The Difference Between Baggage and a Suitcase
Sunday night’s Mad Men episode was all about suitcases, a topic that’s gotten a lot of coverage here on The Window Seat. In the show, the suitcase not only embodied the metaphor of possibility, durability, and “going places,” but also that which weighs us down, our “baggage.” It has always struck me as unsettling that the suitcase, tied so intrinsically in my mind to travel and adventure and the call of the unknown, would also have this flip-side negative connotation. “He’s got baggage,” we say, to imply that someone carries a heavy emotional load.
Over the Labor Day weekend, the suitcase had already lived up to these themes even before the Mad Men viewing. My parents had traveled to the Bay Area for a brief visit, and they checked one large and ancient galumph of a suitcase. I met them at SFO baggage claim, and claimed this soft-sided monstrosity, which had gone way over the 50-pound limit. Back crunching, I lifted the bag off the conveyer belt and then dragged it out to the curb in the fog, wondering what on Earth my parents could have packed into that thing to make it so heavy when they were only staying for two and a half days.
Talk about emotionally loaded baggage–what it ended up being filled with was old yearbooks and framed family photos for my sister and me (I don’t know about you, but every time my parents come to visit they come laden with household items they want to get rid of). Entirely by accident, we discovered that there were photos behind the photos in the frames, forgotten layers of our family history that had traveled from other times and places.
Here’s what happened: A picture of my father, sister, and me sparked a debate as to when and where it was taken, leading us to open one of the frames to see if the date was printed on the back of the photo. It wasn’t, but what we did find beneath was a college-age version of my uncle posing stoically before the Great Wall of China, and behind that from the other side of the globe, a shot of my grandmother—who looked radiant and beautiful—holding an infant me just outside Washington only a few years before the untimely passing that launched my uncle’s soul-searching voyage in the previous shot.
It was a mini-journey through a frame that had already been carried for nearly 3,000 miles across the country in a heavy and oversized suitcase. It was baggage that was emptied out and completely refilled by a number of wine bottles purchased over the Labor Day weekend during new adventures we took (along with a whole bunch of new family photos yet to be framed) in the sunny Sonoma Valley. Both spirits and the weight limit significantly lightened, the suitcase was no longer baggage, and it was now ready to make its way back onto the plane—it was back to “going places,” to whatever possibilities its future travels as a suitcase may bring.
Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member cindylou11157
My name: Rachel Berg.
Favorite way to get around: By Venetian gondola during starlit high tide, gliding past decaying and slightly spooky palaces, with perhaps a bottle of prosecco placed between the gondola seat cushions.
View that took my breath away: Unable to sleep in the mystical city of Sfat in Israel, I wandered outdoors predawn and was treated to a purple-on-purple sunrise below the mountaintop that seemed to emerge feet-first through ground-level clouds.
Greatest travel lesson learned: Sunny weather isn't everything. Some of my best travel memories involve go-karting through a deluge turned mud-fest in Mexico, drinking tea in the cold Denali tundra, and watching electric thunderstorms roll through national parks out West.
Most challenging travel moment: Getting leveled by altitude sickness in Cuzco and realizing that my body was forcing me to slow down and rest despite the fact that there was so much to do and see.
Travel ambition: To see the northern lights.