Having settled a lawsuit for pennies on the dollar, I decided to use the largesse to take one more trip to Europe- a trip I haven’t taken in more than twenty years. I invited a good friend and his partner, with the promise of showing them the Europe most tourists never see – the byways and neighborhoods glistening with bistros serving marvelous food, train trips with unparalleled scenery and stays at luxury hotels where we had a special rate to make it possible.
Alas, this was a disillusioning trip, because “my” Europe has disappeared. It has been replaced by outrageously priced places inhabited by newly rich Chinese dragging their forlorn wives along and Russian billionaires- all of whom believe if it costs ten times more it is worth ten times as much.
The Europe I still fondly remember featured train rides with scenery, even good food on trains, a sort of “gemutlichkeit” where no one was in a hurry, where you could sit for hours sipping coffee, a glass of wine, a beer, a “citron presse”. There was a professionalism unseen in America- a place where service was its own reward. Where little patisseries and boulangeries and épiceries meant one could buy a freshly baked baguette, some fromage, ham, salumi and some great pastry. Now, alas, all gone.
We left amid highest of hopes, nonstop on a jammed-full KLM plane to Amsterdam where I had hoped the first tulips of spring would greet us. Instead, we were greeted by cold and drizzle, and truly unpleasant airport screeners. Cold, rain and snow followed us (and our wallets) to Munich, Berlin and Zurich.
What was embarrassing: the outrageous prices. $34 for a badly cooked hamburger, $8 for a coffee. I joked (seriously) that if there were a 7-11 open, they would charge $7 for coffee, and $11 if you wanted it in a cup. While there were a few good meals, we did not have a single superb one- something I had bragged about for months before we left.
Even worse, in Paris, where being a waiter in a high-end restaurant used to be a job handed down from father to son, now the waiters were sylph-like faggots (the very worst, homophobia-inspiring kind) who became aggravated if you did not order the priciest items on the limited menu. Time and again we were accosted backed by what used to be a highly respected task: sommelier. Now they were merely wine sellers who also became snippy if you did not order wine (my blood thinner meds do not permit alcohol, alas).
Florence, cold and drizzly, had a four-hour wait to see the statue of David (we passed – I had seen it before, anyway)- and there were reproductions galore all over the neighborhood.
There was even the sight at an upscale restaurant of a mother breast-feeding her baby (probably a better meal than the one offered to us).
Two major things bothered me: One, I had to come to the horrible discovery that I am old and not able to wander from one end of a town to the other, or spring up steps at Metro or train stations (the French and Italians seem to disdain the use of escalators).
The other, the smarmy suddenly rich Chinese who like locusts or cockroaches swarmed every nook and cranny of high priced hotels and retailers. They looked at you with that look, as if to tell you “I can buy you!” They are the people who rushed to the Louvre briefly to see the Mona Lisa, the only work of art whose name someone told them about. They are the people who, laden with outrageous purchase push you to the end of the sidewalk so they could pass. My only relief is the knowledge when they get back home they will become the utterly drab Chinese who are being counted by the billions.
Yet my companions will have thousands of pictures to share from their first-ever trip abroad. Too many expectations I had promised were left unfulfilled, the weather seldom was fair and mild. In addition, to provide a coda to the trip, on the flight home from Paris, someone on the plane died and we had to sit for an hour at the gate before we were allowed to deplane. But wait, there’s more! We had to wait in a miserably long line at passport control and then another long line for baggage inspection. An hour and a half of waiting! Welcome home to America!
When I was asked if I had anything to declare, summing up the costs, I almost said Bankruptcy. Now, time for a nap. It is either old age encroaching or jet lag.