So, our 2022 EU trip is now over, and I’ll get to that shortly. A version was written, but far too much of it was me being a drama queen about my cancer. Perhaps I’m entitled. Perhaps I can’t help it, because I am a drama queen. I’m hardwired that way. When others point it out, presumably thinking that in so doing I might be cured, my attitude – after long years so afflicted, and knowing that the condition is not susceptible to amelioration – is to reply, “sir or madame, you are correct”. And I usually add a photo of some starlet from the 1930s posing dramatically.
So, anyway, having read aloud to Francesca much of what I’d already written, I realized it was really awful. Angst much? I have a July, 2022, visit to MGH upcoming, and we’ll see if the angst is warranted.
Well, that visit to MGH, the giving of blood, the meeting with my oncologist, was now two days ago. I will summarize, so that we can get to our travels without (much) further drama.
1. My PSA was still undetectable.
2. All other numbers good.
3. Three months ago, oncologist said my numbers are “upper echelon” (which sounds great, but imparts very little useful information). I explained that starting about a week or even two prior to coming into MGH I get quite tense, wondering when the other shoe will drop. That is, my good numbers may (inevitably?) change … Doom doom doom. The good doctor (and he is quite stellar) finally got it, the disparity between his view and mine. He said there is no shoe. My condition, presently stable, could stay that way for years. [What!? What what what!?] I was stunned. I decided to run a test to experimentally determine if his words had weight. “How about if we plan to go back to EU in May, 2023?” I asked. Go for it, he responded. He did add some cautionary words, like buying travel insurance, but it seemed he did so because not to do so would be professionally irresponsible. And can I continue to surf, I pressed? In reply he chuckled, which I assumed was a good sign. He has no other patients who surf, and my continuing participation in this strenuous pastime, at my age, is a source of amused bemusement.
4. Bottom line: that tension I feel prior to Boston visits? Unnecessary for foreseeable future.
It’s now two days later, and I’m still dizzy with deep wells of holy shitness. He used the word “years” at least twice. At the end he shook my hand warmly, almost congratulatory. I was too stunned to even bring out the drama queen. Two years prior the words I remember receiving were “Stage 4” and “incurable”. It’s still all that, but … And now we rewind the clock and tell the story of our trip, in as humorous a manner as possible. The majority of this was written before I lost my shoe at MGH.
Yesterday I bought business class tickets for Francesca and myself on AirFrance from Boston to Paris – mid May to mid June, five weeks total across the pond.
[Note added 2022.08.08: I had been periodically getting emails from AirFrance suggesting that an AirFrance credit card might suit me. I’d had a BA card for years, and it helped pad my BA miles. But last year BA had shown themselves to be – how do I politely say this – well, a large spanner in my works. Ok, so now I have potentially years to live, and I’m deeply in love with AirFrance, so I got the card. It’s sleek, sexy, and tactilely pleasing.]
I had thought we might do something different in 2022. Maybe, after a few days in Paris, we could train to Vienna. But I had misgivings. Like Paris, Vienna in the 1920s was a hotbed of creative activity. I read a book about it. I was not thrilled, as I had been about the ferment in Paris at that time. The names Wittgenstein and Popper popped up frequently, as well as the Vienna Circle. The focus of those people, and that group, was to develop a philosophy of how to do science, and while some of the members of this onanistic cabal brushed shoulders with the likes of Einstein, they never seemed to have actually contributed to the advancement of science. Their whole raison d’être brings to mind an idealistic teenage acquaintance of mine, back in the 1960s, whose goal was to precisely define “love” in 25 words. That goal, like that of the Vienna Circle, was, well, goofy in the extreme.
Part of the reason was that Vienna was then, and is now, stuffier than Paris. I googled the words “Vienna”, and “stuffy”. I was greeted with assurances that, no, Vienna isn’t stuffy. We have nightlife now, of a sort. Come visit. This wording was defensive, and I remained far from convinced. I looked at images that google had accumulated, 95% of which were of grand, formal, Teutonic buildings, most of which had out front an equestrian statue of some really stuffy emperor or lesser noble with a mustache the size of sheep dog. I found the lot of them more than a little offputting.
Ok, rather than blather on this subject any further, we decided that seeing scenery we had not previously seen is insufficient reason to cross the EU to a place even whose cafe culture is stuffier than Paris. New plan.
Omicron spike diminishing, along with people’s patience with continued restrictions. As a consequence, several European countries have got rid of the testing requirement for entry, if you are vaccinated, which we are, up the wazoo. This trend is likely to accelerate on the assumption we have passed the omicron peak, and no new variant appears to wipe out our entire species. This is a win in either case in my curmudgeonly mind.
First 19 days of our 35 day trip are booked: Paris; Chamonix; Santa Margherita. “But haven’t you been to those places already?”, you ask. “Don’t you want to see something new?” Well, maybe, but to what end? Different scenery? We’ve seen scenery. Other scenery is in all probability more of the same, less than the same, or very uncomfortable to get to. I’m 73, fighting cancer (a phrase I always hated, but now understand completely), and I like cafes, mountains, the Mediterranean, and a couple other things. So just back off. Your input is neither wanted nor required.
