August 12, 2012

Le Road Trip

For me, Vivian Swift's Le Road Trip was a bit of a bumpy ride. My journey began after the book was featured on Paris Breakfasts. The lovely drawings included in Carol Gillott's post compelled me to purchase this illustrated "Traveler's Journal of Love and France." The first stop on my journey was the iBookstore where I soon discovered that Le Road Trip is not available in an electronic format. Dommage! I love the portability of my own library on iPad and iPhone. On second thought, perhaps this is the type of book that is best experienced with all the senses: admiring the gorgeous watercolors, the sound and feel of turning the thick crisp pages, that new book smell (since I can't actually smell the freshly baked croissants), the taste of...well, ok, almost all of the senses.  Next stop: Voilà! Not only were there new copies available, but they were priced at $15 - 35% off the cover price. Thanks to one-click shopping, I anticipated receiving my book by the end of June.  Unfortunately, a week after placing my order, I received an email that the book was out of stock. OK, most summer road trips involve a few detours. But by July 15, I was back on track, having reordered the book (at full price). The next day, I received notice that the book had shipped with an estimated arrival of July 25-August 1. Two weeks for a book delivery? Oh well! As Vivian Swift states on page 2, "In love and travel getting there is half the fun...Anticipation is a crucial phase of any journey." Although resigned to waiting for Le Road Trip, I did wonder why I hadn't received an itinerary/tracking number. By August 8, when my package had yet to arrive, I filed a claim with Amazon to refund my purchase. At that point, I was ready to pack up and move on. But in a summer deprived of a real getaway, I was craving at least a literary road trip. On Friday, I stopped by my local Barnes and Noble to shop for my nephew's 6th birthday. On a whim, I asked if they could order Le Road Trip for me. "Actually, ma'am [still my least favorite form of politesse], we have a copy in stock."

Late Saturday afternoon, I sat on the deck with a glass of Vouvray and Le Road Trip. Everyone hopes for good weather when on vacation, so I was acutely aware of the blue skies, the warm sun, the gentle breeze. I always make a playlist when I go on vacation, songs that reflect the destination, but today, I didn't need my iPod. The happy chirping of the finches and sparrows at the bird feeder and the rhythmic clicking of the sprinklers provided the soundtrack for this "road trip." Conditions were perfect for my virtual vacation! As I accompanied Swift on Le Road Trip, I experienced each of her eight phases of travel:

Phase 1: Anticipation: "In love and travel, getting there is half the fun." Swift offers some good advice when preparing for a trip. I love the idea of creating a traveler's scrapbook by taping and folding 50 blank index cards like an accordion. As you travel, you add stamps, tickets, flowers, and other souvenirs to your mini scrapbook.  Swift also advises travelers to "pack for the person you are on Saturday morning." That makes sense! What you wear on Saturdays is solely based on your personal style choices, not by what is deemed appropriate for work, meetings, sports, etc. Your Saturday clothes represent "your most authentic self." I like the idea of being true to your own style, rather than anticipating what you "should" wear, especially in Paris. Yet, over the years, I believe that Paris has become part of my personal style, my go-to Saturday outfits: tailored jeans or skirts, black tops, scarves, boots or ballet flats...Maybe travel helps you to define your "authentic self."

Phase 2: Infatuation: "Arrival. It's a lot like love at first sight." When you first arrive at your destination, you can hardly believe you are actually there. You are "giddy, gullible, stupid." You don't necessarily see things as they really are.  Swift uses Paris as the example. It's easy to view Paris as pure beauty, like choosing photos for my We'll Always Have Paris and Paris, je t'aime! Pinterest boards. At this phase, you don't even notice the unpleasant realities of your destination: pollution, traffic, rudeness.... I experienced this infatuation stage with when I first saw Vivian Swift's gorgeous watercolors of Paris, Normandy, Brittany, Bordeaux, the Loire...of pastries, sunsets, cafés, bridges.... I fell in love with Swift's own handwritten font created on Giddy with infatuation, I didn't expect to experience the next few phases of Le Road Trip.

Phase 3: The Reality Check: Swift defines this as little bumps in the road: financial panic, loss, jetlag, bad weather, etc. No vacation is immune to some minor disappointments. As I continued to read Le Road Trip, I became disappointed that the beautiful drawings and the text didn't always coincide. What the author chose to write and illustrate didn't always correspond with what this reader wanted to see. But that's the case with any book. The reader risks disappointment when traveling through any book. Despite minor setbacks, we continue on our journey.

