Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Airport Anonymity.


Years ago, the month of March, alone. I remember sitting in the airport somewhere in the middle east. I was waiting for a connecting flight, watching the lights on the runway move in and out of my vision as aeroplanes heaved their way into the sky and off to their various destinations. The darkness of the night stretched out beyond, blowing past the fluorescent windsocks and off into a place I could not imagine.

At that moment, the world that had been comfortably holding me in its palm since birth stretched out its fingers and flicked me off into an abyss. I was staring at a deep loneliness that was to become more familiar to me than my own feet. 

Since then, airports have always had a weird effect on me. I find them to be lonely places. I suppose this is because I hardly ever run into anyone I know at an airport, and I usually travel on my own.  At airports, everyone is going somewhere but no one is on the same trip that you’re on. I don’t see how that is different to life in general, but it’s more pronounced at an airport. They are fascinating and slightly enchanting places. They’re like portals; where time, as we know it, doesn’t really exist. You can board a flight at say, 3pm, fly for 9 hours and arrive somewhere at the same 3pm you set off at. 

(Ironically, time is more important than anything in airports, because if you miss your flight due to philosophizing about the nature of time, then you won’t get to where you need to go. In light of that, I am always astounded by the lack of clocks in airports. There are an array of screens telling you when you need to be at what place to get to where you need to go, but there are not that many clocks to give any indication as to how long it is until that crucial moment arrives. This is why I always wear a watch)

I think there is a part of us humans that simply cannot comprehend the notion of flight. We’ve not had time to factor it into our evolution. Yes, we might have reasoned it out with ourselves and reached an intellectual understanding, but at the core of it, I think we have trouble getting our heads around the whole business. I’m not saying that is a good or a bad thing, and I try not to let the issue plague me. However, if what I say is on any level correct then it would more than account for the d├ęcor and musac that spreads its hospital like hubbub around all the paraphernalia of plane travel....  

....The airport doth protest too much that “EVERYTHING IS OK!!!”, me thinks. Vivaldi and white walls, major keyed announcement chimes, big yellow arrows and those flat escalator things that make you feel like you’re walking really quickly when in fact you’re walking really slowly. There is nothing to indicate that what you’re about to do (i.e defy gravity) in any way runs contrary to what your distant AND close ancestors knew to be possible and safe.  I have, on occasion, spotted signs in airport lounges that say things along the lines of “sit back and relax. Let us take care of you”. You can purchase a new lipstick or drink a nice bottle of wine, you could enjoy a croissant or look at pictures of shoes in a magazine, but whatever you do, do NOT think about your own mortality. Do not look at the abyss that is represented by the notion of death. Do not think about that. Everything is OK - the 20% off signs in the window of tie rack say it is so. Sit back and relax.

Having said all of that, I’m not at all frightened of flying. It goes against all of my intrinsic survival instincts, but I know that I’m probably more likely to choke on an olive stone at home on my own than I am to die in a plane crash. I don’t even think that I’m massively worried about dying in general (although I would like to outlive my parents to avoid the heartache they would feel if I didn’t). 

I did once have a panic attack on a plane, but I think this was more due to the fact that I’d been upgraded to business class than it was the fear of imminent death. I felt hugely out of my comfort zone sat amongst all those moneyed men in suits and it made me feel all agitated.

I like flying and I like airports. I like the fact that no one knows me at an airport. I like it because the daily frames of reference by which I understand my reality are all turned upside down and inside out, and there is no one to question where I’m going or why.

When I’m at an airport, I am just passing through a portal. Everywhere leads to anywhere, nothing is normal, time moves back and forth and nobody is waiting for you on the other end. This is what I would say if I ever wanted to become and airhostess and got asked, “Why did you decide to apply for this job?” in the interview.  I don’t think I’d get the job.

Once I’d spent enough time in airports to realize that perusing eye shadows and chocolate can get tiresome, I started going to the prayer rooms. I like watching people pray. You have to do it subtly or people get upset. I wonder if you can get chucked out of an airport prayer room for staring at the praying people? If this were to happen to me, I would tell the security officer that voyeurism is my religion and that to deny me of that would be an infringement of my human rights and may also bring about the apocalypse. 

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