Monday, August 01, 2011

The joys of international travel

Hmm. I wonder if the sore throat I have - the third cold I've had in recent memory - has anything to do with the flight I just took sitting across from a woman who coughed without covering her mouth the entire flight, or with the man sitting behind me doing the same? (What exactly did I think showering before passing out when I returned would accomplish, germ-wise? Hadn't the damage already been done?) While I do not hold it against these people that they opted not to cancel their flights because of a cold, I do question the woman's decision to keep one of her young children entertained using a kiddie nail polish kit. Because airplanes are famously well-ventilated situations. I did appreciate the vomit-ish smell the whole way through, and this before they'd even begun distributing pasta-or-beef.

Or maybe this cold has more to do with the fact that, due to a complicated journey from Heidelberg to Mannheim to the cheapest of all Roissy-CDG Novotels to the airport itself, I was pretty much surviving on pumpkin seeds and dry "Fitness" cereal, rounded off, in NY, with a trip to known vitamin-purveyor Shake Shack. Oh, and sleep? Not so much. Or maybe the relevant factor was that, when I was about to get on the Mannheim-Paris leg of the journey, while attempting to lift a suitcase far beyond my capacity onto the train, I managed to overturn my purse into the track, nearly losing several key items (camera, iPod, phone), among them my train ticket. I do not do things like this, so I was, and to some extent still am, in shock. Luckily this happened at the end of the train, and luckier still the employees and fellow passengers on this train were the kindest strangers I've ever met, ever, and before leaving the station, they moved the train a few meters forward to help me retrieve my stuff. Germany, your cuisine may be bland, your history bleak, but you've won me over all the same.

The stress from this, plus the endless cab ride (wasn't going to attempt the RER with said suitcase) to the near-unlocatable "Suite Novotel Roissy CDG" (to be distinguished from two other Suite Novotels, not to mention Novotels, we passed along the way - according to my driver this has something to do with avoiding taxes that kick in after a hotel's had the same name for a few years), plus the delayed flight that the airport decided for a good while no longer existed because its gate had yet to be definitively announced, and really what's the point of having airport employees if they're not charged with selling duty-free Hermes scarves... may have somewhat compromised the bit of my immune system dedicated to ingesting in-flight germs by the bucket-full and coming out unscathed.


In NY news, the coffee place near the Tribeca Whole Foods is, I suspect, a psychology or economics experiment. It has two menus, one that says iced coffee is $3.22, another $3.45, this in a city where an expensive iced coffee hovers between $2.50 and $3. But I hadn't had iced coffee since forever, and figured the walk back would be that much more bearable with. When the barista rang me up, I heard, "$3.75," and it was for sure too late to ask where that particular number came from. I mean, taxes, unannounced newly-raised prices, spontaneous attempts to see how high they could go before I'd walk out, despite having already placed my order? Obviously the answer was to suck it up this one time and never go back. Speaking of "Freakonomics," what had me there in the first place was my newfound wariness of Le Pain Quotidien, which is the other nearby option. All is well, however, because it's still garlic scape season! I have stocked up, big-time. Other than that, I've been attempting to rest-sleep off this cold. Bravo's doing its part, especially the "Millionaire Matchmaker" millionaire whose brag of choice is that he has a watch collection that's probably worth a million dollars. Sounds like a winner!

In bloggy news, it's YPIS-gone-wild time at Jezebel, for a change, where we can learn that being the child of a school-teacher in the Chicago suburbs is the very height of privilege, and pretty much guarantees a future of hanging out with Anna Wintour and front-row seats at Fashion Weeks worldwide. I mean, do people not get that Tavi Gevinson's fancy-schmancy designer wardrobe was sent to her by the brands, once she'd established herself using only a camera, cheap clothes, and an Internet connection? That she's the exception in a field where already owning expensive crap and having industry ins are typically prerequisites? Or is it now the thing to call anyone who had it easier than Precious "upper-middle class," and to then conflate UMC with Louis XIV-style splendor?

