Archives for category: Travel secrets

What I Remember

On Tuesday I lost consciousness, control, and my lunch. I had had lunch with my friends Buddy and Cindy, who had driven down to the island on a rare day off to spend it with me at the beach. They’d had a rough morning already, had a hard time getting out of home, and we’d finally gotten together at 3 pm at the Mar Vista. They’d gotten a table in shade near a fan, where we could easily see the water. Not very hungry, but feeling celebratory, I ate a strange meal of nachos and a margarita. I drank only half the Margarita, though, and couldn’t seem to make it taste right no matter how much lime I added.

At the end of the meal I happened to be talking about my mother and how dehydrated she gets, how if I don’t follow her around with a glass of soft drinks or clear liquids she will drink only tea and wine all day, and then she gets weak and dizzy and sick, and sometimes has to go to the hospital because she’s so dehydrated.

At the end of a long, leisurely meal, when it was time to leave, I stood up and felt dizzy. I took a few steps but it seemed dark and I couldn’t walk properly. Feeling weak and strange and embarrassed, I leaned on the table briefly and then I had to sit down again. I put my head on my arms on the table and from a long way away I heard my friends asking if I was okay. I think I said, “I’m hot, very hot.” I think someone told me to take deep breaths. I and took some deep breath I and lifted my head off the table and asked if I could have the glass of water in front of Cindy. She said “It’s not very cold; Buddy’s has more ice in it.”

I said “I’m not going to drink it.” I got the big glass and leaned back in my chair to let my hair fall down over the backrest. As I did in Israel on the day when I walked many miles in the sun along the beach, I poured the water over my head. In Israel, doing that same thing repeatedly at all the little water fountains along the beach made it possible for me to walk back to my hotel, But this time I didn’t even feel the water. It made no difference at all. I just sat there for a few minutes with a black fog in my mind, and then took more deep breaths and looked up again and said, “Ladies room. I’ll splash myself with cool water.” Buddy said, “Cindy, if you want to help Gillian I’ll carry the purses.”

I said, “They won’t go with your outfit.”

He said, “Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about.”

I started walking in the general direction of the restaurant but it seemed dark I couldn’t see very well and I couldn’t remember where the ladies’ room was. I don’t recall how it happened but I sat down again, at a table under the awning, and after that my memories are fragmented.

Getting Help

I felt embarrassed at not be able to walk normally and having to hold up my friends. I put my head on my arms and rested. People were saying, “ Are you okay?” I felt dizzy. I pulled my long skirt up to try to cool my legs. Someone said, “It’s okay.” A man with black hair stood in front of me. He seemed very interested in my illness. He asked my name and address, which I gave him carefully but doubtfully; I always have trouble remembering the street number of my house and often get it wrong. I couldn’t seem to sit up properly. I was extremely hot. I asked if I could have a cold cloth. There seemed to be movement around and behind me. I wanted to rest my head in my arms but sometimes someone stopped me. There were people eating lunch at tables under the trees. I felt very thirsty. The man with black hair asked what I’d eaten and I said nachos and half a margarita. He wrote that down. Someone brought me a cold cloth. I put it to my face. There were more cloths on the table, folded.

There two big bags of ice. Someone said one was for my chest and one for my neck. One lay on the gray slate table. I felt very sick; sometimes I tried to lean forward to make the nausea stop. Someone said something about CMS. I didn’t know what that meant. I covered my eyes and leaned on my arms on the table. I sat up. I felt very sick. Someone moved my hand and skirt down. I wanted to lean back but someone kept stopping me. There were strong people behind me. People seemed to be moving my limbs around. I wanted to get cool. I saw Cindy’s face. She was sitting down on my right and she looked extremely worried.

Someone held the bag of ice on my neck at the back; it didn’t feel cold but it felt solid and comforting. Someone said something about “CMS.” I asked for a drink of water but the man with black hair said no. He said something else I didn’t understand. Someone said, “I don’t like the look of this.”

Hallucinating

I was seeing a scene, perhaps in California, with many, many people in it and much activity going on. A lot of people were trying to do something important. I was involved and very interested in story. The color red was there. I was sitting up at the Mar Vista and feeling sick. I said, “Oh, I was dreaming!” Cindy said no, that’s not what had happened.

