It was Chesterton, if I’m not mistaken, who said that nothing narrows the mind like travel. As I had to fly to London over the weekend, to collect some money that I was owed – my alleged debtor’s contrary view notwithstanding – I had ample opportunity to be reminded of this bon mot. Airports! Why is it that airports attract the most repulsive people on earth?
Why is it that they all dress the way they do, as though on their way to the gym, except for the leatherette briefcase, or to the beach, except for a nylon umbrella? Is it comfy they want? Relaxed? Are you quite sure? Because, if this is the case, why do they all jump up and line up at the gate for boarding as soon as it is announced, temporizing in a kind of Auschwitz stupefaction on those sportingly rubberized feet for what, to the few who remain seated, seems like an exhausting eternity? It doesn’t add up, somehow.
A pinch-faced middle-aged woman traversed the length of the hall to reprimand me: “In England, we queue,” she said with plebeian loathing in her voice, because of course I had cut in line, leaving about a hundred beachcombers gaping in impotent fury. “In England, madam,” I replied, “you eat terrible food and have unhealthy complexions. Would you have me emulate your countrymen in everything?”
It was a Nietzschean moment. Here I was, handsome as a three-mast Portuguese caravel dating from the Age of Discovery, in a dark suit with black lace-up brogues (suit, $20 from a stall in the Capo market, probably stolen from a mercer’s warehouse in Bagheria, shoes, bought for $30 in an Oxfam shop five years ago and subsequently resoled by a Palermo whiz of a cobbler), in full sail upon a placid sea of baseball caps and wheelie-bin suitcases, and what, I had to wait my turn to board?
In retrospect I note that at airports it is customary to allow “pregnant women, adults accompanying small children, the elderly, and the physically disabled to board first, regardless of their seat, class or assignment.” Well, what about men in suits? Or women in suits, for that matter? Surely they are more socially disadvantaged, disabled, and endangered than any in those inverted categories of Übermenschen?
On the plane I opened the day’s Daily Mail. Staring at me from the page was a clone, a perfect double, nay, the exact same inanimate woman that had told me off for cutting the queue. Then again, she could have been UK’s Home Secretary, Theresa May, or Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, or maybe the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, or any number of these industrially produced homunculi – each of them, as the rulebook stipulates, supplied with the face of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the bedside manner of Josef Mengele.
This one, in fact, turned out to be UK’s health chief, Dame Sally Davies, and it was beneath the predictable headline “Ban Smoking in Public Parks” that her photograph graced the page. “Dame Sally said it was dangerous for children to see adults smoking in parks because they might decide to copy them,” ran the news story. The nanny who reprimanded me in the queue would have agreed wholeheartedly, I’m certain of it. Especially because, in all likelihood – England being England – she is married to a paedophile.
Say what you will, nothing narrows the mind like travel.
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.