While I am thinking about amulets, charms, and talismans this week, let me share the contents of my left coat pocket–22 Euro cents. I use these coins like worry stones; as I walk along, I rub them between my fingers, passing them one over the other and back again in a circle. The feel of them in my hand is relaxing and never fails to make me smile. If I were Greek, I might carry worry beads to calm myself into a meditative state with rhythmic clicking. If I were Hindu, I might wear a mala on my wrist to count prayers. Cultures and religions across the globe use prayer beads in one form or another to mark the rhythm of letting go, turning over or sinking in. We all need something to fiddle with.
Twenty two cents. That’s what I had left at the end of my last trip to Europe, the week in Paris on my own. Richard and I used to play a game at the end of a trip. We’d try to spend our cash down to the last penny so we weren’t left with any foreign money to take home as souvenirs or god forbid, exchange at Thomas Cook. I have a thimble from Munich, a bookmark from Prague, a postcard from Amsterdam. I once spent my last money on a breakfast banana in Berlin then forgot all about it until I was busted by the USDA beagle sniffer dog once we landed in Atlanta! I’m standing there minding my own business when I look down and the beagle has gone into a sit on the floor next to me and placed her delicate paw right on top of my trusty backpack! ACK!! I guess I’ve seen one too many episodes of “Locked Up Abroad.” I mean, let’s just say…that backpack had done a good bit of living…not “Midnight Express” or anything but y’know. A very serious customs agent escorted me to a plexiglass cubicle where I was directed to open my luggage and keep my hands in view. There sat the contraband banana, cleverly concealed on top of everything. I breathed a sigh of relief and asked, “Does the dog get to keep the banana?” (The answer is no.)
I was in Europe the very day the Euro became the official currency of the Eurozone. Shopkeepers grumbled at having to reprice everything and print new signs and they hated seeing us coming with our super-strong dollars (that was way back when!). The day the currency switched, we were traveling by train to Bruges in Belgium from Delft in the Netherlands, so I kept guilders in my front left pocket, francs in the right, euros in my jacket. It was New Years Day, so the restaurants and shops where we could have used a debit card were closed. It’s pretty frustrating to get crisp new euros out of an ATM only to find that the vending machines all still take the old coin. That explains why we had to make a meal in Ghent of leftover Christmas Hershey bars and two hot Cokes. Ugly Americans…bringing Hersheys to Belgium! It was a last resort. We had mussels and black beer for dinner to atone for the sin.
You can tell by the smooth edges of these coins that they’ve taken away many a worry for me. They’re both from France (the RF mark indicates that) and minted in 2005. I have one phrase that describes that time in my life and I stole it from a New Year’s shop window display in Paris: “Love 2006, F*ck 2005.”
But that’s just my two cents!