Vomiting

I needed to vomit. I held a cool cloth up. Someone said, “Do you feel sick?” There was no cup or bowl or anything. I didn’t want to vomit on the table so I moved my head to the side and vomited a long way down to the floor. I threw up three or four times. I thought, “I will never eat nachos again.” Someone said, “Get a bucket” and a black man who seemed to work in the kitchen put a gray dish bowl under where I was vomiting. I apologized to him. I don’t think he heard me. He kept a good distance. I was glad that we’d tipped well.

I was appalled to be vomiting within sight and earshot of people who were trying to have a civilized afternoon drink at the Mar Vista. I looked at one table to see the people were disgusted but they seemed to be looking away and I was glad but also horrified. I said, “I’m sorry.” Cindy said, “Would you stop apologizing!” which seemed very funny although I don’t think I laughed. Someone said the EMS was coming. I thought maybe that was an ambulance.

A lot of people were there, mostly behind me. People were talking about things I didn’t understand. A man in a dark blue uniform was right in front of me. He seemed to be where the table had been. Someone asked if Buddy was my husband, and I said, “I wish.” Buddy was a solid good presence behind me, holding ice on my neck. Someone asked my name. Someone was taking my pulse. A plump black man with curly hair leaned over from the right and said, “Now, I need to put these on your legs; don’t slap me,” and I wanted to tell him that of course I wouldn’t slap him. I knew he was helping me. Someone said, “This will sting” and there was a sting on my right side. I knew that several people were helping me. I felt dim and sleepy although not as bad as before I’d vomited. There were people in blue and people talking to me and asking questions. Buddy said, “Her eyes rolled up in her head and she went rigid.”

One man in a blue uniform kept talking to me. He said things I didn’t understand. There seemed to be a lot of numbers and acronyms and jargon in what he was saying. Someone asked me if I suffered from many different things, if I took any medication, what I’d had to eat and drink. I kept saying no, not asthmatic diabetic epileptic nothing, I have nothing wrong with me except a little overweight, I only had half the margarita, I’m not drunk. I live here; I’m not a tourist. I’m sorry. Someone did something to my left hand that hurt. There were a lot of numbers being spoken and people moving things around my body. I was very hot.

The man in the uniform said he’d like to do some more tests in the ambulance where it was cooler asked if I would consent. He and someone else were pushing me into the ambulance on a stretcher. I was impressed by the size of the space. The man who had been talking to me stayed with me and he was reaching around, getting things, putting things on me and around me; more tabs and sticky things I didn’t recognize. There were cords and lines and things in both arms and hands. I knew that they’d put things like that on my mother sometimes in hospital. I was glad to lie there in the coolness and be helped. People kept asking me if I was okay, was I dizzy or nauseous. I said yes.

The ambulance

The man kept looking at me and at the same time he was reaching for things and saying things that I didn’t understand, things like, “Run that Isis under the Frankenthaler at six and a half.” “Why isn’t the Oh four seven C in the black?” He said something about the B shift. He told me that the other man in the ambulance was on the B shift. He asked how I was feeling and I said better. He said to tell him if I got too cold to tell him. That seemed unlikely. A man apologized for putting something under my shirt. The man who kept looking at my face said things like, “I want the AKG at forty-eleven on half piece.”

He recommended that I go to Blake. I asked him to please get my cell phone from my bag and to please ask my friends to go back to my house. Someone tossed my bag into the ambulance. Someone said my friends were going to follow up to the hospital. I said, they were silly. He said there was a lot of that going around.

He told me it was nearly my birthday. He said we were the same age. He told me he had a pacemaker. He said my sugar was very low. I said I didn’t know what that meant. The ambulance was moving. Someone put a line with oxygen coming out of it under my nose. The man said it would help me cool down and feel better. He said something else was a different number. He pointed to a small plastic bag of clear liquid and said he was giving me saline and sugar. He said a lot about the mix of water and sugar, and using words I didn’t know. I told him I didn’t understand. I had the impression that he wanted to keep me awake. I breathed the oxygen. It smelled odd. It didn’t seem to help cool me down.

The sleeveless pink cotton shirt I was wearing felt like a suit of armor. My bra was constricting my chest. The ambulance was going to Blake, he said. The man kept complaining about the driving. He said we were going over a lot of bumps. I didn’t feel any bumps. I felt weak and I needed badly to urinate. The man who was my age and had a pacemaker asked if I knew the date. I told him it was the 8th of July, the day before Nic’s birthday, the day Buddy and Cindy were coming to visit. He asked me if I knew what day it was. I said it was either Tuesday or Wednesday and he seemed to agree.

