Travel Notes

Remembering the Concorde (which may come back)


Travel was just something we did. Mother was a vagabond in her younger days, and Father’s people were travelers dating back a dozen centuries or so. Somehow getting onto a plane, train or into a car was never a schlep — in fact, it was always the suspense of yet another great adventure. And as an Anglo-Saxon bubchen nothing could beat this stomach fluttering feeling.


The 90s were brutal for many reasons; paired down minimalism and grunge music infused basically everything – lest we forget the Spice Girls in all this. But the one place that rejected all of the “comme ci, comme ça” was the sky. In fact this was a very particular member of the skies – the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde. Deemed as the fastest plane it was British Airways and Air France that allowed for a love affair above the Atlantic. Here, in turbo-jet supersonic speed, nothing was ever too much to ask and every finery you could imagine just wondrously arrived at your seat.


A flight from Paris to New York, Mother’s favorite, or our more frequented route London to the city that never sleeps, took a mere three hours with change. Just enough time to be seated in an umber and orange floral, no less, printed seat and order blushed champagne. I was allowed sparkling water, and a few sips of this high altitude elixir that Mother had a penchant for only whilst flying. I sipped, she sipped and quietly we would both indulge in reveries glistening from where we once came and where we were setting out for.


But the preparations began long before — Mother, a French import, believed in a sense of occasion and this was to be upheld at all costs. She was never Elizabeth Taylor about this as she was much more discreet. But graciousness inspired the dressing up for the flight. “It might not be as long as a wedding day, but it’s as much fun, no?” she would say. My concept of weddings was limited, but besides for the dancing it actually didn’t seem that much fun. I, the much-adored only child, was garbed in Pierre Cardin for Kids for either such occasion. Although the designer was famously Italian, Mother’s continental sensibility transcended right onto my rather ridiculous space age kindled wardrobe.


Luckily I was never forced into a Nanoscale suit as I think Mother knew that would send anyone into years of therapy and over analysis. My desire for extreme color and arrant comfort was apparently expressed from a very young age – but for the love of Cardin there was going to be wool. “If you sit still it won’t scratch,” Mother tried. It was a sort of dance we did before leaving for the airport; she’d urge me to wear a lacerating jumper and I’d reject its very existence. Even at a tender age of under 10 I was able to argue that one would never sit still on the plane and in mid air wool becomes more, umm, woolly.



Big Bird: Actually, it wasn’t very big, and the seats were cramped Photo provided by Wonderlust



Dressed, for success? But dressed nevertheless; the Concorde lounge awaited. These were the days of no money changing hands here and it was all endowed with bona fide leather high back Chesterfields, soft petit fours next to Tarte Tatins and beautiful (always puzzlingly tall) maître d’s holding court. I indulged in all things familiar and the evidence — including powdered sugar and still delicious crumbs — tarried on my clothes. “Like this you cannot board that plane” Mother would protest and I would be sent to the lavatory to clean up my act.


The whole boarding process was elegant back then. One by one couples, families and glamorous singletons would step onto the plane finding gifts waiting on the seats – a leather wallet that I still use today was for me and a family sized silver photo frame was for Mother. Today that frame holds a photo of us ordering drinks and waiting for take off to just another intercontinental voyage.


Rumors of Concorde 2 and the son of Concorde have existed since the big bird’s retirement in 2003 but nothing could ever compare to the glory days of travel of the original. “Ah yes the days of fast travel – how I miss them”, Mother would whisper under her breath. Today I’m on a plane every week – none of them as fast as the Concorde and I guess none of them as adventurous either. But I order drinks in the exact way as 20 years ago – actually I still drink sparkling water every single time.