Ricky Gervais sent his friend, Karl Pilkington, round the globe to ostensibly see the 7 Wonders of the World. Of course, Ricky arranged for Karl to be fake kidnapped in Israel, to eat insects and the genitalia of animals in Egypt and China, to stay in terrible noisy hotels, to visit indigenous tribes and to dance in Carnival in Brazil. Karl basically agreed to be a travel host, and instead was the butt of a sadistic practical joke which regularly made him vomit, miss sleep, and complain bitterly about life. One has to lose sympathy, of course, when Karl agreed to a 2nd and then a 3rd season, but throughout the 1st season, when he doesn’t know what’s coming, you just want to wring Ricky Gervais’ neck.
Still, watching this very funny and disturbing series, I found myself seriously considering the question of how disrespectful and insulting it is to suggest that someone–anyone–else change who they are–to have his mind broadened, even, because someone else thinks he or she is superior.
And so, I come again to nominating myself for sainthood. Mind you, in order to do so I must tread lightly, because only by enduring with gritted teeth the neuroses of my lovely partner do I nominate myself.
Here’s how our most recent trip to Costa Rica went. First, she was anxious about traveling. Really anxious. When I’m anxious, I plan, research, organize, manage, repack, etc. When she’s anxious, everything goes to hell. On the Monday night before we left, I was teaching film auditioning in the living room while she was in her bedroom with everything she owned and might bring spread over the floor, bed, chair, dresser, suitcase, etc. It looked like her bedroom had been ransacked by thieves (except the clothes, some of them, were folded). In the three hours I was occupied with film and filming, she moved some things around. From bed to floor. From floor to dresser. From closet to bed and back again. When I was done teaching, she asked me to help her choose some outfits and to pack (I’d already given her a list, printed from the Internet, of what to bring). I gave a few suggestions, and then sort of passed out in the other bedroom, occasionally awakened by the loudest tiptoeing you can imagine. Or by occasional banging of something dropped onto the floor.
She didn’t sleep at all.
The phone rang a little before 4am, she answered, and the taxi appeared in the street. I took our luggage out to the curb, got in the back, and waited, watching the meter run. Five minutes later, she stumbled out onto the porch, locked the front door, and got in the cab. I have no idea whatsoever what she did in those five minutes. She probably rechecked the automatic light things. Or found something else to put in her carry on. I don’t know if she even knows.
We got to the airport and went to check in her luggage. But there was a huge snafu about our tickets, because her passport has her full name, which was not on her ticket. It took about an hour to figure that out and get it fixed so that she would be allowed into Costa Rica when we got there.
Then we went through security and her carry on set off the buzzer (again–this happened on the last trip, too). Apparently she packed not one, but two, Swiss army knives in her bag. The security guy looked at me. I said, “She’s done this before.” He smiled and said, “Two–I think we’ll have to put her away for a while.” Then there was this long discussion (again) of whether she’d mail them to herself or just give them up. She decided to give them up (last time she mailed them to herself and for some reason beat me to the gate, so I was the one who almost missed the plane).
You might be getting the idea that this is life as usual, and you would be right.
There was also anxiety about the fact that our layover between Fort Lauderdale and Costa Rica was only 25 minutes. But that worked out–we got out of one plane, walked across the hall, and got on another. Only my partner, who is blind as a bat, left her glasses on the first airplane. She discovered this on the second one when her contacts started bothering her, and she had to take them out. So, I became a seeing eye dog. And then we had to visit the Jet Blue office first thing so she could check out the lost and found and see if she could get her glasses sent to her at one of our hotels.
It was 11am in Costa Rica by then (1pm here) and she’d been awake for I-don’t-even-know-how-long and I’d been awake since 3:30am.
We managed to find our hotel and she went to sleep by the pool. While she was sleeping I gave myself a talking to about saying nothing and not trying to change her because after 27 years it’s not like it was going to do any good.
The rest of the vacation commenced. She took about 1000 pictures, got photo dermatitis (this means she was allergic to the sun, which also regularly happens when we go away), was obsessed with monkeys, sloths and toucans (no amount of sitings was enough), was bitten by tropical bugs and somehow had an allergic reaction so it looked like welts. Since I must have been anxious, we didn’t even have to go to a drugstore–I’d packed the most comprehensive first aid kit EVER.
I should say that I am an inveterate traveler. Since the age of 17 I’ve traveled all over the US, Mexico, Europe, North Africa, Japan, Hong Kong, etc. I did much of my traveling alone. I took pride in often being mistaken for Canadian or Australian, because face it, North Americans are loud, take 1000 pictures, get obsessed with monkeys, sloths, toucans, monuments and whatever else. I am, basically, cool. I am a cool traveler. I take few if any pictures, hang out with the locals, speak or learn bits of the language, and make friends with odd people and artists wherever I go. Tourists who take 1000 pictures and are obsessed with monkeys, sloths, toucans really embarrass me.
Should I mention that this was a fantastic vacation?
I have been doing imitations of my partner since we got back, but in Costa Rica, and on the airplane, I complained very little and restrained (sometimes with gritted teeth) from commentary. She was like, “So, how are you?” I was like, “I’m fine. I’m tired.” Then, an hour later, she was like, “So, how are you?” and I was like, “I’m fine.” And then, a half hour later, she was like, “So, how are you?”
I was like, “Why do you keep asking me how I am? You’re driving me crazy!”
She was like, “You’re not talking. You’re freaking me out.”
I was like, “I spend all day alone, not talking. You just get me at the end of it, when I finally have something to say.”
I’m not sure anyone really believed that, but it was a sort of truth.
Anyhow, the point of our traveling neuroses is this: We had a ton of fun on this vacation. My partner says she’s very grateful I kept my mouth shut because she started noticing her own compulsions without my commentary, which was a new experience all by itself. And then I came home and watched the show An Idiot Abroad and recognized that gritted teeth or no, allowing my partner to just be her own crazy self is an act of love. I mean, she’s actually really cute holding that fucking IPhone up to her blind eyes, and shifting her weight back and forth being all innocent with security officers and custom officials who ask her if she has anything to declare. She says, “Umm, I bought 2 t-shirts. Is that what you mean?”
I would like to follow my partner around with a camera as she travels. I would entitle it, “An Innocent Abroad,” or “Child in Adult Body Visits Central America.” I would not need to torture her, as she seems pretty good at doing that all by herself.
I will also say that Karl Pilkington reminds me of my partner. He so doesn’t want to disappoint the local people he’s been set up to meet–not even the female impersonator who’s made him so uncomfortable (Karl’s a tad homophobic). He is struck by poverty and disease and he loves his creature comforts. The big heartedness and essential goodness–that also reminds me of my partner.
And, in the interests of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I would like to say that in my twenties I ran with the bulls, skydived, tubed down the Gila River in flood season, went free-climbing in the Alps barefoot while not…um…sober, hitchhiked across Spain, Portugal and Japan, and taught whoever wanted to learn about how to do inverted shots. In other words, I might be cool, but seriously, who’s the real Idiot Abroad?