He told me I reminded him of someone he used to work with in Hillsborough County. I told him that I grew up there. He said something about my blood pressure going back down very low. He said my sugar was very low. I told him that I wanted to pee. He said that he had a special pan that he could put under me if I needed it.

Blake and Getting Better

I was lying on the stretcher in the ER at Blake. Someone asked if I felt sick and I did. Someone asked for a bucket. Someone handed me an emesis bowl. I knew what it was called from writing Mark’s autobiography. A man on my left said, “I’m Dr. Blend by the way.” He asked me some questions about what had happened. I told him I’d had lunch and then got very hot and very sick. I was put into a cubicle and the man in the dark blue uniform asked if I could move myself from the stretcher to the bed or if I needed help. People were attaching things to my legs and arms and chest. Someone apologized for something. I said I could move myself, and I hoped I could. He said, “Not yet, not yet.” He said gravity would help me. Then I leaned to my right and moved sideways slowly. I was proud that I kept my skirt from getting tangled. He said, “Good job.”

A lady came in and asked for my insurance details. A nurse put a blue gown on my lap. Someone said, “This will be a sharp sting.” There was a sting in my left hand and it hurt. Nurses came and went and asked me things and did things behind me. I felt sick. I asked if I could use the restroom. They said they’d bring a toilet in. The doctor complained about the IV stand. The nurse said they were all like that.

My shoes had come off and my feet were cold. People left me alone for a long time and then came back in and asked me things and did things. I asked if the nurse could please put something on my feet. The same doctor came and talked to me. He said they were doing tests. He said my blood pressure had been extremely low. He said something about my heart that I didn’t understand. I asked if I could use the toilet. They left me alone. Someone brought a toilet and said I could use it soon, but not yet. She said they needed a urine sample so not to throw the tissue in the potty. After a while they said I could get up and use it. They asked if I needed help and I said no.

Someone came and looked in the curtain while I was sitting on the toilet. I wasn’t able to pass any urine. She wanted to ask me about insurance. I said, “Can I just have a pee first?” She apologized and withdrew. After a long time, I passed a very small amount of liquid and got back into bed. The doctor came back and said something about the IV line not working. He took it apart and liquid went all down his shirt and pants and onto the bed. He said, “Now we know where it was stuck.” A nurse gave him a syringe and he plugged the syringe in and the needle in my left hand jumped and jabbed and it felt very cold. The doctor asked the nurse if she had anything. She gave him a paper clip. He clipped the bag of liquid to the lamp over me. I hoped it would not fall on my hand.

Someone said that my heart rate was better. The doctor left. The nurses left. The curtain was open and I saw people walking back and forth. The curtain was closed and I thought I heard Buddy just outside the curtain, saying, “It was clear that she wasn’t faking any symptoms,” and I was grateful.

I asked the nurse to let Buddy in. She went out. I found the bed uncomfortable. I wanted to sit up. I wanted to have a drink. The nurse came in and said that she could not find my friends. She left. I felt a great sense of sadness and loss. It was Nicole’s birthday in Australia. She was in Australia.

When someone asked for my next of kin I did not tell them my parents’ information. I told her my sister’s name and address. She looked up my sister’s name in my cell phone. She could not find my wallet. I asked her to hand me the phone and if I could take the clip off my finger and she said okay. I called Buddy. I said, “How are you? Are you here?” He said, “I’m in your living room! How are you?” He went into my filing cabinet for me and found the insurance details. I couldn’t hear him well on the phone. I asked if he had my wallet. He said he had my keys.

Everyone left and my hand hurt and I was weak but I knew where I was and that I was alone and that Nic was not there and I didn’t want to alarm my parents. I was glad that Buddy and Cindy were at my house and not at the hospital, but I was puzzled because I had heard Buddy. I felt tears in my eyes and on my cheeks. A nurse came in. She asked how I was. I said I was confused and I didn’t know what had happened. She said that was because I had passed out, and I didn’t know what had happened.