Phase 4: The Honeymoon Phase: "Travel at its most romantic." It takes time, a few days, a few miles, a few pages for the real passion, the real adventure to kick in. After a while, you settle into the experience. Swift reminds us that true romance is a journey, not a destination. The honeymoon stage is about enjoying the experience; it's about tuning into the details, about being in the moment. So, I settle into the book, trying to resist the urge to project my own memories and feeling about French people, food, wines, etc. It is hard not to compare my own experiences of Paris (j'adore), Giverny (lovely), Bayeux (boring), Omaha Beach (pride and tears), le Mont-St.-Michel (awe-inspiring), St.-Malo (late-night strolls in search of crêpes), Chartres (inspiration for Marquette's Gesu church), the Loire Valley (fairytales). My opinions and experiences were quite different from those of Vivian Swift and her "new husband" but that is exactly the point: Enjoy your own experience.

Phase 5: The Going Gets Tough: When traveling with others, sooner or later, everyone gets on your nerves. Having taken five trips with various high school students and their parents, I can certainly attest to this! But even when traveling with friends and loved ones, there are times when you are going to disagree and need your own space. At this point in the book, Vivian Swift was starting to get on my nerves with her contradictions ("I lust after liver paté" vs. "I am repulsed by food that looks grey"), her love/hate relationship with the French, and most of all the 17 drawings and countless descriptions of cats!

Phase 6: In The Comfort Zone: "Real love, real travel, ready for the long haul." All road trips have ups and downs. Having survived the challenges, a traveler can feel pride at experiencing the journey and surviving. Traveling becomes easier, even effortless. We become "vagabonds." In this phase, Vivian Swift presents her A-Z of vagabonding, including acquired tastes, beaten tracks (on and off), cruise control, etc. Having survived the bumps in my reading road, I had settled in to enjoying what the rest of the journey would bring. I learned about the wines of Bordeaux, French delicacies, Johnny Hallyday, cathedrals, châteaux, and most of all the "X and Y Co-ordinates of Zen Navigation: X = the limited time you have on the road, in a life; Y = the eternity you have in every hour, every day; Z = Each step you take is a once-in-a-lifetime infinite thing."

Phase 7: The End of the Road: It's the point in a journey when the thrill is gone. You are tired and you start counting down the days or hours until it is time to go home (much like you counted the days and hours until your vacation began). At this point, there are only 28 pages left in the book and the travelers are on their way back to Paris to catch a plane for Long Island. I'm ready to be done too.

Phase 8: Aller et Retour: There and Back. When the final day arrives, just before it's time to go home, you start feeling nostalgic. Swift describes sitting in her favorite café in Paris, realizing that tomorrow her chair will be empty or occupied by someone else. The sun will sparkle on the Seine and set over Paris "without us."  It's the feeling that you are ready to leave, yet you know that you have created lasting memories and gained valuable insights. It is also the knowledge that, despite challenges and frustrations, you are already looking forward to your next trip! Despite my own frustrations with this book, I know I will look back fondly at the experience. I will revisit the beautiful images and some of my favorite pages. Even the act of reviewing the book for my blog has helped to redeem it. And I know that my love of travel literature (especially travel to France) will compel me to embark on many more literary journeys.

I do love Vivian Swift's final travel tip: "Before you leave home, put a bottle of champagne in the fridge. So when you drag yourself back from the glories and adventures of Le Road Trip, you'll have something to make la rentrée and the unpacking seem fun."


Whenever I return home from traveling, I am keenly aware of three things:

1. There's no place like home! As much as I love to travel, no place is more comfortable than my own home, surrounded by the people and things that I love, sleeping on my own pillow... Besides, this Wisconsin girl always craves a big, cold glass of skim milk (nearly impossible to find in France)!

2. The memories become fonder with time and distance. Photos, drawings, and journals are the best souvenirs to take home with you. I'm not a person who likes refrigerator magnets, knick-knacks, or t-shirts. Nothing compares to reliving your experiences through your own eyes (as seen through the lens of your camera or sketched on paper) and your own words (written in your own hand - I want to create my own font!).

3. Travel changes you. As St. Augustine said, "Life is a journey and those who do not travel read only a page." When I look back at the places I've been and the things I've experienced, I know that each adventure has help to shape the person I am and the person I will continue to become. If you need inspiration or justification, check out my Bon Voyage Pinterest Board.