(As you can probably tell, I had no idea where I was going with this piece when I started writing. I think I began writing because I felt guilty that this was the first trip in a long time about which I had not blogged. Also, I always get in a writing, introspective mood when I’m some 40,000 feet up in the air and have had a drink or two. I was going to kill this post, but in the end I decided it deserved clemency, so here it is.)
March 18, 2014
AT ABOUT 1:50 Tuesday afternoon, the Boeing 777 I was flying in left the airspace over the Labrador Sea (I bet you didn’t know there is a Labrador Sea; it’s between Canada and Greenland) and entered North America, crossing into Newfoundland and Labrador. We still had some 2,550 miles to go even though we’d been flying some six hours since we left the Frankfurt airport. (I first flew from Geneva to Frankfurt.)
By that time darkness had descended over Europe, the continent that had been my home for the past two weeks, and the people of New Zealand and Siberia were just waking up to a new day. Africans living in the easternmost part of their land mass were enjoying the last rays of the sun.
Soon we will be flying over Quebec, north of Montreal, then over Detroit, east of Saint Louis, and then on down to Houston, landing a few minutes after 7. By that time I will have been awake some 20 hours, except for a short nap I took between two in-flight movies (The Book Thief and a Spanish movie whose title I can’t remember – Family United, I think).
I know all this because of the in-flight information system, which is on all international (and a few others) flights these days. They tell you everything about your flight: how much longer before you land, how long it’s been since you took off, the temperature outside (very cold), the plane’s ground speed and its altitude, how far you’ve traveled and how many more miles you have to go. Best of all, it shows you a map, with lines indicating the path the plane has flown and the path ahead to the destination, and exactly where along that arched line the plane is. And it shows you a different map, this one showing which parts of the globe are dark and which are not, and where the sun is along the equator.
I love those things. I couldn’t wait for the movies to be over so I could get back to watching all this information. I’ve always been a map geek. I can spend hours poring over a map or an atlas, so this to me is the greatest invention in aviation history.
In a way, that moment when the map showed the plane crossing into North America marks the end of this excellent European adventure. And it brings with it a certain sadness. It’s always hard to say goodbye to a fantasy world, and that’s what the last two weeks have been, a fantasy, a life in a world not my own. But what makes this particularly difficult is that I spent the last few days there in the homes of dear friends –good, decent, generous, intelligent people — and bidding farewell to them was heartbreaking.
I’M LISTENING to Maria Callas as I write this. I don’t listen to her that much, but I almost always do when I fly. I also listen to the Gregorian Chants when on a plane. There’s something very soothing about this music while I’m confined to a seat in a tube the size of two or three double-wide trailers. Listening to Callas or to the Gregorian Chants is part of my flying tradition, just as drinking bourbon is. I love gin and I love rum and tequila, but you’ll never catching drinking them on a plane.
good trip, even taking into account the horrendous experience of suddenly finding myself without cash or credit cards on my fourth day in Rome. The weather was perfect, for the most part (no rain at all, and just a tad chilly in the evenings) and Rome and Siena lived up to their billings. I probably should have spent four days in Rome instead of five, and four days was too much time for Siena, but extra time in both places did allow me to enjoy the kind of vacations I prefer. I hate structured excursions where every minute of every day is planned and there is little or no room for simply roaming around, getting lost or sitting on a bench in a piazza or park to take in all that is going on around me.
I love watching people. By themselves, or interacting with others. I love photographing them, and if I could get away with it, I would probably take nothing but pictures of people. I can do it, with a telephoto lens, but even then I run the risk of someone coming up to and punching me in the nose for taking his picture. I sent two pictures I took in Rome to one of my Swiss friends, one of a couple taking a selfie in front of St. Peter’s, and the other of a couple having their wedding picture taken at the top of the Spanish Stairs. Her reply:
No baroque churches? No famous monuments? No romantic little squares? Just lovers and honeymooners!
My reply: You’ve seen one baroque church, you’ve seen them all.
I don’t believe that, of course, and soon enough I’ll share the photos I did take of those churches, monuments, fountains, romantic little squares, narrow alleys and streets, bridges, and all the pictures that beckon to you when you’re in cities such as Rome in Siena with a camera. Most of those are still electronic bits of information in my computer, waiting for me to get to them.
The problem is that unless you’re a fantastic photographer, there’s not much likelihood that you’re going to take a great artistic and unique photograph of the Pantheon or the Coliseum or any of the hundreds of famous sites in Rome. So I tend to gravitate to the kinds of photos that few people are interested in taking – the young couples in love who just can’t keep their hands off each other, the children playing in a park, the parents watching their children with awe and admiration, the old people praying in a church.
That – people of all shapes and sizes and colors – is what fascinate me in a world not my own, just as it does in my own world. That is why I travel.
That and the food, of course.