The doctor came back. I told him, “I feel very strange.” He said, “You’re in a strange place!” I said I’d been upset. He could see I’d been crying. He said, “The emotions…” he sighed. He talked about hormones and reference levels and age and bio-identicals. He said traditional medicine was 10 years behind. I didn’t know what he meant. I said Dr. Kosfeld was a good doctor. He said he knew him and he was a good doctor but a lot of doctors don’t know how to treat women for menopause. He said I should ask Dr. Kosfeld about it or ask him to send me to a gyno. He sat down and held my arm and told me about bio-identical hormones, how they have no side effects, how I shouldn’t be afraid of them. He told me the problems they could solve in women my age. I said they wouldn’t have helped me that day, with my fainting, and he said he wasn’t so sure; it might have helped. I asked him what problems they alleviated and he rattled off a list of things that plague me, including fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, depression, and more. I asked for his card and I told him I still wanted to try diet and exercise to lose weight but if it didn’t work by the end of the summer, I’d find out more about the hormones. I asked him for his card and I asked him if I could go home.

Someone gave me some papers and went over them with me. I didn’t understand most of it but they told me it was all written down. I’d had a “vasovagal reaction” they said. I asked why my blood sugar had been so low, what that meant, and the nurse said she didn’t know. She asked me to sign something saying that I’d received a copy of the paper and all my questions had been answered. I signed it. The doctor came in and said that the low blood sugar was a side effect of my body’s extreme low blood pressure.

A while later, the second or third time I asked, I was allowed to get dressed and go home. Buddy was waiting for me in a huge white van. I was very glad to see him. He said cheerfully, “No offense, but you’re looking a whole lot better than last time I saw you. Would you like some water?” I said yes I would, thank you. I heard about what he’d experienced: my going into convulsions, my eyes rolling back, his holding my arms when they started flailing before I went rigid. I thanked him again and again and felt I could never repay him for his solidity and his kindness. I felt very bad about his day off at the beach being spent in such a horrible way. He said something about “Divine appointments.” I believed him. While he was holding me so I didn’t hit anything or swallow my tongue, he said, “Cindy was clearly in prayer.”

If Buddy and Cindy hadn’t been there, if I’d collapsed like that alone on the beach or in my garden, I don’t know what would have happened. Maybe it would never have happened if I hadn’t met them for lunch that day or maybe it would have been much worse. But I am glad that they were there to help when I lost control.

The Lesson

What interests me most is the dream that I was having while unconscious. I wish I could remember it, but all I know is it was a heavy, crowded scene in black and white and many colors, including red, and that I was seeing it as if it were an animation. In it a lot of people were trying hard to achieve something in which I had a great interest. I don’t know if I was out of my body and seeing the scene from above or if I was just out of my mind and hallucinating an unrelated story. It ended abruptly and I was sorry.

It occurred to me as I was in the hospital that although this was the first time anything like this has happened to me, it’s probably not the last. I’m 53. From now on when something like this happens, I will have to admit that something like it has happened before. I now have lost control of myself, however briefly, and had to be helped.

Finally, this is what I’ve learnt: I will never eat nachos again.

Ireland 2013 notes

May 9th – Clare Inn, Dromoland Estate

BA Flight 2166 Tampa-Gatwick

 

I got an upgrade, but I kind of regretted it. The PR person for BA had kindly arranged for a lounge pass for me before I left Tampa, and at check-in I was given a better seat than the one I’d booked (and paid an extra $50) for. At least, I was told by the check-inagent that it was better: “It’s a bulkhead,” he said, and I thought of all that room by my feet and agreed.

Since the gate agent hadn’t put me into business class, I decided at the gate  to try an upgrade-getting maneuver that I’ve heard from more than one flight attendant can work: I bought a box of chocolates at duty free ($30 liqueur truffles) and presented them with my business card to the lead flight attendant, Reynolds. With that gift I stuttered out that I was a writer on assignment for CURVE Magazine and hopedwe’dhaveasweetflight, thanks. Reynolds, a tall thin black-suited man with ironic 50s glasses, accepted the gift with perfect panache, and promised to come and see me in my seat shortly.

Before takeoff, he did come to my bulkhead, bringing me a glass of champagne from first class, and asked about my assignment. I told him I was going to learn how to play bodhrain in Doolin, and after a few pleasantries he said, apologetically, that he had no room in the forward cabins, they were full, but his staff would take care of me

Damn, I thought, $30 wasted, but I thanked him and said I’d appreciate the space.

“And there’s no one sitting here,” he said pointing to the second seat in my row. “So you can spread out.”

