09 November 2006

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

Despite the obvious reasons not to like flying (lines, lost luggage, crowds, delays, cancellations), I still can't help but enjoy the method of travel that enables me to get my feet off the ground and fly above the clouds. Every time, there is something magical about the fact of hanging in the air, about seeing fields, cities, and mountains from so far above. It feels like a pause in normal space and time (especially long trips, which do actually make hours appear and disappear).

Take off and landing, despite being theoretically the most dangerous parts of the trip, heighten that sense of space, rising and descending as the real world turns into a toy set and back again. Some of my favorite landings include Barcelona during the day--incredible views of the city's landmarks from the direction of the water--and Boston during the night--zooming right into the heart of the twinkling lights.

And I love airports. Granted, not every airport. I have a particular distaste for Heathrow and its buses, which seem to take you through every inch of the ugly gray bowels of its maze. (Of course--Murphy's law--the connecting airport I most often wind up visiting is this one.) And Boston during the Big Dig was no great shakes either.

Yet, there is always something magical about suddenly being in a different city, with the character of the place humming beneath the bland carpeting and bustling crowds. In London, there's Harrods and Boots. In Boston, a good clam chowder. In Philly, I buy a couple of soft pretzels. I love landing in the south and suddenly hearing twangy accents, or in Amsterdam and hearing the strangely English-like rhythms of Dutch. The smaller midwestern airports are neat and tidy; the airports in Naples and Larnaca feel patched together with mediterranean swagger. In Barcelona, you know you've gone south because there are palm trees outside the glass walls.

I also love the feeling of a vast mechanism at work, and being a little cog inside of it. The complexity of getting all of those people, bags, and planes in and out at the right place and time is always a little bit of a miracle. In fact, I'm sometimes amazed that my bags aren't lost *more* often. (Don't quote me on that.) And many airports, or at least parts of them, have a cool, modern feel that makes me feel like the world of the Jetsons has come true maybe just a little bit: moving sidewalks, huge curving architecture, brightly lit shops, hi-tech screens.

Plus, airports make for excellent people watching. Since air travel has become a relatively affordable way to move around, you can find all stripes and styles. Everyone from Mr. matching leather luggage set to Ms. first time flying, from Mr. baseball cap to Ms. sari-wrapped is there, and the real democracy of it is that even those first-class passengers have to wait in line and take off their shoes and belt when they go through security.

This last trip on my way home to Brussels, we stood in a security line in London for over an hour; there was literally no end in sight as the line snaked down an interminable hallway and then hooked a right into another room. I amused myself by watching the people around me (admittedly, I had the luxury to be amused since my flight wasn't for another two hours)--psychology at work. It was fun to watch the reactions on the faces of people as they entered the hallway and were told, yes, this is the line you have to go to the end of. Shock, jokes, anger, resignation... Even some of the BA people walking from the head of the line to the end were astonished by its sheer length. Still, one eventually makes it through the line, and reaches the other side, albeit without any liquids in an amount larger than 100 ml.

And the best thing about flying? It means that you are arriving somewhere, the anticipation of being in a new place or a familiar place, of seeing new or old faces. This trip was especially happy because when I flew to the US, my family there was awaiting me. And when I flew back, my new family--my husband--was awaiting me here. The exquisite joy of knowing that our long-distance days are behind us, that the return trip will always mean flying back into his arms.

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