On Time. You see what I mean? Anyway, I’m just sayin’.

Just a short time ago I sent the following regretful email to one of our London friends: “We have decided – life being of an unknown limited duration – we will never again set foot in the UK, nor ever again fly BA. We just heard that relatives of a friend flew to Germany with not a single bit of fuss. We may never see each other again, but there’s always email.” I added this picture from the planned animation series based on Blade Runner. So chuffed.

T minus 1 day

Finally got our UK Locator forms done. Awaiting covid test results so we can complete the lengthy spirit draining process. First 2 weeks in EU look to be rainy. French and Italians have just passed legislation prohibiting bunches of stuff to those not vaccinated. In France, just the threat of this legislation led to the usual burning of tires on the streets of major cities. Not sure about Italy. Italy is not France. They’re more likely to just ignore the legislation. I am hoping our American vaccination cards will get us into cafes and restaurants in France, else we may starve. Coming home an emaciated corpse will not reflect well on their tourist industry. Rain in Boston when leaving; rain in London upon arrival, and when leaving for Milan; rain in Milan upon arrival. Some of the rain may be electrical. @#&%^ x 10.