Reynolds was right inasmuch as I could spread out my stuff, and I did so: pillows, blankets, O Magazine with Oprah in a big pink skirt, my papers and pen, nuts, neckrest, water, trash bag, trash, pen, paper, extra gray jacket, headsets, toothbrush, gray socks, landing card, shoes, popcorn, face-spray bottle, chapstick, second water bottle, earplugs, green eyemask, etc etc etc as the trip went on. All my stuff took up all the space in both seats, but in the bulkhead, for some godforsaken reason, the armrests don’t move, so I couldn’t lie down or even slump over to one side very well.

So I didn’t sleep, but I dozed, and read O Magazine, and planned some pitches for editors (including the editor of O), and watched some of CLOUD ATLAS, which makes me think of my friend Rick Rutherford, who first recommended that book to me in a hot tub at Esalen,  but which  is of course not half the film that the book was a book, and thought how lucky I was to have a bulkhead row all to myself,

It was only an eight-hour plus flight, so I knew I wouldn’t get too restless. I took hourly walks around the cabin to keep the blood moving, and I drank a lot of water, and ate the pasta meal and brushed my teeth and read my magazine and dozed and drank water and read my magazine and watched the news and used the loo and got more water and dozed and crossed my legs and changed my position in my seat and adjusted the lights on my magazine and recrossed my legs and stretched them out in the aisle and took walks and spritzed my face and ate nuts and drank water and in that manner the minutes flew by like hours

Although it was dark and the window shades were down, I could tell when we were getting close to the coast of the British Aisles by the rain tipping on the window. However, for only the second time in my life, it was not raining when I landed at Gatwick – further evidence of global weirding.

I had to get across London to Heathrow for my flight to Ireland, so I bought a ticket for the Express bus, which has gone up a lot since last time I used it, about 2 years ago. It’s 25 pounds now for the trip, which is under an hour without traffic.  At Gatwick, the National Express ticket  lady asked me which terminal I wanted at Heathrow, and I gaped in the manner of someone who has just traveled 4,000 miles over 11 hours with no sleep. I’m sure she sees the look all the time.

“It’s overseas, to Ireland,” I hedged, fumbling with my itinerary.

“Is it British Airways?” she asked. “If it’s BA it’ll be from Five.”

The itinerary said it was, so I got a ticket to terminal 5.

On the coach, I had a window seat, and from it I could see a typically stunning series of views of rolling green hills, country mansions dwarfed by country trees, and huge gray gothic and Norman churches poking up high above the hills, built to summon Christians every time they raised their eyes from the soil, I suppose. There were clots of sheep like cream on the deep green hills divided with those very English hedgerows, and though like most places in the world it looked a little bit like parts of New Jersey, I was excited to be in England again.

The winter’s deluges had done good work in making everything green, and the woods we passed were made up of all different trees, aspens maybe, and oaks and  beeches and lots of things I couldn’t identify, in all different shades of green. There were daffodils out in great clumps as big as sheep, all along the way we drove  — and the amazing thing was, all this beauty was along the side of  a major thoroughfare, between the two biggest airports in England. That’s the difference between here and New Jersey: you don’t see clumps of wildflowers from the turnpike driving to JFK from Newark Airport.

I was extremely tired, having not slept in my specially upgraded seat with extra legroom but no folding armrests, and I was falling asleep yet trying to keep my eyes open so I could see England. My eyes were closing, but then I saw a blur of blue – wild bluebells, I suppose. They were along the side of the road, in spots where there were no daffodils. They were small, iris-colored flowers in the shape of little bells, so although I’ve previously known of bluebells only as a theoretical image from Enid Blyton’s books, I felt sure these were they. How could I sleep?

At terminal 5, I took the lift up in the new, all-ugly renovated terminal to the departures area, where the board showed lots of other flights leaving at 1105 but not mine to Shannon. That, I soon learnt, was because it was an Aer Lingus flight, which would go from Terminal 1, which I’d have to reach via Tube. The good news was that the Tube was free. I spent my ten minutes waiting for the Tube to move by reflecting on how I’d made such a stupid mistake, and how John Zussman and my other so-called writer friends were going to write a comment on my blog, as he did when I forgot to check the currency exchange rates in Cappadocia and accidentally gave someone a $80 tip, that he would’ve thought a travel writer might know better…I couldn’t believe that a travel writer wouldn’t know better than to check a departure terminal too. But then I remembered: I HAD checked. Nowhere on my ticket or itinerary does it indicate that flight 65 from Heathrow to Shannon is in fact operated by Aer Lingus, so watch what terminal you go to, Yankee.

