Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Married travelers

Agony, ecstasy, baggage

Over cappuccinos at The Cincinnatian Hotel a few years ago, Mary-Lou Weisman warned about the rigors of middle age.

"If you've begun to wonder why your gums recede, if you have Tums in your pocket and Mylanta in your drawer, and if you have your proctologist's phone number on speed dial, you've reached middle age."

I am pretty sure nobody at the hotel noticed when I laughed so hard that steamed milk came out my nose. Even when she is laying bare some uncomfortable truth, she is very funny. Very.

Now the author of My Middle-Aged Baby Book has issued a middle-aged travel advisory. Her credentials are impressive. After more than 40 years of extensive world travel - "from honeymoon to Elderhostel" - with her husband, Larry, she says they still like each other.

Expensive sleepover

Their first son was conceived during their wedding trip, in a tent on the Lido during a hurricane.

"Now I want a bed. I want indoors. I want water pressure." The challenge, she says, is to continue to have an authentic travel experience. Even if you're not poor or besotted.

A honeymoon, no matter how much it costs and how exotic the destination, is not really travel. A honeymoon is merely an officially sanctioned, unnecessarily expensive sleepover. Even your grandparents know what you are going to be doing most of the time, and they think it's cute. And neither of you will evaluate the trip based on scenery, cuisine or whether you've packed the right clothes.

It's hard to imagine, but this will change.

"Being the same old couple in a new and different place is a disorienting experience," according to Mary-Lou in Traveling While Married (Algonquin Books, $15.95). "All too often, when people don't know where they are, have jet lag, don't speak the language and can't figure out the money or maintain intestinal regularity, they get hostile. And since they don't know anybody else in Kyoto to take it out on, they take it out on each other."

At first, she says, it was easier. "Back when melanoma sounded like an imported fruit," her vacation goal was simply to get a decent tan. By Day Three, Larry was pacing the beach and teaching other people's children to build sand castles. "By Day Four, he'd resumed smoking." They simply have, she says, different ideas of how to vacation. He wants to outrun molten lava down a volcano. She prefers raking gravel in a Buddhist monastery. She shops a country. He eats it.

"Every thing she writes," Larry says, "is true, but seen through her special lens. For instance, I might just say I like a more active vacation." So they went white-water rafting one year and to a spa the next. She told him wearing tights would make him feel "stretchy and catlike." He told her if he wanted to feel catlike, he'd get a litter box.

"Travel can make or break a marriage," she says. "It restores ours. We have long philosophical discussions. We taste each other's food. We run holding hands. We sing in the car." They make jokes. They compromise.

And they come home together.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.

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