Tag Archives: travel

Riding through Paris in a Sardine Can…

There was a time, long ago I suspect, when I still had some semblance of personal space. Personal space and a wee bit of sanity.

Now is not one of those times. As I march like a member of the national guard through the Saint-Lazare metro station, I wipe that silly Midwestern smile off my face and assume the Paris Stance: shoulders up and back, eyes that could stop a deer in its tracks, and a pair of 2-inch boots that aren’t afraid to step on your heel if you even think about slowing down. I’m carrying a Saint Bernard-sized purse to boot, which not only holds my entire life inside but is also quite practical for taking down those groups of teenage girls who clog up the metro corridors.

As I push past yet another graying man walking 3 mph, I let out a deep and very French huff, puffing my cheeks out to their breaking point and throwing in an eye roll for good measure. I snicker at the woman who has somehow managed to trap herself between the bar of the turnstile and the metal barrier, her four crisp designer brand bags wedged up against her face. I tap my metro card over the barcode reader and slide through effortlessly. No one, and I mean no one, will take me off my course.

But wait, what’s this? A huge crowd has formed around some guy singing Curtis Mayfield for small change. Haven’t French people ever heard soul music before? Apparently not. I break past them, narrowly missing the foot of a blond model-type in a red pea coat, who seems to be entranced by the jams, as she comes at me from the other direction. More huffing and puffing ensues.

At last, line two! But first I have to navigate the throng of passengers exiting before I can go up the stairs to the platform. I feel like a rainbow trout trying to go against a river current. It’s no use. Whatever I do, I’m pressed in from all sides. I go left when the woman coming towards me goes right, so I swing right, only to knock into an angry businessman. I finally get to the right lane and assume the Paris Stance in order to make my way up to the platform without being killed.

After three whole minutes of waiting (I am forced to pull out my 200-page novel to cope), the metro finally arrives. Ugh. I forgot that it’s Wednesday at 7:15: Primetime, baby. I cram in with the rest of the sardines, my already sweaty back pressed up against a stocky old man and my face in a head of black curls. If questioned, I could undoubtedly tell you which shampoo the woman used this morning (Garnier Argan Cranberry, by the way). I’m suddenly reminded of my friend Kass, who once said during a particularly packed metro ride home in Tokyo a few years back, “If someone touches me, I’m going to get pregnant.” We are that close.

At Opera, the cars spit out hoards of people. Only half come back in. I scramble frantically towards a seat. My back is killing me with this humongous bag. My tuckus is inches away from freedom when I spot the doe-eyes of a very pregnant woman before me. I smile pathetically and say, “Allez-y.” I feel like crying.

As I grab onto the sweaty pole in the center of the aisle, contemplating the difference between Dante’s inferno and my current situation, I pan back to a recent email from my friend in the Dordogne, which I have not yet responded to: “Hi Colette! How is city life treating you? I hope you’re still the same person as before and haven’t turned into one of those arrogant and pretentious Parisians!”


Originally published in Brit’mag, No. 44

U.S. Homeland Security tightens rules for travel – but are passengers informed?

Today marks the beginning of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new system of registering travelers flying to America. Now, instead of the green I-94 card usually filled out on the plane, non-U.S. travelers are required to go online and enter their details into the Electronic System for Travel Authorization before flying out. While the measure is supposed to tighten security and minimize the amount of potential terrorists into the country, it is also bound to limit another rather important group – tourists.

While in Paris last week, I stayed with a French friend who lived in America for almost 20 years. She has a son living there, who is an American citizen, and mountains of friends. She also rents out an apartment in Boston to earn a little spending money. Thus, she goes back to the U.S. every couple months. She is planning to fly to Florida tomorrow. With all these American connections, I assumed she knew about the new flying requirements.

Not so. This regular traveler was not au courant and, worse, her airline company – American Airlines – did not notify her about the need to register before boarding. Her only knowledge of the new rule came from me, a journalist who had written about the story myself a few months ago. Luckily, we just happened to be in touch mere days before her flight.

gates [waiting to fly] 1

How is the average citizen supposed to know about yet another one of America’s entry regulations if no one informs them? If airlines aren’t telling customers, travelers are left to their own devices – be that the random newspaper article, radio news bite or hearsay. But even the hearsay doesn’t seem credible. My friend didn’t believe me when I told her the news, as she (like me) found the new rule to be ludicrous and truly over-the-top.

I’ve already written about how ineffective the ESTA process will most likely turn out to be. Last minute travelers, those on business, people flying out for emergencies or those without internet access will find themselves stopped at the gate with no promise of a flight out of town. The DHS says they have a plan for those leaving at the last minute, but this is assuming travelers don’t have problems with the background name checks, which have a history of being inaccurate.

And what about those just thinking about a trip to the States? Perhaps many potential tourists will consider this latest inconvenience just too annoying to deal with and will scrap their trips altogether.

Yes, America faced and faces terrorism. Yes, we were sabotaged by murderous airplanes. But America is taking the “once bitten, twice shy” slogan much too far, hindering life for the average tourist. And while the U.S. needs to take precautions at the airport, it can’t forget that most terrorists will drop the bomb where no one is looking. All this focus on 3 ounce liquids and name checks leaves even more room for an unexpected attack on a location none of us have even thought of yet.

