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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.
I travel for work several times a year for work and wear a suit and tie. People do dress and behavior in a horrible manner, but to some degree the airlines encourage the behavior. We're all stuffed into small seats, with no leg room, and inhale stale air. If you are fortunate, your chair has been vacuumed in the past five years. Since the flying "experience" is just awful I am not surprised to see so many slobs in the airport and on the airplanes. Passengers are treated like heifers and dress and believe like heifers.
Things are made worse because nearly everyone hopes to avoid checking their luggage and paying a fee for the "service". In response, there is a mad dash to get on the airplane as soon as possible to squeeze oversized bags into an overhead storage bin. Air travel is really about storage your luggage over your head.
Failure to understanding the concept of queuing is an indicator of stupidity, not to mention boorishness. Italians can't even deplane like adults capable of thinking ahead.
Mr. Wisniewski, thank you for your comment, and for reading all of us here at Chronicles!
Dear Jules, "Failure to understand the concept of queuing" may well be "an indicator of stupidity," but understanding the concept too well is likewise fraught with risk: that way lie slavishness, sycophancy, conformity, cowardice, and, who knows, perhaps even paedophilia.
There is queuing for lunch, where earlier service actually is desirable for tangible reasons. Then there is queuing for a plane, which makes no sense at all since all passengers will depart at the same time. On the other hand, it is much easier to whizz through the foul-smelling London Underground than through the similarly odorous Paris Métro because the denizen-riders of the former understand the concept of Slower Traffic Keep Right on the escalators and staircases and in the hallways. Having said that, Italians are quite good at the "slower traffic keep right" (or at least fastER traffic keep left), at least on the Autostrada. Regarding flight quality, I can only observe that air travel has sharply democratized in recent decades and so a drop in the level of service - as well as in the median I.Q. of steerage passengers - might have been inevitable. Inflation-adjusted, the price of a first class ticket is now about what the price of a coach fare was in 1980. I hate to sound like a Country Club Republican, but it is true that you get what you pay for, and increasingly we are paying for the company of the riffraff - and accordingly, putting ourselves in the way of precisely the kind of institutional contempt of which that that milieu is not undeserving.
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