The case for the de­fence

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

IN her es­timable 2002 tome, The Pen­guin Book of Eti­quette, my stylish and well-trav­elled friend Mar­ion von Adler­stein im­parted her views on pack­ing.

She sug­gested that if a suit­case is not quite full and there’s a dan­ger of things mov­ing around, ‘‘a smart trick is to blow up bal­loons and use them to load the space with­out adding weight’’. De­flate them, she adds, ‘‘once your bag starts to fill with pa­pers, clothes or sou­venirs along the way’’.

I find pack­ing such a night­mar­ish process that Mar­ion’s ad­vice has led to the oc­ca­sional bad dream in which a cus­toms in­spec­tor, al­ways gruff and some­times tot­ing a gun, has opened my case and been promptly hit in the face by a bal­loon that’s popped out right at him, like an un­corked ge­nie.

In another dream, I am be­ing in­ter­viewed on stage at a sem­i­nar. I have been in­tro­duced as a travel ex­pert and asked to con­vey vignettes of my trav­els (or vi­nai­grettes, as my sons used to say).

Some­where back­stage is one of my suit­cases; it is packed for a forth­com­ing trip to In­dia and has been sur­rep­ti­tiously pro­vided, with its key, by a fam­ily mem­ber who will later re­gret their de­cep­tion. The host, with the daz­zling smile of a white pointer, soon asks me for my pack­ing tips and I lie my socks off about my fa­mous economies and spe­cial space-sav­ing mea­sures.

Mr Toothy turns to the au­di­ence. There is a drum roll and the sounds of scrap­ing and heav­ing as two stage­hands push and pull a trunk the size of a com­pact car and de­posit it in front of me, ob­scur­ing mefrom the au­di­ence. The case is un­locked amid fur­ther mu­si­cal cer­e­mony and those in the front rows crane for a bet­ter look. The smooth host sur­veys its moun­tain­ous con­tents.

‘‘Su­san must in­tend to be gone for some time,’’ he laughs. ‘‘Yes, a week,’’ I re­ply, squeak­ing to be heard above much un­kind tit­ter­ing.

From the top layer, he bran­dishes aloft a ten­nis rac­quet, a se­lec­tion of veils and a jumbo jar of Vegemite.

‘‘Ten­nis, any­one?’’ he laughs, swip­ing the air. I have to ex­plain it is to hit mat­tresses in lesser ho­tels and un­set­tle bed bugs. Those veils of all known colours, lengths and lev­els of gold thread are for fash­ion emer­gen­cies, such as in­vi­ta­tions to take tea with ma­hara­jas, swathe one’s face when aboard an odor­ous camel or to cover unattrac­tive trav­el­ling com­pan­ions, es­pe­cially on long bus rides.

Vegemite? C’mon. No one of any sub­stance ven­tures be­yond our bor­ders with­out a jar of the pre­cious black spread. I have given it to driv­ers to use as axle grease when funny old Am­bas­sador cars have bro­ken down in In­dia. When tea-tree oil and vitamin E cream have run out, I’ve smeared it on in­sect bites and chapped skin.

The dream usu­ally ends as the hall erupts with ap­plause and peo­ple push for­ward to be pho­tographed with the mag­i­cal trunk. Some­times bal­loons are let off in great gusts and I think of Mar­ion and re­ally hope that she isn’t watch­ing. As I wake, there is al­ways the very clear im­age of an un­smil­ing sem­i­nar host, who ap­pears to have the taste of vinai­grette in his mouth.

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