Thursday, 13 November 2008

About planes

I'm gonna talk about airplanes. I've just realised they're really a rather considerable part of my life. What with having lived a bit all over the place, I seem to be taking planes something like a dozen times a year. No trip, however, compares to those which I took for my journeys to the Caribbeans. You see, I have lived there too - approximately seven or eight months, for my year-abroad program - and it took ten hours to get there.

I got to the airport with enormous advance. The trip had cost me half a fortune and it was one of those things you'd jump off the edge of a glacier to die with the penguins if you missed it. As a consequence, I got there so early you'd think I was a Viking planning a surprise attack on a nomadic camp before dawn. It was so early, in fact, that I had to spend forty-five minutes sitting on a bench and reading a book before they even announced it was check-in time, at which I point I got in line at the wrong queue to be asked, another forty-five minutes later, whether I was taking anything sharp to Sarajevo. Damn. So I rush to the other side, and find that by now a massive line has formed itself where I want to check in. In fact, it isn't even a line: it is the amalgamation of two queues which are so gigantic they can't even fit properly in the space of the airport, and they sort of fuse softly into one small crowd at the tail. I join the crowd, try to elbow my way through a few people, but am quickly barred by a Sturmtruppen of old ladies who pretend to be looking elsewhere while deliberately offering me an impenetrable wall of backs. I swear to God they must have belonged together to a semi-professional American Football team when they were young – no-one could be so naturally well-coordinated, not even old ladies.

So I sit there and wait. And wait. Eventually the queues get a little slimmer, and I'm making some progress towards the check-in point. Granted, it is progress to the extent that a herd of buffaloes carrying a set of caravans stacked with dead rhinos through a muddy swamp can be called progress, but it was better than facing the army of the ancient high priestesses. I finally get to the check-in.

'This suitcase is too heavy,' the clam-faced lady at the reception tells me (I'm sorry if this sounds odd, but it's just realism; she did have a face rather like a clam). 'You need to go and pay some charge.'

Some charge?? Do I look like I enjoy throwing my money from the window of the tube? But there's no point in debating of course, so I go to the desk for the payment of extra-weight. The gates of hell! At least a million people are drearily waiting in line with suitcases you could smuggle a dead elephant in, and I am last in the line. As I wait, I feel a faint dread rising in me: it is the dread that check-in is going to close while I rot my bones waiting for the suitcase to be paid for. I could ask some gentle soul to let me pass, but by the sweat running down everyone's foreheads and the tense expressions, I can tell they're in the same situation as I am.

Finally I pay my due and I recall sprinting like my life depended upon it, with a suitcase the size of a cow, to the check-in point, where the marine-faced girl had already closed, but where she made an exception 'just for me.' I don't know how it is possible to get to an airport with three hours of advance time and still have to get to the plane running like a sprinter at the Olympics, but that's exactly what I found myself doing. The first trip was to Paris, where I would change planes for Martinique, but it took me longer to cover the distance from the airport reception to the plane than it did from the capital of Italy to that of France.

By the time I got to Paris, I felt like a pair of scrambled eggs. I queued my way to the Martinique plane with an accuracy and an attention worthy of an espionage agency, so terrified I was of repeating my mistake, but this time there were exceedingly few people in line. Indeed, when I climbed onto the plane, it looked like the aircraft was going to Eastern Turkey rather than to the Caribbeans. There were so few passengers that we were being outnumbered by the hostesses.

I thank the gods for this and lay back in relaxation. Somewhere in an invisible distance, an old man is snoring. Behind me, two girls are having a chat. Outside of that, the aircraft is empty for as far as I can tell. The plane takes off.

It figures that the one night prior to me being closed in a box for eight hours would see me having one of the most grandiose sleeps of this century. I tried laying down on the three empty seats I was afforded, but I couldn't get a second of slumber for the life of me. I opened a novel, and by the time I got off the plane I had read 450 pages of it. The only times that I interrupted my reading were for the meals, which were plane-meals and thus are best left without discussing in the interests of good literature, and on two occasions to go to the bathroom. The first such trip was uneventful. On the second one, however, the moment that I pulled my fly down the plane started bouncing on the only case of turbulence to be recorded in thirteen-thousand miles of journey. I panicked and tried holding myself against the wall with my free hand while ropes of piss were sent flying against the walls and the sink. The exact moment that I was done, the plane stabilized itself. I spent what time I could spend cleaning with tissue paper for the one other passenger who was bound to use the toilet, then went back out.

I walked out into the airport of la Martinique, welcomed by the tropical night with a surge of warm wind, and suddenly felt myself teetering between tremendous psychological excitement and an equally overwhelming physical tiredness. I waited for my suitcase to come out, walked into the parking, and took the first taxi.

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