Ernest who?

Corey Stoll as Hemmway in Midnight in Paris on the left; the real Hemmingway on the right

AGMA made a hard decision last month.

My niece’s 20 year old au pair, H, wanted to visit Chicago.  My niece & fam live just outside of DC.  H is a delightful young woman from Germany and the whole family adores her.

But she has the misfortune of being the in the US during 2020.

‘Nuff said.

So instead of visiting the incredible Smithsonian Museums, imposing Federal Buildings, or just exploring one of the most beautiful cities in the US, she’s been quarantining at my nieces home.

She’s not been able to travel to see other parts of the US like most au pairs were able to do “before”.  Pre-COVID, she managed a visit to New York City (when she first arrived), Boston (her 1st host family) & Seattle (solo trip).

Another important part of the au pair experience is connecting with other au pairs.  Remember, these young ladies (not sure if guys do this…) have no friends in the US when they come over, so the local au pair community gives them a much needed social outlet and support.

Coronavirus put an end to that as well.

So when H mentioned she would love to see Chicago when we were visiting my niece & fam during the Great Train Adventure last month, I said, “Please come and visit us!”

We told her about our teeny extra bedroom and bathroom in our tiny apartment. But warned her that we lived in a basement Hobbit hole.

AGMA seriously didn’t expect her to take us up on our offer.

I mean, we’re in the latter half of our 60’s and old enough to be her Oma & Opa.  And she had known us for less than 48 hours when we had this conversation, so we were basically strangers. But I guess she didn’t think we were too weird.

It’s good to get that affirmation from time to time.

I’ve discovered in meeting my niece’s other au pairs over the years, that a young woman who has the moxie to take 12 months out of their young lives, away from their family & friends, to travel alone to the US to work for a family they’ve never met in person are pretty comfortable and good conversationalists with people of all ages.

Plus, she’s heading back home in February.

Yup – she wanted to come visit and soon.

But our son and DIL here in Chicago are very uncomfortable with the idea of anybody flying during the pandemic being around their kids.  And anybody spending any extended time in a Hobbit hole with anybody who has flown on a plane.

This is a scary virus and AGMA totally respects their concerns.

So, if we hosted H, we would have to quarantine from our grandchildren for 14 days to make sure we hadn’t gotten the virus from her.

Now that was a tough one,

We opted to be H’s tour guide to the Windy City.

Our 5 year old grandson, who is terrified of the virus, was cool with us staying away until we were deemed “safe”.  Our 3 year old granddaughter was just concerned we’d have toys for her on her birthday at the end of October.  I assured her we would.  And the 16 month old had no idea what was going on.

So we were good to go!

H arrived on a Friday evening and left Sunday evening.  And in-between it was a wild and wooly 48 hours!

Socially distanced, masked highlights included:

  • The Art Institute of Chicago (and their special Monet exhibit)
  • An architectural boat tour on the Chicago River
  • Strolling up the Magic Mile on Michgan Ave
  • Seeing the “bean” in Millennium Park (it was roped off due to the damn virus)
  • Drive by Wrigley Field and the University of Chicago
  • The Picasso on Daley Plaza
  • Greek food in Greek town
  • Chicago Pizza at Giordono’s (AGMA’s fave!)
  • A Chicago hot dog at Jr. Red Hots
  • Cinnamon buns at Ann Sathers
  • Gelato on Rush St.

Inspired by the Monet exhibit at the AIOC and the fact that H liked the movie Yesterday, AGMA suggested that we watch one of my favorite movies of all time, Midnight in Paris, on Saturday night.  It combines a loose theme of French impressionism with a fantasy story (like in Yesterday), so I thought she’d love it.

It tanked like tRump at a TikTok convention .

Without giving away the plot, Midnight in Paris features famous artistic types in the 1920’s in Paris. Ernest Hemingway, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, T.S Elliot, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Josephine Baker, etc…

It didn’t dawn on AGMA that a 20 year old raised in Germany would have no idea who most of those people were.  But it kinda makes sense.  Many are American’s and, while famous in the US, I’m guessing that kids in German high schools never read The Great Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises or heard “Anything Goes” or “Too Darned Hot”.

But still, it felt a little strange to have to explain who they were to her.

AGMA recognized that look in her eyes. Boring…

She went to bed about halfway through the movie.

She didn’t get to see Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray & Djuna Barnes, Paul Gaugin, Edgar Degas or Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

To be totally honest, I had to read about Bunuel, Ray, and Barnes after I first watched Midnight in Paris.  

Everyday’s a school day.

I just need to remember that those GenZ-ers haven’t had the benefit of a lifetime of education and experience like AGMA.

(That’s another way of saying I’m old!)

Overall, H had a wonderful visit to Chicago and gushed about how wonderful it was, how much fun she had, and the yummy food (don’t judge her!)  And Hubs and I both had a great time hosting her. 

And the really good news is that it looks like H didn’t get COVID from her plane ride.  Yippee!  And we, consequently, have not come down with the virus.  Double yippee!

And we were allowed to resume visiting the grands after only 11 days.

It’s De-Lovely!

My weekend in Istanbul – Part 2

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The forbidden women’s section of Cagaloglu Hamami!