And... commentary on issues of the day, including responses to earlier comments here, will have to wait until I have, at the very least, had my first NY tacos of the summer.


Britta said...

I made the wise decision of deciding to move all my stuff into storage, clean my then empty apartment, and then embark on a next-day early morning flight across the world last week. After moving stuff into storage took about 10 hours instead of the 5 I'd allotted, I came home only to have to stay up the rest of the night cleaning. This was made easier when I realized I'd put my PASSPORT in secure storage, and would only be able to retrieve when the storage unit opened at 6 (before a 9:20 flight). Nothing like extreme stress to get the adrenaline flowing. Also, reason I did something so stupid? I'd left it in the scanner after making photo copies of my passport and visa page, in an attempt to be "organized." Luckily 1) I'd remembered that's probably where it was, and 2) scanner was right at the front. The rest of the trip involved delayed planes, missed connections, extra legs being added, and more delays, promises of an upgrade to business class only to be followed a last minute downgrade. The result in me standing in torrential rains on a street corner with all my luggage in Beijing at 1 am (10 hours after my original landing time) with nowhere to go. Luckily a taxi driver took pity on poor incompetent foreign me and after a bunch of angry phone calls somehow found the only hotel in an entire 5 mile radius which appeared to have a vacancy.

Also, now I am realizing that my debit card has the absolute worst foreign ATM fees out there, and my credit card company offers a debit card that charges no fees whatsoever (my cc does too, but nowhere in China in my price range takes foreign cc cards, it appears.) I know I need to suck it up and just be happy I can put the fees on my expense account, but stuff like this unreasonably angers me.

Anonymous said...

Spilling your purse on the track sounds terrible, but my experience with German people was similar to yours: unfailingly polite, and, even given the somewhat accurate stereotype of Teutonic aloofness, actually quite compassionate and eager to help a clueless American when needed.

Enjoy your tacos.

rshams said...

I remember doing undergrad thesis research in Berlin when the weather was fairly miserable: freezing rain, sleet, snow, temps around 15 F. I could barely walk on the sidewalks of the main shopping boulevard, because of how slippery they were (and my Uggs...),and a middle-aged German couple basically grabbed both of my hands (non-creepily) and led me to the cafe where I was headed. All while apologizing for their city's weather. Ridiculously friendly, polite, and helpful.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


That passport thing sounds atrocious. Storage spaces do kind of lend themselves to misery - I've definitely done the all-nighter-to-storage-space trajectory, only to get to the place and see first not-cleaned-up evidence of, then presence of, a dog. Visiting the space, and not (unlike, I think, some people) living in it. But in some ways, this was a better experience than being away yet aware that I was still paying rent at home.

Daniel, rshams,

Re: Germany, I almost think there's something practical and problem-solving-ish about the culture. "Nice" doesn't really explain it, nor does "friendly," because that's hardly how people I'd interact with elsewhere were. But when it was needed, the can-do attitude came out.

I did learn some valuable lessons, both that I need to stop procrastinating re: getting a snap installed in that purse (and have in the mean time switched to a purse that zips), and that I should never travel with a suitcase heavier than I can lift comfortably.

Britta said...

Purses that zip are a lifesaver. I have a medium-sized, high quality fake Prada sport black purse which zips, plus has a passport sized inside zippy compartment and a cell phone holder, and it's great. I dropped it in a giant puddle trying to get into a taxi with all my luggage, and nothing fell out and it kept my stuff inside reasonably dry. Of course, if you forget to zip it up, all guarantees are off...

I'm glad you got all your stuff back, I can't imagine how devastating it would be to lose all that! I guess as they say, all's well that end's well.

I just read the Tavi thing, which was kind of amusing. Do all of the commenters on Jezebel live in homeless shelters, and then use library computers to comment on Jezebel? I can't imagine that more than a small percentage of commenters there come from a background less privileged than Tavi's (two teachers can make you very comfortably middle class, or maybe, combined, barely UMC, but I wouldn't even necessarily call them UMC professions, unless one is extraordinarily well paid.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"Do all of the commenters on Jezebel live in homeless shelters, and then use library computers to comment on Jezebel?"

