In 2006, we lived in Lyon in a 17th century apartment, just up Montée de Chemin Neuf about 300m from the old town, Vieux Lyon, with its cobbled narrow streets, subterranean traboules and gastronomic restaurants. I was on the first sabbatical I had ever taken in more than 25 years as an academic. I had a desk at the WHO’s International Agency for Research in Cancer and wrote a textbook on public health advocacy across 8 months of one of the best years of my life.
We became great friends with some neighbours, Claire-Marie and Phillipe. Two years after returning home, we returned to Europe on a holiday and decided to fly first to Lyon and spend time with them again.
We decided to take them a really good Australian wine. I bought a Penfolds St Henri. I fretted about it being smashed in the stowed luggage, even if packed in rolls of clothing in the centre of the suitcase. So I packed in it in my hand luggage.
The luggage scanning camera picked it up as we went through customs, just after immigration and of course it was confiscated. In the excitement of the departure, I’d totally forgotten about the liquids ban. “Are you some kind of moron, Simon?” Trish said to me loudly as the uniformed customs man placed it in the box where all the confiscated perfumes, cosmetics, and nail files so often used by terrorists to hijack aircraft were stored for destruction each day. I had visions of the loud guffawing in the customs officers’ staff room and scissors-paper-rock rounds being played to find which one would take my bottle home.
“Well, you idiot, we’re now going to have to buy a replacement in the duty-free area here and so pay all that money all over again” my sanctimonious wife delighted in telling me. “And don’t think you’re going to get away with buying something cheap. I know you!”
So, a second St Henri in hand, ensconced in its sealed thick plastic see-through duty-free bag, we set off for Frankfurt, where we’d change planes for the flight south to Lyon–Saint Exupéry Airport airport.
At Frankfurt we had to collect our stowed bags and go through customs to board the internal EU flight to Lyon. So of course, with my luck, the second St. Henri was confiscated again.
My empathic wife this time unloaded audibly and unmercifully “Don’t you ever think anything through? I can’t believe your stupidity!” I gently reminded her that it was she who had insisted I buy the new bottle at Sydney. “So aren’t you the one who travels all the time for work? Didn’t you stop for a second and think that this might happen?” she continued.
Never her fault.
“We just can’t arrive bare-handed. You’re just going to have to buy them another bottle. And DO NOT be mean – get them something really good.” I knew I had to do this. Third time lucky.
But of course, the world famous Australian wine section in Frankfurt’s duty-free section was nowhere to be found. If I wanted a French grand cru or an Italian Brunello, there were row upon row to choose from. But I couldn’t take coal to Newcastle, so settled on an aged litre of single malt, which almost melted my credit card.
So we made our way toward the gate to board our flight to Lyon. Not 20 metres from the duty-free cash register, the bag holding the whiskey split and with an almighty crash, Scotland’s finest pooled all over the hard tiled floor. I took the sodden split bag back to the cash register protesting the bag I had been given and wanting a refund. There was talk about me waiting for the duty manager to get back from some far flung part of the airport to make a decision. But our flight was leaving in 20 minutes.
We flew to Lyon empty-handed. Claire-Marie and Phillipe laughed and laughed and said they didn’t ever really drink whiskey anyway. They opened some superb Condrieu and Haut Medoc.