This week will be a test of the ESTA system, a chance for the U.S. government to see if the pain equals the gain. It will also be a time for tourists to speak out about the efficiency of the system and whether traveling to America is still worth it. And to all those travelers who get turned away at the gate for not registering online beforehand? Well, who could blame them? After all, no one has told them what the heck is going on.

Save the cows: halting the Blue Tongue spread in Dordogne

After widespread vaccinations in the Dordogne and across France, the Direction Départementale des Services Vétérinaires (DDSV) has found that it must restart its vaccination program against blue tongue – or fièvre catarrhale ovine – in an effort to eradicate remaining cases and prevent new ones. Dordogne cows and sheep are set to receive treatments at the end of winter and should help get animals ready for export to neighboring countries.

Strain 8 of blue tongue was first found in France in August 2007, followed by strain 1 later that year in November. Transmitted by biting midges, the disease is not dangerous to humans, even when consuming meat or milk from infected animals, but it can have dangerous or fatal consequences for the bovine.
https://i0.wp.com/everystockphoto.s3.amazonaws.com/nature_europe_switzerland_416074_o.jpgVaccinations for both strains 1 and 8 were already administered in the Dordogne back in July but those for strain 8 were not 100% effective. “We didn’t receive enough vaccinations in time,” says Director Vincent Cousin of the DDSV in Périgueux, “so it didn’t stop all the animals from getting sick.” Because of the shortage, strain 8 vaccinations continued into September. Strain 1 was efficiently warded off in July.

This winter, an estimated 100,000 sheep and 260,000 cows will be treated in the Dordogne against both strains. The procedure will take all of the veterinarians in the department, which is in the 50’s, to get the job done. “The length of time it takes depends on the availability of the veterinarians,” says Cousin. He adds that winter is the best time to perform the treatment since animals are already kept indoors and can be wrangled up easily for the operation.

The DDSV plans to administer the vaccinations every winter from now on to keep blue tongue at bay. If French authorities let the disease fester, trade relations with Spain and Italy could be compromised. Italy recently announced that it would not accept French cattle or sheep which had not been vaccinated against both strains of blue tongue.

“Each animal has a sort of passport,” says Cousin, “and every time they get a vaccination, they receive a stamp. Then they’re ready to be exported… But it doesn’t show whether the vaccination worked or not.”

Give me liberty or give me… ?

What does it take to get a girl excited these days? I’m feeling so seriously jaded.

Call me ungrateful, a cynic, a snob. Maybe I am. But the more I see of the world, the more it looks the same. 

Is it just me, or does each Mediterranean palm tree seem to sway in the same direction? And I’m sure that those public squat toilets are just as gag-inducing whether it’s France, India or Korea (although China probably wins as the most disgusting). Restaurant servers are rude in Paris just as they are in New York (maybe it’s a big city thing) and dogs are everywhere – whether on a leash or running wild towards your inviting, rabies shot-free leg – and they want you.

Woe is me, right? I shouldn’t complain. At the age of 29, I have effectively seen the world. North America, Europe, Asia – I have not only travelled these lands but lived there too, watching how people eat, think and smell the world. I have seen millions of feet in a rainbow of colours walk this earth – and what a widely varied earth it is, indeed. I hope to see more soon, but my current bank balance won’t allow it (and am I the only almost thirty-something without a palpable savings?).

The problem is, with each new voyage, with each new wander across spans of spaces more different than I can describe in three simple lines, I notice how incredibly unexcited I become. A snake charmer on the street dressed in glittering gold bangles? Yea, whatever. Amber speckled sand dunes atop grassy hills? That’s nice. Asian babies in buttless diapers, which I am made to hold for that “lucky photo?” Really, I am over it.

It’s not that I am sick of travelling. Oh no. Just a little bored with the world, that’s all. I want something I can really jump up and down for – the heart-racing, eye-popping, incredulous staring sort of stuff. And even as I write this, I wonder, at what point will I be satisfied? When my legs are dangling halfway over the cliff with my fingers about to give way on the boulder I am gripping?

The worst side effect of this wanderlust disease is my inability to sit still. And Minneapolis has not fallen exempt from this affliction either. No longer am I comfortable sitting at home over a coffee with my parents. Seeing the world has made it that much harder to look out at the glimmering murmur of Lake Calhoun’s lapping water or enjoy a gin and tonic at The Leaning Tower of Pizza. Even that spot-on impression of a dinosaur by my little brother hasn’t been enough to keep me here. 

Always on the move, am I. My constant fidgeting away from the Twin Cities has become the butt of all jokes by my friends, their friends and my relatives. I seem to have come down with a bad case of the unconventional, but surprisingly debilitating, inverse form of inertia – once in motion, always in motion. It’s liveable, but just. And I haven’t found a cure yet.

So, here I am in France. The sunsets of Minneapolis are seven hours behind me, those Obama lawn signs like a distant dream. Here I sit, waiting. Waiting for something to excite me so I can make my decision of… will I stay or will I go now? And if I go, to where? And now, at my age, I must ask, who will come with me? 

Give me excitement or give me death! Who was it that said something similar? Oh yes, Patrick Henry. Of course, he was talking about liberty. But aren’t the two somewhat similar? Personal liberty and freedom from slavery, from war; freedom from the war within ourselves. Freedom to love and live… and exist how and where we choose. Freedom to be excited about our surroundings at every minute, and to appreciate the sounds, smells and tastes of everyone and everything.

Maybe it’s a stretch, but if I hadn’t known better, I’d say Patrick Henry was a die-hard traveller. The question is, would he have the cure?