Sunday, November 6, 2011

Riding The Orient Express

Hello. I have just ridden The Orient Express.

That's right: The Orient Express, the Venice-Simplon line, which travels overnight from Paris to Venice. This was, if you recall, dear reader, entirely my mother's idea. It was her idea of how one might travel around the world for at least part of a year abroad, and my presence on this fabled Junket of Dreams was the result of her very generous offer to allow me to live vicariously (or, actually) through her.

I have to admit: I thought this seemed like a pretty odd idea at first. Something a little stuffy, perhaps, a touch kitschy and out of date. But the night of our departure from the Gare de l'Est at 10 p.m., standing on platform #5 on an actual red carpet, watching women and men swan past in full 1920's style evening dress, complete with tuxedos and backless dresses and whole fox pelts draped around their shoulders, I had to come to one conclusion:


It was a slowly dawning realization.

The first sign that this might actually be awesome was the fact that there were little adorable Italian men in uniform everywhere.

And not only were these adorable little Italian men in uniform everywhere, they were everywhere WITH CHAMPAGNE.

And not only were there glasses of champagne being poured by little adorable Italian men in uniform everywhere, the whole train was kept in mint-1926 condition, which meant wood paneling with floral parquet inlay, plush carpets, attractive pseudo-gas lamp mood lighting, and brass fittings up the proverbial wazoo.

And not only were there adorable little Italian men in uniform everywhere, glasses and glasses of champagne, and now my own newly Art Deco-stuffed wazoo, there was also A FOUR COURSE GOURMET MEAL.

And not only were there a pants-filling four-course gourmet meal, my Art Deco-filled wazoo, glasses of champagne, and these innumerable wee Italian waiters in uniform, but there was, at the end of it all, Venice.

But, because I am me, there was still something standing in the way between all this and utter bliss.

And what was it?

My clothing.

For those of you who know me, you know that if there is one thing I love more than a big free meal and a newly popped bottle of Prosecco, it is the chance to dress up. I dress up all the time, for little to no reason, and since I've moved to Utah, I now dress up consciously, even a touch vengefully, as I am annoyed and even a little horrified by the utter lack of sartorial sense that the bulk of Utahns seem to possess. These are people who go to the Opera in SLACKS. These are people whose idea of a big night out means wearing something studded with rhinestones atop a pair of jeans so tight they don't just give the unfortunate wearer a muffin-top, they give her a portabello mushroom overhang.

In my private protest of Salt Lake City's lack of style, I show up to department meetings in a Prada coat (sold my house: it was my one big splurge). I am the kind of woman who owns a Marchessa ball gown (bought on Gilt!) and saves up her money all year to buy Italian leather riding boots. I am the kind of woman who owns not one but FIVE little black dresses. (And a lot of blue ones, too.) And, living in Salt Lake City, where you can go to the town's best restaurants in a pair of pressed jeans, there is absolutely no reason ever, EVER, to wear any one of these things.

Essentially, I've been overdressed for the past 9 years.

But not on The Orient Express. As I watched women walk past in whisper-thin silk gowns and Manolo Blahnik heels, I almost had to swallow a scream. Because I was wearing a dumpy white shirt over jeans and a stupid tie-die scarf tucked under my boringly servicable winter coat. My good outfit was a very cheap Alexander Wang t-shirt dress I would be wearing with a drapy black smoking jacket, topped off with a swipe of Carnal lipstick. This was it. That's all I had. Meanwhile, the train was filled with women and men in jewel-toned evening wear, dripping jewelry--real and costume. There were people wearing silk stockings that cost almost as much as my entire outfit.

I just about threw myself under the train.

I know it's shallow. But you don't understand. For nine years, I'd been complaining about other people's lack of dress style. FOR NINE YEARS, I'D BEEN TRAINING FOR THIS VERY MOMENT. AND NOW THAT IT WAS HERE, I HAD NOTHING TO WEAR.


My mother, tipsy from the champagne, waved me off. "Oh, don't worry about it," she said. "People will just think you're a graduate student from the Eastern Bloc or something."


Sullking in my cabin, drowning my sorrows in champagne, I thought of all my lovely clothes stored right now in linen garment bags, shelved and unloved in my apartment wardrobe. My beautiful Anna Sui dresses. My Marchessa. My gold fringed sandals with the sky high heels. How, I could hear them pleading at me all the way from Utah, HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN TO US?

Easy, I thought. I couldn't fit any of you into my suitcase.

Sigh. I just had to resign myself to enjoying the ride in full scruffy glamor. Which, I'm glad to say, I did. It certainly helped meeting two of the loveliest people during dinner: a long-married couple from Long Island who were celebrating the husband's recent retirement from teaching music to 5th graders for the past 33 years. If anyone deserves to ride The Orient Express, it's a pair of public school teachers of music from Long Island. And from them, over a three hour meal together, I happened to learn this little interesting fact: Public school teachers in Long Island make upwards of $100,000 a year.

That's right: $100,000.

Let's all offer up a moment of gratitude to the great state of New York. At least teachers are appreciated somewhere.

I also learned from them a nifty personal fact about their traveling life together. Evidently, whenever this couple goes on vacation, each of them chooses a different cologne or perfume to wear for the entire trip, so that later when one or the other wears this scent, they both get to relive the pleasures of the trip during which they first encountered this scent. It's kind of Proust meets The Bridges of Madison County, and I thought it was really the sweetest thing ever.

And then it made me mad that I hadn't packed my perfume for this trip, either.

Regardless, that night my mother and I tucked ourselves into our luxuriously compact sleeping compartment, to be rocked gently asleep across Switzerland and Austria before waking up at 3 a.m., dehydrated from all the champagne and the lack of circulating air.

And that's The Orient Express. No Dimitri, no handcuffs, no (free) trays of martinis. But amazing nonetheless. Even with me on it, wearing this godforsaken outfit.



  1. Paisley,I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog. It is vicarious living at its best. Say hello to
    Venice for me.

  2. Fantastic. Also, I would have been in full-on sulk mode for the very same reason, as I too am overdressed for everything, for the exact same reasons. But I am so very very glad to be able to read about this experience. Venice!

  3. Excellent. And for the record: I'm as big a lob as anyone, but I would never go to the opera in anything but a formal gown.

  4. You need to show up at the opera and represent! There's a nice slice of SLC that dresses for that, but that's about it, and even then it seems largely swamped by people who look like they just hit the dressy aisle of Old Navy. But in the wrong size. And now that's how I look over here every day.