Meanwhile, the Dolomite option had been hovering in the background as a 4th stop, and we had both been considering it. However, I initiated the thought quite a while ago, and Francesca, presumably because she wanted to please her husband, also occasionally expressed approval for the Dolomite option, and I began to think it was her idea. But she has an autoimmune condition, which means she needs to avoid gluten, and the milk of black and white cows, and various other comestibles. The brown cows of Italy and France are not a problem; their milk does not have the mutation that makes black and white cow milk hazardous. And at this point you may be thinking we don’t know what we’re talking about, and you’d be half right. I don’t. But Francesca has a Harvard PhD, and the title of her thesis contained the phrase “metabolic mechanisms”. Moreover, since realizing her life depended on a deep knowledge of her condition, she’s read dozens of relevant technical papers and books. She has a focus that is extraterrestrial in its intensity. (I am making assumptions about extraterrestrial mental prowess that is possibly unwarranted, but, come on, we all know they’re wicked smaht.) Trust me, at least for those with autoimmune diseases affecting the thyroid: brown cows good; black and white cows bad.
And that’s why when I suggested driving through the Dolomites to western Austria, thence to Switzerland, she finally realized my heart wasn’t in it, and she told me she never again needs to go to any germanic country. She can’t eat their bread, drink their beer, or eat their cheese. I felt relief at this. Even their cultures – germanic and nordic – are uninteresting to me, and to us. And the dolomites used to be part of Austria, so food-wise it’s all oom pah pah, schnitzel, and ugh.
We discovered that last year, in Aosta. Alpine Italy is faux Italy. Half of Francesca’s genes come from southern Italy. We’re now thinking of heading in the direction of Nice after Santa Margherita. If it can be done in a manner that will not exhaust me, then I’m all for it.
Ok, trip is crystallizing. After Santa Margherita, 5 nights in Nice; drive to Avignon and maybe 4 nights there; TGV to Paris, and 7 nights there; before getting to the CDG Sheraton the day before flight home. I’m unsure if Avignon is worth 3 full days. Must discuss with Francesca. Our 2nd place in Paris looks very promising (the benefit of having relationships with people there from previous trips). I just wonder if we want more nights there. I like Paris.
[Note added 2022.09.21. Just a quick word about Avignon, our visit there being detailed in a future section. In the film Breathless (a French friend of ours told us), Jean Paul Belmondo – the antihero – tells an annoying tourist, “If you want Macdonald’s, go to Avignon; for fish and chips, Marseille.” I am watching the film in snippets, and have not yet encountered that scene, so I cannot attest to its veracity, but I rather wish I had encountered it before booking Avignon. Alas.]
Negative covid test still required by France just prior to entry, regardless vaccination status, but USA omicron numbers dropping rapidly, and France’s attitude may change by May. (It did.)
Oh, and getting from Paris to Chamonix will now (theoretically) occur like this: TGV to Annecy; pick up car; drive to Chamonix, waking up each day viewing Mont Blanc. Yay.
So, there are to be two TGV trips, but I cannot purchase tickets until March.
And why do I even mention early plans, many tentative? Because it’ll be so much fun watching it all fall apart later. Or not. This is, after all, 2022, not 2021.
Planning under a cloud
TGV tix – Paris-Annecy, and Avignon-Paris – purchased. Everything almost done. WCGW?
Well, I mentioned above how our travels coincided frequently with disasters or near disasters, and each of these was unique, like The Equalizer’s weapons in the big Home Depot like store. Sigh. We’re running out of types of trip disruptors. But one thing we haven’t had, and never expected to have, was World War III. Well, anyway, war in Europe.
A thing I once found alarming was the Millennial and Zoomer habit of blaming on Boomers the world’s decline into post-apocalyptic yuckiness. And, yes, to be sure, Boomers had their hands on the tiller during this recent, noticeable period of global disintegration, but let’s look less shallowly at this fact before we go dooming a whole generation to hell.
During the 1960s a great many Boomers were hippies, in favor of peace and love and LSD. And they were vehemently against an older generation that seemed hellbent on sending them to their deaths in Southeast Asia for absolutely no good reason, other than it enriched the Military-Industrial Complex. Are these the Boomers at whom the Millennials and Zoomers are so ready to point the gnarly finger of blame. Well, no, not really.
See, most Boomers were not Flower Children. Most were on a spectrum from conventional and straight-laced, all the way up to psychopaths. And in every generation, without exception, it is mostly citizens on the psychopath end of the psychological spectrum who seek and achieve power and influence. So, you Zoomers may think you’re immune to this societal disease, and that voices of reason will gain power when your turn comes, but those voices of reason cannot compete with the psychopaths.
And this is especially true in nations eschewing democracy in favor of more oppressive forms of government. I mean, yes, Putin is a Boomer, but do you think he was ever a Flower Child? He’s more like some guy whose happiest moments were in high school (or, in this case, USSR KGB), and he’s holding on to those times, carousing with his buds, invading and bombing a neighboring country, because, shit, they did have a crazy good time in high school. Remember how Czechoslovakia and Hungary rolled over so easily? Good times; good times.
So, yeah, I would prefer that this trip not be disrupted by WWIII.