Just before Sam and I left on our honeymoon, I asked my son Tony and daughter-in-law Marissa if there was anything special they’d like me to bring back from France or Italy. “I don’t know,” Marissa shrugged, leaving her options open, knowing I’d never come home empty-handed (Marissa likes a lot of stuff; she is a delight to shop for).
“Cheese,” said Tony. “I want a French cheese and an Italian cheese. I don’t care what kind, as long as it’s something you can’t buy in the United States.”
Cheese? I shouldn’t have been surprised. Tony has always asked for unusual gifts. Once, when I was on my way to a Remainders gig in Miami, he asked for a map of the Everglades. I couldn’t find one, and I’m not sure he’s ever forgotten that parental lapse.
The best cheese shop in Paris was about a half-mile away from our digs, but they don’t ship to the United States, and it seemed all wrong to carry a smelly cheese around for the duration of our trip. Our friend Amy offered to bring a U.S. Customs-approved vacuum-packed French cheese home with her for us and I hope she remembers. We had a swell week in Paris, and then it was on to Italy where I pondered—for an embarrassing amount of time each day—how to transport cheese across international borders.
The cheese shop I found on our last day in Italy was in Venice, and they didn’t offer the vacuum-packed Customs-approved option. But the proprietress assured me, via the international language of Pantomime, that this particular parmesan could last up to three days without refrigeration. So I wrapped it in plastic, rolled the package up in a t-shirt, and stuck it in the bottom of my carry-on bag.
We changed flights in Frankfurt, where we spent nearly an hour on the ground. We were told to stand in an orderly line and have our documents ready. At the first security check point a large, unsmiling, uniformed man checked my passport and boarding documents. He looked at me with his piercing Teutonic blue eyes and I could tell he was waiting for me to crumble. But I held on to my wits and my carry-on bag, and made it through without giving myself up.
At the second check point we were directed through an electronic screening device so sensitive that my underwire bra set off the entire airport’s alarm system. I thought for sure I’d be busted as I watched my bag ride through a space-aged x-ray machine, but apparently the Frankfurt airport security system is more concerned with detecting underwear than edibles. Sweating bullets, I followed a long line of fellow underwearing travelers down a long corridor to our gate.
At the third security check point we had to stand on two separate lines. On the first line, we had to show our passports and boarding passes again. On the second line, we had to trade our boarding passes in for another kind of boarding pass that was somehow more valid. We also had to fill out paperwork. Don’t ask me what the paperwork was about, because I was so nervous about the cheese that I couldn’t begin to tell you. But you know what? No one actually asked if I was packing a parmesan. So, against all odds, we boarded the plane, found our seats, and settled in. (I feel compelled to note that though we spent a week in Italy, our passports were never stamped once. We’d taken a train from Paris to Verona and were asleep when we crossed the border: no one ever asked...but we had to get stamped like crazy in Frankfurt, where we never left the airport and stayed less than an hour. They do love their paperwork in Frankfurt!)
Then there was an eleven-hour flight to San Francisco, during which I watched four movies, read “War and Peace,” and wrote a screenplay.
The U.S. Customs agent looked like a pussycat compared to those Germans, not likely to cause trouble...so I wasn’t worried. He looked at my passport and asked if I had anything to declare. Thinking of nothing but going home to bed, I shook my head no. But then he asked if we’d bought anything in our travels.
“Just a few souvenirs...”
“Did you transport any food or beverages?”
And—oh dear—I looked him dead in the eye and said:
“Nah,” as though he was a fool to ask...but kindly.
He stamped our passports and waved us through.
Causes Kathi Goldmark Supports
Support for Families of Children with Disabilities Friends of the San Francisco Public Library National Kidney Foundation of Northern California Litquake...