The Tube was decorated in Cadbury-purple and it was truly the most beautiful bit of public transport I’ve ever seen. There was a “first class” section – presumably for people who had actually paid for their tickets – which had floor-to-ceiling draperies and dancing girls, somewhat like the Orient Express, but even the plebian section where I sat was stunningly clean and comfortable and sensibly laid out. It was also swift, and I made it to Aer Lingus check-in by about 10.20.

My flight left at 1105, so I headed through security as fast as I could, hoping to buy a camera at duty-free. The first security check was a new type for me: as well as the usual metal detection and shoe removal and taking out and putting in of laptops and liquids and gels, I had to stand on some yellow footprints and gaze into a red-lit camera, presumably while the device took my photograph. It seemed to take a long time, and I gazed at the little red light for quite a while before it turned green and I was free to re-dress and re-pack and go.

In the main departure area, I found the electronics shop and told the salesman, “I have about five minutes to buy a camera,”  The one I wanted was called a ZX30 in the USA, or maybe it was a FX30 in Australia, but it was the one Nic has, and I knew it was a Linux with a Leica lens.

A little dark-haired man with a nice accent showed me the cameras. He didn’t recognize the description I gave of my ideal camera, but he  pointed out a Linux  for 199 pounds that had a big zoom. “Is that a Leica lens?” I asked, peering at it. I couldn’t remember what Nic’s camera looked like; this one seemed to have an unusually large lens aperture, and it didn’t look as neat as many of the others.

“No,” he said. “But it’s built to Leica specifications.”

“It says Leica on it,” I pointed out.

“They’re allowed to do that,” he said. I decided that this camera was as close as I was going to get to the one I wanted and asked him to sell it to me as fast as he could. “I’m at gave 82,” I said. “Can I make it?”

He was on his knees, looking into a cupboard underneath the camera display. “Some of the gates are a fair way,” he said.

“Right,” I said briskly. “That’s why I’d like you to make the sale as quickly as you can.”

“There’s a board,” he said, dimly. It was hard to hear him as he was peering into the dark cupboard and looking at boxes, reading their labels. “It’ll tell you how far — the gates …maybe…”

“OK,” I aid, but I didn’t want to go check the board because I thought it might delay the purchase.

He withdrew from the cupboard and stood up. “I don’t have the camera,” he said.

And that was the luck of the Irish already, to be sure to be sure, because even though I would not have a camera for the trip, if he had had it I would certainly have missed my flight.

I followed a sign to gates 77-93 (a strange arrangement, to be sure to be sure) from the departure lounge and duty-free shops down about 6 corridors each a few hundred yards long, and only one of which had an automatic walkway. We passed a sign leading to another corridor and gates 77-79 and I thought, great, only a few more of these corridors and I’ll come to 82. Instead, the next sign said, “80-93” with another sign pointing left, towards the end of a queue.

This queue snaked into a small corridor that appeared to go nowhere. I couldn’t see the top of the line, but I could see that the queue had dozens, maybe a hundred people in it, and it was not moving. In that way – the length of the line and the arrangement of barriers – it reminded me of a ride at Disneyworld. But in no other way at all did it remind me of Disneyworld. For one thing, there were no games to play or visual enticements to keep our excitement up. Also no one was excited. A very cross woman ahead of me said, “Is this the gate for Ireland?” I confessed I did not know but that I hoped so.

After about five minutes I’d progressed to the point that I could see the action at the top of the line. There at about 10 feet from the head of the queue, sat two identical, sadistic-looking men at two identical black desks, and in front of them a column with a red eye, like the one I’d looked into earlier. It looked like some kind of torture chamber from the future, a little like the scenes in CLOUD ATLAS set in 2090 Asia. A sign informed me that this camera would compare my face to the picture the other camera had taken earlier, presumably to make sure I hadn’t added a false beard and tattoos in the loo in the terminal, or taken off any similar costumes since arrival.

I think this technology must be new, because none of the passengers seemed to know what was going on, despite the sign, and every single person – all of whom must have gone through the same facial-recognition process on entering the terminal, as I had — had to be told  stand on the yellow footprints and look into the red eye on the column, after their documents were checked. I stood and watched as about 40 people stepped too far forward, handed their documents to one of the evil-looking twins, and then had to be told to walk backwards and stand on the yellow footprints and look into the black column. I couldn’t understand how so many people, all of whom had been in the same line and watching the people ahead of them, could not understand that they’d need to look into the camera themselves. Every single person stood and waited to get their documents checked and then was told to go back and look in the machine. It was incredibly slow, not only because everyone was backtracking but because even once they were on the yellow footprints, they had to peer into the red light for quite a while. It took from about 10 seconds to several minutes, in some cases. It was as if the program had a lot of faces to consider, and we all looked alike to it.

