Zen and the Art of Travel

What else do you bring to Paris?

It’s Saturday, April 1st and my grandson, Jack, is about to board a plane. Pat and I flew ahead last weekend. We are waiting for him on the other side. In Paris.

Our apartment is set up. Our jet lag is diminishing. The neighborhood is ready.

We stay in an area called Oberkampf. When we first started coming here, it was referred to as near the marais. Today, the marais, like much of Paris, is choked with tourists. Oberkampf is suddenly trendy—a neighborhood that hotels now advertise in its own right—a mecca for good food and tiny specialty shops. In the meantime, the cool kids—artists, writers, the breezily young—are flocking east to Belleville.

But still, our neighborhood retains its village vibe. I know my produce vendors, my bread makers, the staff at my short list of frequently visited restaurants. And they know Jack. Most of them were around the day we learned he had cancer, packed up, and hurriedly said goodbye.

In the intervening years, they’ve asked about him, and now, they all know he’s coming.


We interrupt this blog post for breaking news from JFK airport in New York City.

Jack, I’ve just learned, didn’t board his flight to Paris while I was writing this. Instead, he’s now sleeping off a three-hour delay from Washington Dulles to JFK—and the subsequent missed connection—in an undisclosed location in Brooklyn, New York.

At 11:30 PM April first in JFK airport, Jack and his parents were told by Delta Airlines that it would take 2 to 6 hours to get their luggage. Fifteen phone calls later, Jack’s parents found a hotel with an available room and proceeded there luggage-less, arriving at 1:30 AM. This morning, Jack’s mother ran to Target for a sweatshirt and clean underwear for Jack.

Oh air travel. What would you do if you couldn’t routinely drive us mad?

But here we are, a childhood cancer family. A family who greets every niggling setback with the mantra, But at least it’s not cancer. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I said to my friend Mary this morning when I told her about the delay.

Today, I realize what bollocks that is. To deny ourselves the occasional well-deserved pity party because nothing will ever rise to the severity of a child with cancer.

This has absolutely nothing to do with childhood cancer, and as my friend Mary pointed out, “It’s still temporarily a very, very sucky day.”

I’m working on developing my travel zen, but I will heretofore refuse to evoke it from the mantra: but at least it’s not cancer.

I practiced this last weekend when we flew back to Paris after a few weeks at home. My first inclination was to dread the overnight flight—the dismal prerequisite of any trip to Paris. As I felt myself spiral the day before the flight, I willed myself not to dwell on it. I conceded that I’d sleep fitfully, or not at all.

But who cares? I’m not a surgeon flying to Sarajevo to separate conjoined twins. I am a person whose mental acuity is of very little consequence. After all, any dullard can sit in a café and eat a croissant.

Travel plans go awry. You don’t sleep on the flight. You spend an unplanned night in Brooklyn. You arrive at your final destination a day late wearing scratchy underwear.

Take a moment to rail at the titans of the travel industry—(Sorry Ed Bastian, your luggage will be 2 to 6 hours delayed, said no Delta employee ever)—but then find your zen.

There is no viable alternative.

Oh travel gods, where are you?

Let it go. Breathe.

Categories: Life in Paris, Ruminations

Tags: , , , ,

9 replies

  1. My mantra is…..it could always be worse.
    Your Jack is a trooper. I remember being so shocked years ago.
    What a family. And how brave of him to take this journey.
    He must really love and trust his grandparents.

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one who dreads the initial travel woes. We gird ourselves for the outbound and inbound travel by calling them The Day of Pain. And they are. Usually. It sets us up (down?) for expectations that shall not be elevated, setbacks that will not daunt us and for any grace which will be received with palms up, extended. Sad, isn’t it, that the day that starts a welcome, anticipated journey should be so odious?
    And still, I would never think of not traveling because of those days. Not yet, anyway.
    I wish you a wonderful visit with family.

  3. Just spent the first 4 days of a 2 week trip to the South of France sans luggage. Always traveled with carry-on bags previously, but lifting heavy bags into the overhead has gotten tougher for the 70-somethings we have become. We survived, and our hotel hosts were graciously sympathic on our behalf. I was Zen-like for the first few days, but by day 4 it was getting tough! Yes, there are much worse things, but airlines can and should do better.

  4. I spent some years travelling with my job. A colleague once commented to me: travel is usually routine, but sometimes things go wrong and it is a pain. People either accept this and get on with it – or they find another job!

    It helped me put things in perspective.

    And there were occasional upsides to the travel woes: The time I was compensated for a delayed flight, and bought a fancy new pair of shoes at an airport store. The time a senior colleague and I were stranded at the same airport, and I was able to get his undivided attention for my ‘elevator pitch’. The time my boss and I waited half an hour for our bags to arrive on the carousel, during which time he promised me a raise!

    Have a great time, and enjoy (or zone out of) those travel hiccups!

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