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A Bon Voyage

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Traveling was once a civilized undertaking. People dressed up to get on trains and airplanes. A picture of my Grandmother, circa 1950, shows her sitting in the waiting area of the Pan Am Terminal at San Francisco Airport. She is going to Hawaii with her girlfriends from The Madeira Club. She wears a hat. Her gloved hands rest on the pocketbook on her lap. Pinned to her left shoulder is an orchid corsage. I am sure that she is also wearing a girdle and stockings. The smile on her face reveals that she is aware of how great she looks and is ready to take on anything.


In short, she is ready for this new adventure, her first airplane trip. Another family photo shows my mother aboard the S. S. Lurline, in 1938, on her way to Hawaii for her honeymoon. She is wearing a camel wrap coat, a hat, and spectator shoes. Her pocketbook is tucked under one arm. The wind is blowing her hair. And she has that same look of excitement and confidence. She and my Grandmother were, in short, putting their best feet forward.

I was born in the wrong transportation era. I first realized this during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college when all of my friends went backpacking through Europe. I longed to see Paris, but the idea of seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time with a North Face backpack weighing me down was abhorrent. I guess it was not a surprise that I eventually went to Europe, by myself, wearing high heels the entire time. But my ideas of how one looked when one traveled were formed early by looking through those family photo albums and watching 1930s movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing the night away aboard ship. And of Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, descending the gangplank with picture hat, gloves, pocketbook and my Mother’s spectator shoes.

I was recently shopping in the boutique of a retirement community. By the time that people have decided to make a move into this community they have really “downsized.” I was looking through a collection of books for sale and came across a small leather diary. Genuine leather. Gold edged leaves. And the title embossed across the cover said it all “My Trip Abroad.” Of course I bought it. It had never been used and I am guessing that it is from the 1950s. There is no copyright date, but it does have pictures of the ocean liners S. S. Queen Elizabeth, S. S. America, and the S. S. De Grasse, all of which sailed in the 1950s.

Two things struck me about this charming book. The first was that its owner had kept it for a very long time. For at least fifty years. Why? Was this diary purchased for a special trip that never happened? Why not? Was it the promise of a trip that might happen one day and then one day the owner realized it never would … And what could one do today with the advice it had to offer, most of which centers around life aboard a ship? I have never been on a cruise, so I wonder if the following advice would still hold true today: “On deck you will find your deck chair with your name written on a card in a holder on the back, waiting for you, with a rug (if you have engaged one) neatly folded … On most ships it is customary for the deck steward to serve hot bouillon at eleven each morning of the voyage, and tea each afternoon at five.” I say sign me up!

The other thing that struck me about this missive from the past is that even though most of its advice is dated it still managed to offer the best advice I have heard about travel, with or without high heels.

“The Art of Traveling in Comfort: In planning a trip abroad remember that only half the pleasure is in the actual trip. A small portion is in the anticipation, and a large portion in the memories. If you keep a careful record of your pleasant days afloat and ashore, and especially if you supplement that record with freely purchased postcards or patiently take photographs, you can have the most delightful of after-pleasures—living your trip over again.”

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