I didn’t know what time it was, but very close to my flight time and my flight was boarding. When it was at last my turn to step up, I was probably the most efficient traveler they’d ever seen. Cleverly, I handed the man my documents and then stepped onto the yellow footprints without being prompted, and while he checked my papers, I looked into the red eye with my own red eyes and what I hoped was a distinctive expression, one easily recognizable.

The red eye turned green in record time, and the man handed me my documents with an approving and relieved, “Thank you!” and I headed back to the signs for my gate. I went at a concerned, rapid walk down more of the long corridors. These are all raised, metal-framed corridors that look as if they’re made out of erector sets. The design appears to be 60s futuristic, kind of Jetsons style, with each set of corridors leading to a pod of gates. When I reached a pod labeled 79-87, I thought I was nearly there, and I was: the next gate, oddly, was 82, and although the sign said SHANNON, CLOSING in bright red warning neon, there was another long line of people in front of the gate. I asked a man, “Are you going to Shannon?”

“I am,” he said. And then, evidently fearing that I might be I was thinking of cutting into the line, and thus somehow gain some advantage in boarding, he added, “We all are.”

.

“Glad to hear it,” I said, and went to the back of the line to get on my flight to Ireland.

***

Clare Inn, Dromoland Estate

The view outside my ground-floor window is entirely green and gray. It’s mostly sky, a lovely soft opaque cool sky full of clouds like large lumps of dirty cotton wool. The ground is green fields marked by gray lines of hedgerows, and a road (I think it’s another major highway, though how would you know?) of gray asphalt, and fences and dark gray swallows dipping in and out of view.

This is my favorite weather in the whole world, such an incredible relief after the scorching heat of Florida. It’s been so hot lately that I can’t even enjoy going in the garden except early in the morning, or at dusk, when the mosquitoes are fiercest. But here, the air is sweet and fresh, and the water is absolutely delicious. Ireland is the anti-Florida, I’ve decided, and I like it.

After a long thick sleep I woke up  — it’s still light at about 10 pm – and had some broccoli soup and a mediocre salad and incredible brown bread and butter. As I sat having dinner in the pub, a live musician showed up to play live music. He’s been playing Irish ballads and Johnny Cash and from the very first song, the other people in the pub joined in!  By the third song they were dancing. I am amazed: this is a pretty ordinary hotel in the middle of nowhere, though only about 15 minutes from the airport, and the people here must, I think all be en route to somewhere else. There are a couple of party groups, so I suppose they might be locals, but I have never seen such a jolly crowd in any similar hotel anywhere else in the world.

He’s sung “Rock Around the Clock” and “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Cockles and Mussels Alive, Alive-Oh,” which is a song my mother used to sing and which I’ve never heard anyone else sing in my life, and he has a great strong, happy, tuneful voice.

I’m already having a good time and the jetlag hasn’t even hit yet and the press trip hasn’t started. Already, the destination was worth the trip, even with the armrests, even with the 40-Euro taxi fare and the 25-quid bus, even with the lack of sleep. It’s raining, we’re singing, and the water is wonderful.

In late May, when I left New Jersey for 3 ½  months in Europe, I packed everything into two bags: one black, medium-sized, cylindrical bag on wheels, plus one red daypack.  The cylindrical bag can be expanded to the size of a large gym bag or folded down very small, with the use of extra zippers.  The total weight of all my gear was about 20 pounds.

My friends and my niece – who suggested I use plastic baggies to separate items in the bags — praised me for packing light and nodded appreciatively when I bragged that, after two weeks, once I’d given away a bunch of gifts in Macedonia, I’d be down to just a very small version of the black cylinder.

Two months later, I hadn’t reduced the size of the black bag at all. In fact it was more tightly packed than when I’d left, despite all I’d offloaded, because people had given me gifts, and I’d bought a few essentials as well.  As I was leaving Macedonia, here is what I was carrying:

Clothes

Tops: 1 long-sleeved cotton teeshirt, 1 zip hoodie, 2 short-sleeved cotton teeshirts (I’d only brought one, but I was given one from the Macedonian Pearl seminar, which practically gave me VIP status anywhere in Macedonia), 1 button-down cotton dress shirt (a gift from Leeanne after I admired it); 1 button-down quick-drying camping shirt.

