When I was much younger (but undoubtedly looked exactly the same as I do now) my grandmother bought me the book “Our Hearts were Young and Gay” by Cornelia Otis Skinner. The book, subtitled, “An Unforgettable Comic Chronicle of Innocents Abroad in the 1920s” is an account of the misadventures of the author and her accident prone friend Emily as they strike out alone to cross the Atlantic and discover Europe. Ever trying to prove their sophistication and experience they rather prove they are anything but sophisticated and experienced. However they unquestionably return with much better stories than any sophisticated traveller could ever possibly acquire.
My Grandma sensed that in Emily and Cornelia I would find kindred spirits, and she was quite right. Soon after reading the book I moved with my family to London, was bitten by the travel bug and have not stayed in the same place for any significant amount of time since. And with every trip, I unfailingly think of Cornelia and Emily as I stumble into absurd situations with my various partners in crime. The adventures in the book are timeless. Over sixty years after their epic trip I can still see myself doing any number of the things they did - whether they meant to or not. The setting and year may change but the adventures and the spirit behind them do not. To me, they were the original 'oblivious and abroad' and I am more than happy to wander aimlessly through Europe, knowing they wandered aimlessly before me.
While in Paris, one morning Cornelia wakes to find her lip has swollen quite fantastically the day she is to meet a gentleman. She and Emily rush to a pharmacy trying to fix the swelling while not owning up to the embarrassment of having bed bugs. I cannot do the episode justice so I won’t try but this episode has been particularly relevant to my life this week...
The Pest Control Debacle of ’10: Bed Bugs BITE.
Apparently I have bed bugs, which my cleaning woman is baffled by because my room is one of the cleaner ones she’s seen…just for the record. So after over a week of waking up covered in welts (“bites” does not do them justice), and sleeping on my floor, the school sent over a pest control man to see what was going on and if there was anything he could do. OK. I love Edinburgh, but as a general rule the school is crazy.
Bug Man looked around, and tried to bond by commenting on my running numbers. Apparently he has run one of the same races I have. Fantastic, we are now bffs. He looked at the bed, through the bed, under the bed…
“Good news!” he cried, “There are no bugs here!”
“OK but please look at my arms. There are bugs here. Can you please just spray so I can stop being scared of my bed?”
“Well if I can’t see bugs I’m not legally allowed to spray”
“OK, but I am COVERED in bites”
“But there aren’t any bugs”
“BUT I AM COVERED IN BITES!”
He started packing up, inching his way towards the door. This was not good.
“So, can I see these bites?” I showed my quarter sized welts. “No I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do. There are no bugs”
Bug Man and I were NOT bff. I glared.
“Tell you what, if you see a bug, put it in a jar, call me up, and I’ll come back”
“I have upwards of ten bites and I haven’t seen one bug. Because I am ASLEEP when they bite me.”
“I didn’t see any bugs.”
“You can see my arms!”
“Yes well. Just find one. Put it in a j-….” I couldn’t hear the rest because he had already scurried down the hall and was yelling this back at me as he rounded the corner.
Again. I love Edinburgh. But this would definitely go in the “WTF Edinburgh?!” category. I basically told the housing office they will be getting me a new bed. The guard commented that if the bug man didn’t see any bugs….I thrust my arms at him. “THERE ARE BUGS.” This guard, by the way thinks I am insane, but luckily that would be endearingly (or at least tolerably) insane. So he said he’d look into it. I’ll consider that a win.
Cornelia and Emily would be so proud.