Monday, February 11, 2008

A Case Is A Case Is A Case

I cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be referred to as one that has packing down to a fine art, as the Vogue cliché would have it when very well-off women of all ages give all the ins-and-outs of their travel from its perfect pages. Unlike many other inexplicable genetic blunders (why I cannot sing to save my life despite numerous attempts that included recording myself and listening for melodic errors I could then correct for example), I do know perfectly well why I am not an Artist Packer, as I like to call these; I am not because I just do not believe there can be anything artistic in packing. Calling it ‘the art of packing a suitcase’ is an example of the proverbial tongue-in-cheek hyperbole that leaves the nation split in two: the smug ones (and their footmen) that get it, people like Elton John and the Queen for example, and the angry ones that sit on a case that just would not give in and damn close will you you bastard.

Over the years and over many wanted and unwanted travels, I have been in turn the one that was packing her entire house in order to satisfy the primordial just-in-case instinct built into any Virgo out there, and the minimalist Armani-traveler that whizzed from plane to cab to home with her handbag alone (or a birthday cake under her arm on one very special occasion). I resented these packing styles equally and felt that I did not just miss the domestic gene, but the packing one as well. In the first instance I would feel like an Egyptian donkey and indeed looked just as appealing under unwanted layers of clothing and pulling unnecessary pounds and pounds and pounds of stuff that slowed me down to an ungraceful crawl highlighted by a perlescent forehead. In the second instance, I would end up having to buy duplicates of everything at every destination which now explains why I have sixteen pair of tweezers and sixty pairs of shoes (I kid you not, I once arrived in New York in the middle of winter, snow and ice, click-clacking in one pair of dinky, open-backed Manolos on my feet, the only pair I had taken).

Something drastic happened that put my split-personality disorder in check: my back gave in, years of agony followed and I now pack a trimmed down selection of clothes and purposely leave home plenty of essentials that I can and will find in shops wherever I am going. I discovered that the toiletry bag does not have to weight more than the ski boots and that Sephora or Duane Reade provide a psychological comfort blanket that allows me to leave nail polish remover, cotton balls, cotton buds, full-sized shampoo, conditioner, body cream, hairspray and all the rest of them at home, safe in the knowledge that even the French or the Americans have shaving gels and tampons. The result is that I never, under any circumstances, pack more than one suitcase and this suitcase is now on average 8 kilos below the weight limit. If you consider that the rigid case itself is a hefty 6 kilos when empty, I am really only taking 7 kilos of personal possessions. Heck, if I were one of those animals that rushes to board in order to snatch the first overhead locker, claws dug deep into the bag, bared teeth glistening in the suffused white light, I could even take this on board. But I’d much rather sit in the lounge with only a little handbag and my computer, so that I can powder my nose as per need and type up this stuff when I have to wait. Consider this for example:

Do you know what is in there? Five dresses, three shirts, two belts, one pair of trousers, one skirt, one cardigan, eleven pairs of tights, two set of thermals, eleven pairs of knickers, five bras, two pairs of shoes, one nightie, one pair of wooly socks, a fur muff and matching hat, two scarves, one pair of long gloves, three jumpers, cables, adapters, batteries, all toiletries including makeup. And you cannot even see it. Total weight 13 kilos (includes the 6 kilos for the empty). How can this be? The dresses are all silk or silk thread (think Diane Von Furstenberg and Flora Kung), the shirts are all silk, the jumpers are all cashmere. Now you can see why they weight nothing, even when together. It is good going for two weeks in New York in freezing temperatures. The down coat, boots and long thick jumper dress are being worn in the journey and therefore take no space nor weight. As for the neat little fabric bags, they keep everything in place, neatly folded, ready to be whipped out at the Waldorf and stored in drawers or the wardrobe as applies.

Am I now part of the smug crowd? Not smug, or maybe only a little. I feel a lot more relaxed though, safe in the knowledge that I can lift and pull my case unaided without dislocating my shoulder or breaking into an unsightly and very un-lady-like sweat and that I even have enough space for something new. Vogue won’t be coming to take a pic of my suitcase any time soon or to get my tips on how to do it, but that is really because I like to call a spade a spade; a packed suitcase is not art, but common sense. A Jackson Pollock is art, even though it may look like psychedelic vomit to some.
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