Saturday, December 4, 2010
The Clothes On My Back
As all women know, packing for a trip is a sweet, sweet science. First you layer in the basics, then you add the essentials, finally you pepper in the must-haves. After you’ve done this it becomes apparent you have double what you can actually fit in your bag, so you start the whole process again. It takes at least 3 rounds, and tends to occur in the 5 hours you have before lift-off (despite the fact you have known the trip is coming for months). In the final, panicked flurry you will add a random, and often fateful item to your luggage that will either prove pivotal to the entire endeavour, or be an amusing discovery that you forgot you even had when you return home.
Now imagine, after all this thought and obsession, that you have arrived in Germany during the coldest beginning to December that Europe has had (not this decade, not this quarter century, but since someone turned to someone else and said “Hey, it’s like there’s some kind of cyclical pattern here, I swear it got hot then cold last year as well, do you think we should start writing this stuff down?”).
This is what I was touching down in when I arrived in Frankfurt at the start of this week. I didn’t know this because I quite proudly failed every language class I ever took, and people were noting the historical importance of the GIANT SNOW STORM RAVAGING THE CONTINENT in German, a form of communication I find soothing and potentially fictional. I was off my face with exhaustion, 24 hours into travel and all my fellow passengers were speaking in sentences that seemed to end in guttural exclamation marks. We were lining up for our flight to Dusseldorf as I tucked into my 4th block of chocolate (plane travel is the chocolate version of a free pass to me, what’s eaten in the air stays in the air) and trying to reassure myself my contribution to the body odour wave was minimal when it was revealed in several languages that our flight had been cancelled. We weren’t even special, 300 flights out of Frankfurt were cancelled that day.
I was delirious enough to find this amusing. The single woman dealing with the 50 passengers from my flight one-by-one was equally delirious and amused by the time I reached the front of the line.
LUFTHANSA LADY: (with German accent) I can put you on a wait list for a flight this afternoon, but they are all full and will probably be cancelled. I can put you on a flight tomorrow, but that will probably get cancelled as well. Or, you can have a train pass.
ME: (lengthy pause, due not to deep thought, but the mouthful of chocolate I was swallowing) Train sounds good.
LL: Here’s your pass. Here’s the form for your luggage.
ME: Great, where do I grab my bag from?
LL: You don’t. We won’t be able to track it down for a while. I don’t know when we’ll be able to find it and get it to you. Next!
There I was in snow-struck Germany with nothing but the clothes on my back. The clothes on my back were picked in the confident knowledge that upon arrival my uber-warm jacket was waiting for me in my bag, along with everything else remotely wind resistant. I love cold weather, that’s why I packed for it, but I didn’t anticipate stepping straight into it. I was bathed in cotton - specifically a t-shirt, cargo pants and a pair of converse shoes.
I tried 5 different versions of a doe-eyed sob story with 5 different Lufthansa officials that day. All of them ended with the gasping, hysteria-tinged statement…
“Look at what I am wearing! It is snowing outside and I am in a t-shirt!“
The last time I tried it on an uninterested woman I gave it an Old Spice variation to see if it might spark her interest purely for originality (I wasn’t the only one begging for my luggage that day).
“Look outside, now look at me. Now look outside, now back to me. I’m in a t-shirt!“
Nothing. Waste of a good line really.
Either bemusement is the national default expression of Germany, or everyone on my 2 trains that day agreed that my outfit choice was a little faulty. I made an emergency jacket purchase when I finally arrived in Münster, then found my friend who was living in the town who put me (1 serving of fried cheese later) to bed 48 hours after my journey had begun. When I woke up the next morning I discovered the jacket I bought was green… which was odd because I distinctly remember thinking it was blue the night before.
I came away from this experience with 2 things. Firstly, I really admire the survival skills of the needy and the homeless in making do with what they have under all conditions. Secondly, if nothing else, this experience has affirmed to me my deep and unwavering commitment to materialism. I really, really like owning stuff. When my pack finally arrived today I actually held it in a passionate embrace for far longer than was necessary. I like having things, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
As a side note, you’re probably not wondering, but what was the final, panicked item I inexplicably threw into my hand luggage as I headed towards the door? Summer pajamas. I have no idea why. They weren’t practical, but at least they gave me something to change into while I washed the clothes on my back.