Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mary Grace's Little Pink Case and Other Packing Suggestions

I travel a lot. That doesn’t mean I’m the most organized voyager. I do know to make copies of the itinerary, check on the electrical current at the destination, and even confirm the expiration date of my passport. But despite reading articles on how to pack efficiently, reviewing check lists, and keeping a well-stocked toiletry kit, something is always left behind –Tylenol, lotion, … something. When that happens, I’m glad to be traveling with my friend, Mary Grace, and her Little Pink Case.

The bag is not large – 6 ¾ inches wide, 2 ¾ inches high, 4 ¾ inches deep to be exact– but it’s filled with well-reasoned travel needs. Mary Grace tucks it inside her larger purse to carry on the plane. Some articles are obvious – a sewing kit, an emery board, small toothbrush, an extra contact lens case. Dental floss, Band-Aids (2), and a large tooth comb are also available.

But it took traveling with Mary Grace to discover what other gems the case held. When my husband’s glasses fell apart on a trip to Italy, she popped out an eye glass repair kit from the pink interior. Blisters from a long day of walking through Roman ruins were quickly protected with moleskin. Available batteries (4 AA and 2 AAA) relit the small flashlight we carried.

Mary Grace anticipates common, on the road medical problems and conditions and stores aid for most. Corn cushions and a blister treatment (2) help with foot sores. Preparation H (1), Alavert for allergies (2), Valtrex for fever blisters (2), Benadryl (8), Domeboro, a soaking solution for rashes (2 packets), and Tylenol pm (2) also await a distress call.

Fashions needs aren’t ignored. A “Gal Pal” pad allows her to remove white deodorants marks, make-up, lint, and dirt from clothes. Fashion tape protects against gaping blouses and fallen hems as do safety pins. She throws in some Q-tips and a razor for emergency needs.

The kit is not static. Previously, it carried a blanket bag (the silver fold up kind) but Mary Grace has deleted that item. After we forgot to claim our car keys at an airport security basket, she added a spare car key. (By the way, DFW rental car places are open 24 hours a day, in case you ever do the same.) Earplugs, eye mask and fold up glasses are also newcomers to the unit.

Much is written about the art of traveling light. I picked up “The Packing Book” at a half price book store in Austin and found it filled with two hundred and fifty eight pages of packing lists for week-end travel, a trip to Europe, beach wardrobe, and even adventure travel needs. Readers tips include “sell your jeans”, “leave appliances at home”, and “take a vacation from make-up”. There were too many suggestions for me.

The best site on the net for lightening your load is www.onebag.com where you learn the “Art and Science of Travelling Light”. Doug Dyment is the guru of efficient packing in a single carry-on bag. Over-packing is the number one travel mistake. Four pairs of shoes are not a problem if you’re driving. But if flying, the extra bag for shoes can seriously slow you down as well as cost extra. No iron shirts are a god-send for guys. www.TravelSmith.com is a good source for versatile travel ware for men and women. And don’t forget that scarves are a great, light accessory to dress-up any outfit.

Doug Dyment, Mary Grace and her husband have convinced us to keep it at one small suitcase. I do cheat, though, and bring a fold up bag “in case” I find something to bring home. I haven’t duplicated the Little Pink Case, though. So, I’ll just have to continue to travel with Mary Grace.

Contents of Mary Grace’s Little Pink Case

gal pal
emery board
large tooth comb
toothbrush
dental floss
spare contact lens (x2)
contact lens case
razor
fashion tape (good for gaping blouses and fallen hems)
safety pins
Q-tips


4 AA batteries
2 AAA batteries
eye glass repair kit
sewing kit
polish off (fingernail polish remover)
contact lens case (2nd one)
band-aids (2)
corn cushions (good for blisters)
blister treatment (2)
moleskin (1 square)
domeboro (soaking solution for rashes)2 packets
preperation H (1)
alavert (2)
valtrex (fever blisters) (2)
benedryl 8
tylenol pm (2)

spare car keys
ear plugs
eye mask
fold-up glasses

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

JE ME SOUVIENS – QUEBEC ‘S CONNECTION TO ITS PAST



It was one of the first things we noticed in Quebec City. We arrived late at night and hailed a taxi to our hotel. While waiting at a stoplight, my husband read these words on the license plate of the car ahead – “Je Me Souviens”. I asked our driver in French its meaning. Fortunately, he replied in English – “I remember”. Our next question wove its way throughout the trip. “What exactly do you remember?”

The taxi driver believed it meant they remembered a 250 year old battle from 1759 when the English defeated the French in Quebec. This was not just any old skirmish. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham permanently changed the boundaries of what eventually became Canada. General Wolfe surprised the French by sneaking up the cliffs at night and attacking behind the city. French Commander Montcalm had expected a landing from the river level and his troops literally had to run five miles back to the real battlefield, arriving exhausted and disorganized. Twenty minutes later the battle ended. Seriously, in 20 minutes, the time it takes to drive from Paris to Honey Grove, Quebec City became English. The actual war didn’t end for two more years but this battle gave the English control of the St. Lawrence River and soon all of La Nouvelle France joined the British Empire. The French government left but the most of the French citizens that had settled there stayed.

I relate this story in detail because its history permeates Quebec City, even today. A cannon ball from the shelling of the city by General Wolfe is still lodged in a tree along Rue St. Louis. The Plains of Abraham is now a wonderful park where Quebecans stroll, play soccer, and lounge on the many benches to enjoy the view of the St. Lawrence. And at the lovely Jardin des Gouverneurs (Governors’ Park), the Wolfe-Montcalm Monument pays tribute to both the winning and losing generals in the big battle.