Of course not - in true YPIS form, the commenters are not themselves aggrieved underdogs, but are faux-earnestly advocating on behalf of theoretical homeless tween fashion-bloggers whose talents go unrecognized. The commenters are using the fact that "suburban" and "middle-class" can mean a wide range of things, and are hinting at the idea that Gevinson comes from the most privileged end of that spectrum, from the part of the spectrum that's not even on the spectrum, so much as a euphemistic way of describing someone who grew up incredibly rich.

From what I gather, this is Gevinson's mother, this her father. UMC would be a stretch, I think, but these seem like functional, humanities-ish people from whom Gevinson may have inherited (in the nature and/or nurture sense) an eye for textiles and the ability to write well about them. But it's a massive leap to get from that upbringing to success, while still a child, as a fashion writer and icon. Unless you're going by a definition of "self-made" that requires literally having emerged from a lake without parents or community, this is all Tavi.

I mean, there's a valid point to be made about how, frequently, a fashion (or music, acting, writing...) wunderkind will receive all kinds of accolades, and it's only from reading between the lines that you realize the person's actually the child of some super-famous person in the same field. But what makes Gevinson different is that this is not her story. That's also, I think, what inspires such jealousy, which, in turn, is where, in this case, the YPISes are coming from.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Oh, and I think it's worth emphasizing that the debate began with the assertion that it would be bizarre if someone with Tavi's advantages didn't succeed as she has. This is, I'd think, mindblowingly ridiculous, but others treat it as reasonable.

Erika D. said...

Phoebe, what precisely brought you to Mannheim? I've been there a few times (it's my paternal grandmother's hometown, and it's where part of my short story, "Homecomings," takes place).

In any case, welcome back!

PG said...

I'm sure that if I posted about my father's politics at Jezebel (he's a fiscal conservative), people would be piling on about how he's not really a self-made success either. "Sure, he didn't own a pair of shoes until he was 12, but his parents could afford to let him attend school instead of keeping him home to *make* shoes!" Sadly but unsurprisingly, very few people who are even successful enough to own a computer and pay for internet service came from the absolute bottom of all human privilege.

From a purely economic point of view, Precious at least wasn't so malnutritioned that it stunted her growth; she lives in a country with semi-decent public schooling (teachers have to show up for work!) and a social safety net (she lives in an actual apartment instead of a tin shack; Medicaid and Medicare will pay for HIV meds).

PG said...

Oh, Britta, did you check on whether your bank has any agreements with foreign banks that would allow you to avoid ATM fees? Also, do they have Scotiabanks where you are? The ones in Peru didn't charge fees even for my very non-Scotiabank ATM card.

Britta said...

I did check. It appears my bank cooperates with no other! >:( Thanks fo the advice on Scotiabanks, I'll see if there's one in Beijing.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


My parents are both children of school-teachers, and I'm sure they'd be very interested to know that they were born with silver spoons in their mouths. It's been pretty drilled into me that I, as the child of a doctor, have had a radically more comfortable upbringing, which for a variety of objective reasons I wouldn't doubt.

Meanwhile, my own upbringing, which I'd sum up as UMC with a dash of Chua, absolutely did not set me up to have a career in one of the glamorous fields where they typically hire people who are already going to all the galas, who already own all the right clothes, who already go to St. Tropez and ten other places where they have homes. This, for example, is typical.

So given the massive efforts, talents, and luck it would take for even someone who grew up relatively well-off in Manhattan to make it in fashion writing (and maybe I should point out here, for the record, that I've never actually tried to make it in fashion writing, although I figure anyone reading this knows that), it's truly bizarre to think that a kid in the Midwest who's by all accounts middle-class is, by virtue of not being on "Save the Children," basically a shoo-in at Vogue.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Mannheim was just the station near Heidelberg where I could get a train to Paris. Never did end up seeing the city itself...