(Photo Credit: skyscrapercity.com)
Airports are the loneliest places for me. If there were a hundred contestants for Miss Congeniality – I’d probably rank 100th. It’s not that I cannot be affable and friendly- it’s just that it is not in my nature to initiate a talk. Unless I am talked to, I talk. And depending on my mood or whether or not I have PMS or am hungry, almost always my answer will be monosyllabic. In my book I call it shyness. Others call it xenophobia or whatever. By writing a blog it might now be incongruous to say I am a very private person but listen I am still a private person. What I am writing are about common experiences-things that happen to you and me and our neighbors and ordinary people like you and me who have to wrestle our way for space in airport lounges and not luxuriate in the comforts of VIP rooms. I’m not spilling my guts here. Which is exactly the reason why airports are the loneliest places for me. See, I’m repeating myself. I’m re-living the whole airport experience. There’s no one to talk to but yourself.Ironic, isn’t it. There are hundreds of people but they do not speak to you. They may want to speak to you but do not speak your language.They’re people just like you and me but do not have anything in common to talk about. Hundreds of people and yet you feel so alone. It’s because I always travel solo and if you travel alone, in airports,especially big, busy international ones – you are unlikely to bump into someone you know. If there’s one who approaches you, it is to ask if ‘Is this seat taken?’ And depending on your mood you either say ‘No’ or shake your head. Sometimes, you can plop a small pillow behind your neck, put an eye patch and pretend to sleep. C’mon, how can you sleep with a hundred people passing you by every minute babbling like workers in the Tower of Babel. The closest thing you can get to sleeping is pretending to sleep. Well at least you tried. So that’s the scenario.Or, you can pretend to be reading a paperback but then a drop dead gorgeous hunk (he may be gay, so what!) always passes you by every five seconds and a bevy of statuesque figures looking like walking mannequins distract you because they seem to be wearing the latest season’s Prada or Gucci. And how did they become so skinny. Do they eat at all and you become scared too their collarbones might fall off their shoulders. The world isn’t fair, is it? Now, which page of this mushy novel am I at?
When I showed this post for comments to my Italian friend Massi who travels twice ot thrice a month in any of all continents (except Antartica) in his work a scientist-physicist (nanotechnology), he wrote me back a short note saying how come he’s never seen all these statuesque beauty I was talking about? Like me he also travels solo but being the genius that he is, he keeps his head buried in scientific journals that he reviews and referees, books and more books. Especially during this last flight on his way to South Africa from Montreal where he got stranded in Dulles for 36 hours and had to wait another six hours for refueling in Dakar, Senegal before finally making it to Cape Town then Victoria. And that is why, airports are the loneliest places for him too.
Perhaps that explains why, in many countries, especially among us Asians who are unabashed about our vaunted oriental sentimentalism and the veritable wearing our hearts on our sleeves have this culture of saying goodbye to a relative leaving- in style- by sending them off to airport with a convoy of two or three jeep loads of family, friends and relatives and neighbors and even kibitzers. Sometimes it takes a busload. I hardly see this in Western countries and I am not saying what they are not doing is right or what we are doing is not right but there is an interesting cultural ring to it that seems to be bordering to being kitschy.
I have an Indian friend who works in Saudi who every time he leaves India to go back to work, his mother would always make sweets which she places in jars for him to take as gifts to co-workers. Deepak detested this but took the jars just the same but gave these to the people at airport counters. Or I’ve a friend whose mother would always cook adobo and place them in jars so that dear son could have some home cooked meal for a few days before school starts in Manila. Others bring portraits of their loved ones (I plead guilty to that- I have six of Enzo’s print pictures and 1 of Ted’s and about 400pictures of Enzo’s in my flash drive) and rosaries, and pamphlets of our Lady of Good Travel and brochures of saints.
The bags too are emblazoned with duct tapes indicating their origin and destination in big bold black ink in addition to locks as big as digital cameras. In these modern times, hardly would you have glitches with baggage being brought to wrong destinations or people picking up the wrong luggage. I am content with just a luggage tag. The most interesting character I’ve seen is that of a lady who took a Cathay Pacific flight for Hong Kong,back then I was on my way to London. Anyway, she wore a pink flannel top with a pink flannel blazer and a pink flannel skirt with pink two inch shoes. While the plane was cruising at 30,000 ft., she rose to get her overnight bag from the luggage bin which – surprise, surprise- was also the same shade of pink as her outfit. She looked like cotton candy I was afraid someone might lick her.
I am amazed too at what the contents of those flashy bags could reveal. One very fashionable lady with an authentic Louis Vuitton had her bag manually checked and she had inside a plastic bag where she placed her powdered or crushed foundation Another sophisticated matron had in her Balenciaga a plastic bag of her wet underwear. Anyway, I digress.
The thing is, all the drama and the hoopla about send off’s I guess is to reassure the one leaving that even if you are surrounded by a blob of people of all sizes, colors and shapes talking in unintelligible babble in your airport of destination which can be a strange, cold and confusing place- you have memories of your family back home, at your airport of origin, friendly, familiar faces putting on a brave smile despite tears welling in their eyes, giving you the sweetest kiss, the tightest embrace and that final touch of goodbye from warmest hands that care.
Come to think of it, there’s nothing kitschy about it after all.