Sunday, 18 March 2012

Notes from 30,000 feet

No, I'm not in the air. But since I so often am, I've often listed out things to love and hate about being in a jetplane. Most of the flights I take are longhaul. The most obvious thing to detest about this is the fact that I have the carbon footprint of a small African country. And offsetting is not the best option. Not flying is the best option. I'm obviously also subject to all the usual trials and tribulations of flying in 2012: queues, delays, no elbow-room in Economy, the sound of babies crying (jarring at the best of times, but particularly grating under conditions of sleep deprivation and mild anxiety). And oh yes, the anxiety. I love travel, but I feel it. I used to be a terrified flier as a child. This has become better with practice, but my heart still races through turbulence, and I often wonder what I'd do if someone randomly got up in the middle of a flight, brandished a gun and highjacked the plane.

But there are things to love too. And I really do love them.
Airports. Queues and whatever else notwithstanding, airports have a beautiful quality. I imagine seaports must have had a little of the same aura in the past. An aura of adventure, and purpose, and constant movement. Equal parts chance and destiny. Airports are paradise to people-watchers. There is every hue and tenor of human emotion and behaviour out in naked display. And the people! In a major hub like Heathrow or Dubai, the people just stun me. Beauties of all types, heights, colours and textures. Clichéd little national prejudice sits alongside constant surprise. There's the party of Indians travelling with a year's supply of finger-food. *insert eyeball roll here. But look there's a Middle-Eastern couple, kissing. (Yes. Like properly kissing in full view. Both in traditional dress. Wow.) Some clichés are beautiful, of course. Early morning flights to Zurich, anyone? Oh, the beauty of a room full of beautifully tailored business suits worn by beautiful Northern men. (Nevermind for a split second that they are all bankers, and most wear a gold band on their left hand.)

Random conversations.
This is possibly the best of the best of the best thing about travel, for me.
In the slipstream of mass, longhaul transit, the beauty of tiny chance encounters and conversations is amplified a thousand-fold. Some of the best conversations I've ever had have been at airports. With complete strangers whose faces and words I will never forget. You can't plan for that sort of thing. Just allow it to happen when it happens. And it will.

Once inside the airplane, what's not to love about curling up in your seat, sipping red wine and watching every single new release out there. I don't get to go to the cinema much (or at all) in my non-travel life. So I hog movies on planes. Sometimes I cry into my blanket. I have been known to forget myself once or twice and laugh out loud.

On my last flight I fell in love with Ryan Gosling, which was pretty damn special.

Eyeliner above Iran. Travelling to India, flying over Iran or Afghanistan is where I usually get up and transform myself from clean-faced (for travel) to suitably glossed over (for arrival). I love that despite being thousands of feet in the air, travelling at a ridiculous speed, in a metal tube full of strangers, tiny personal rituals will just continue unbroken.

Arrival. Tropical heat, familiar faces, a blazing sky. Crowds of different faces. The smell of Mumbai, the taxi rank at Heathrow, stepping onto the wooden floors of Copenhagen airport or seeing the absolutely unforgivably crystalline light of Italy. For the first time. For the second time. Seeing the face of someone who is about to become a friend, a lover, but for now, just another stranger at the airport.

From the moment a ticket is confirmed, to the moment you touchdown, you're inside the current of Life. Beautiful, strange, frightening, magical.

1 comment:

Carole said...

Nice post. You might like this one about a stopover in Singapore we did.