On a walking tour the next day, we heard the official interpretation of “Je me souviens”. Our guide explained the phrase to mean, “I remember my history”. Canadian history is divided into thirds, French, English, and then Canadian. “We remember each part of our heritage,” she explained dutifully. This is supported by the large number of statutes in front of their parliament building that reflect the heroes of the founders, clerics, French and English governors, and the Amerindians.

A visit to the incredible Citadel fortress, built to protect the city from the Americans, provided a third interpretation of the phrase. The 22nd Royal Regiment, the only French speaking unit in Canada, has its headquarters in the Citadel. It is a fighting unit. Of the 2800 Canadians in Afghanistan, 1500 are from the 22nd. The flag was at half mast on the day of our visit because a Canadian soldier had died in Afghanistan. The unit’s motto, “Je Me Souviens”, is meant to honor their fallen comrades. Every day, an officer reads out the names of the members of the regiment who have died so they will not be forgotten.

With the rest of their country speaking English and the giant America at its heels, Quebec Province decided thirty years ago to get serious about remembering its heritage. Signs in English were taken down. Students were required to attend French speaking schools with only a few exceptions. The Quebecans consider their French more pure than that of France, albeit with a different accent. Quebec Province even came close to voting to secede from Canada. Today, the secession fever has abated but their pride has not. It is reflected in their truly wonderful food. The population is far more Catholic than the mother country. At a hotel in the country, our room had a list of daily masses at the nearby church. And they welcome immigrants, provided the newcomers learn their language and accept their culture.

It is important to promote an area’s history. “Remember the Alamo” is a proud Texas phrase that inspired those fighting for our independence. It may become our motto if we ever wanted to secede. “Je me souviens” has come to reflect Quebec’s pride in its roots and has given the citizens of Quebec the determination to protect their language and culture. The result is a bonus for tourists – a beautiful French speaking location, historical preservation and wonderful cuisine – all without having to cross the ocean.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Many Reasons to Meet in St. Louis



Meet me in St. Louis, Louis
Meet me at the Fair
Don’t tell me the lights are shining
Any place but there.

We will dance the Hoochie -Koochie
I will be your Tootsie-Wootsie
If you will meet me in St. Louis, Louis
Meet me at the Fair

I don’t know what the Hoochie-Koochie is nor if I would want to be anyone’s Tootsie-Wootsie, but I do know that St. Louis is a wonderful city to visit, even for just a wedding week-end. A nice surprise, really.

St.Louis was established by a French fur trader in 1764. If you had lived in St. Louis for the next 40 years, you could have been a French resident, then Spanish, then French again, and finally American in 1804 (rather hard on which language to learn) The city was named for a King Louis but there is some confusion on which one. Louis XV reigned at the time of its establishment and his patron saint was Saint Louis IX, the only canonized King of France. It is the latter King whose statute supervises Forest Park outside the St. Louis Art Museum and was the city’s symbol until the Gateway Arch was built.

There is still a strong Roman Catholic presence in the city which was once known as the Rome of the West. Established in 1829 by the Catholic Bishop of Louisiana, St. Louis University (SLU) was the first institute of higher learning west of the Mississippi. And the Basilica of St. Louis, King, founded in 1770, was the first Catholic Cathedral west of the Mississippi.

The most memorable event to take place in St. Louis was the world’s largest fair ever in 1904 that celebrated the Louisiana Purchase a century before and spawned the song, “Meet Me in St. Louis”. In a six month period, 20 million people visited the 900 buildings constructed for the event in or near Forest Park. The only remaining original building is the Art Museum. However, the park continues to serve the community with the world class St. Louis Zoo, lakes and green spaces galore, an Art Deco, glass Jewel Box, an old fashioned band stand, and the Missouri History Museum - all free to the public.

We were tipped off by our fellow travelers, Keith and Janet Green, that the St. Louis Cardinals were playing after the rehearsal dinner in the new Busch Stadium. Only standing room tickets were available. The last time we had the pleasure of being upright for an event was at an opera in Vienna, Austria, made even longer by the standing. At the time, we swore never again. But memory fades and we decided to try again.

Finding a place behind our allotted painted yellow lines was not easy. We hung out on the first level with the other late slackers until an usher gently encouraged us to find another spot where we would actually be behind the yellow lines and not to the side. On the third level, space was available and included a metal bar to lean against. But the top level was bright and empty of fellow standees. The arch could be seen in the background as well as downtown St. Louis - a very pleasant experience except that the Cardinals lost.


Fortunately for us, the wedding took place in the immense Botanical Gardens, one of the oldest in the United States. Besides being a popular wedding spot (five other young couples said their vows that day), over 100 researchers work at the gardens, one half of them with Phds. A 1960 Climatron (think metal Geodisic dome) provides an authentic rain forest experience while one can also stroll through the Chinese, Japanese, day lily, and rose gardens.

And what trip to St. Louis could be complete without venturing to the top of the Gateway Arch? It surprised and delighted us. Underneath the silver rainbow, the guides direct five persons at a time to stand in front of individual, four foot tall painted doors. Suddenly, each pops open and five people cautiously exit the spacelike capsule. We mold ourselves in, the doors close, and the tram clanks back and forth up the curved interior of the arch. Because of the physical weight of the structure at the top, the windows at the top are narrow and rectangular, but the view spectacular.

St. Louis has lost its influence over the years. In 1818 it was the 4th largest city in the U.S. but now ranks 53rd. In the past , it produced the most beer, shoes, stoves, and wagons in the world. Today, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Edward Jones, and Wachovia Securities anchor here, and much beer is still brewed through the giant company of Anheuser Busch. Because of its long, rich past, St. Louis has beautiful old buildings, neighborhoods, homes, and gardens. A wedding week-end was not enough to take it all in. So, we’ll just have to meet again in St. Louis.

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