Bottoms: 2 pairs of quick-drying camping pants, one full-length and one Capri-length; one pair lightweight hiking pants.

Dresswear: Black, below-knee-length TravelSmart dress (formerly my mother’s).

Smalls (in Baggies) : One short-sleeved wool undervest or “Spencer,” 2 sturdy, uncomfortable bras and 2 useless, comfortable ones; 7 pairs undies; 2 ½ pairs of white socks (the missing sock was lost from the best pair, a bamboo-fabric from Timberland, which I’d left in a private home in Macedonia where I washed my socks in the family sink; I kept hoping I’d find the lost sock, and so did not throw away the one odd one) plus one nonwhite pair (those, formerly white, had been accidentally grayed by my friend Chris in Macedonia, when we had access to a washing machine).

Shoes: 1 pair stained and exhausted Sketchers Shape-Ups, 1 pair black Crocs sandals.

Jewelry: 1 watch; 2 nearly identical bone pendants with suns on them, from Thailand (I thought I’d give one away but haven’t found the right person yet.)

Miscellaneous: 1 mold-stained bathing suit.

Toiletries

In black bag given to me by Nicole 12 years ago: Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap in two forms (liquid and solid), toothbrush and paste, dental floss,  1 small pair nail scissors and 1 nail clipper; several hotel-room bottles of moisturizer; eye drops, Aspirin, Rx, tape for wrapping my knee. In plastic baggie: assorted tampons, eye drops, earplugs, eye mask.

 

Everything else

Music and art supplies: pages of music and lyrics for Roma and Macedonian folk songs and some American gospel and shape-note songs;  a bag of paints, brushes, and art erasers given to me by Walt, along with sheets of 100-weight painting paper and a few cardboard frames.

Reading and writing materials: One paperback, Reading Lolita in Terhan, which after 2 months I had read only 8 pages of; at least 15 pens, including one from Turtle Bay Resort, Hawaii; one from Scottsdale, AZ,  CVB, and one from the DisneyWorld Hilton (I am unable to leave pens behind and am never without at least a dozen of them);  1 small “steno”  notebook.

Electronics: 1 Acer Aspire netbook, 2 memory sticks; one Swiss-Army brand laptop “skin” to  protect the netbook from falling (but not, it turned out, from loss);  1 digital Linux camera in a pink case; extra memory card, cable to connect camera to computer; 1 large, heavy universal adaptor plug

Ceramics: 1 Macedonian angel figure (a gift from Vaska, my friend and the receptionist at Hotel Manister, chosen by her little girl); 2 mugs with spoons given to me by Gabi (the friend in the MAUS story).

Miscellany: Water bottle (with water); organic gourmet Vitamin-C lollipops, Vitamin C tablets, lysine, glucosamine; 2 small handwoven dishcloths, given to me by a nun at the monastery where I stayed; the smallest Swiss army pocketknife made; 1 WW 2-era brass Yugoslavian Army field oil & polish dispenser ; 1 recycled parachute-silk bag (maroon, very strong).

Rugs: 1 large, heavy handwoven wool runner, black and red, a gift from the nuns at Berovo, which took up 1/5th of my bag and weighed as much as all my clothes put together (I was warned  not to ship anything I cared about by Macedonian post, so I had to carry it.)

That was all I was left with after I’d given away a lot of gifts from the USA, passed on several warm, bulky items of clothing to the nuns, and mailed a few things to England. Other than the rug and the ceramics – which were precious gifts – what could I have done without? Admittedly the lollipops were nonessential, but I’d been giving them out to kids in Macedonia and had only a few left. They are gourmet lollipops, and lightweight, so I didn’t chuck them out. As for the Yugoslavian oil dispenser, you never know when you’re going to need one of those to clean a rifle.

But it was too much. I hated having to carry those two bags every time I moved. I have dragged it resentfully through two continents and 7 countries, and in that time I’ve thought carefully about how to lighten the burden. Now, near the end of my journey, I’ve figured out how to travel really lightly, so from now, on all future journeys,  I  will be able to use only one small daypack. Here is the secret, which I offer for any of my friends or readers to use or share with any of our fellow and sister travellers. In future, I won’t bring any clothes.