When we last left our heroines, they were stranded in Istanbul with no money and no way home.  They were falling on desperate times so had to start working in a Turkish brothel….

Just kidding.

AGMA always did have a flare for the dramatic!

Our first full day of touring Istanbul was wonderful!  We went to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  We ate incredible sweet treats at the Hafiz Mustafe 1864 close to the Sultanahmet tram stop.  I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E.

Then we were off to Cagaloglu Hamami Turkish bath.  I was a bit nervous about talking my 3 friends into going with me….

While AGMA thinks a Turkish bath is probably the closest to heaven I will get on this earth, I understand that it’s not everybody’s cup o’ tea (the sauna, being pretty much all naked, the scrubbing with a kese mitt and the BUBBLES – oh Lord… THE BUBBLES!)

They adored it!  Whew.

All squeaky clean, back at our hotel, we discovered a letter has been slipped under our door.

???

I read it.  C read it.  I reread it. C reread it.

“Does this say what I think it says?”  I asked.

Yup!  It was a letter from the Gate1 tour director in Turkey telling us that we were going to be picked up at 6:30 AM the next morning to be taken to a different hotel in Istanbul so we could join up with the tour group that left on their tour of Turkey the day before ours was supposed to leave.  We could just pop in with them and spend the next 11 days touring Turkey instead of going home.

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me…

C & I aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, but we had learned our lesson (the expensive way) about travel during a global pandemic.  We were going to get out butts home ASAP.

HOWEVER, K&D, our travel companions, thought staying was just a dandy idea.

WTF???

Our eyes rolled all the way around in their sockets!

So they were off the next day.  And we got regular texts throughout the day from them saying how wonderful their new tour friends were. And how nice the tour manager was and that they were soooooo glad they decided to stay.

More eye rolling.

But C & I did have a 2nd lovely day in Istanbul.  HOHO bus, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market, wandering the very crowded, not socially distant streets around the Bazaar and Market.  That evening we had an incredible dinner with a fabulous view of The Golden Horn sitting next to a table with two hot Frenchmen.

Did AGMA say that out loud?

But we were very happy to head Istanbul’s beautiful new airport the next day  (3/15) to make our way back home.

In the meantime, K kept posting pictures of their trip on Facebook – the massive hotel breakfast buffet, the Anzac cemetery at Gallipoli, the ancient city of Troy.

At this point, it was obvious that things were getting pretty serious at home, so worried looks replaced our eye rolling.  But they were adults right?  Maybe?

As we settled into our extra legroom exit row bulkhead seats on the plane (I rarely upgrade, but thought it might be a good idea), it was obvious that people were nervous.  I could see the masked guy sitting next to me sizing me up  as to whether I was “safe” or not.

I tried not to cough…

Then we got the “What a surprise.  NOT!” text from K&D.  They just found out their tour was suspended.  They were heading back to Istanbul.  To, once again, be stranded.

I didn’t, but AGMA sooooo wanted to say “We hate to tell you we told you so, but we told you so!”

They assured us that the tour company was going to make all of their arrangements to get back to the US even though they had booked their airfare (like we did) through an OTA and not the tour company.

Back to eye rolling.

The flight to Atlanta was uneventful.  We spent quite a bit of time reading the breaking news from the US as well as getting updates from K&D.  They and the rest of their tour group were very upset the tour was cancelled and BEGGED their Turkish guide to continue.

Again, WTF???

Turkish Airways served a nice dinner complete with a lovely French red wine from Bordeaux.  Seriously, it was the best wine I’ve ever had on an airplane.  I had several little bottles.

If ever there was a time to get lit, I was pretty sure this was it!

But, oddly, the dinner included a side of beans.

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Beans.

The flight was 12.5 hours.  There were about 450 people on board.  It could have gotten real ugly…

Note to self…send an email to Turkish Airways to suggest they may want to rethink that side dish.

When we got to Atlanta, we braced for being screened, scanned, probed, questioned, and possibly told we had to quarantine.

What happened was a joke.

We had to stay on the airplane while some masked Feds came on board and asked us to complete a form.  The form asked if we had been in China in the last 14 days; if we had been around anybody with the coronavirus; if we felt sick.

That was it.  At this time, Europe was being slammed by COVID – 19.  No questions about Italy.  Or France.  Or Spain.  Or the UK.

Then they gave us a paper with information about the coronavirus, and let us deplane.  We got our luggage, breezed through customs and were on the streets of Altanta in about 30 minutes.

That was it.  No thermal scans.  No infrared thermometers.  Of course, no tests.  And we weren’t told to quarantine.

AGMA still wonders how many people on that plane had the virus.

The next day, after a decent night’s sleep in my bed, we found out that K&D had been “deserted” by their tour guide and were told that they had to make their own arrangements to get back home.

Damn – I hate it when I’m right!

They ended up leaving Istanbul on March 17th (2 days after us) but, in total, their trip to get home, with 2 layovers was 26 hours.  So they actually got home on March 18th.

So the moral of this story, boys and girls, is NOT to travel when WHO declares a global pandemic.

And if you do, have enough sense to come home when the Universe tell you to.

My friends, stay home, stay safe and TRY to stay sane!