Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A Heathrow diary and inner demons

Monet/Gare Saint-Lazare
There've been famous reviews of Alain de Botton but whatever one thinks about him -the jury's out as far as I'm concerned - his A Week at The Airport has interesting reflections on travel, in particular airports. We rush through unseeing, intent on reaching our destination - steeling ourselves to endure a crowded, long flight - imagining that we will be dicing with death in the air.  But airports can be extraordinary structures - like the new Terminal 5.

"The mighty steel bracing of the airport's ceiling recalled the scaffolding of the great nineteenth-century railway stations and evoked the sense of awe - suggested in paintings such as Monet's Gare Saint-Lazare - that must have been experienced by the first crowds to step inside these light-filled, iron-limbed halls pulsating with strangers, buildings that enabled a person to sense viscerally, rather than just grasp intellectually, the vastness and diversity of humanity."
Like Paddington - such promise of adventure - sunshine - the sea - home. More on this here.

The best/most appealing airports though, in my experience, aren't the ones that awe - but the ones that are small and in which you can step almost immediately from one world into another. Remember waving goodbye to someone at Nantes and watching him waving back as I progressed almost to the departure gate; Tobago  - stepping out into colour and heat, the blue sea in the distance, the departure hall with sparkle (purple tinsel - did I imagine this?) Newquay - just so small. From plane to car park and the drive home in a few steps.

Even taking a bus from the plane to the terminal at the end of a journey can be exhilarating, rather than a tedious final stage to the exit. It involves stepping on to the tarmac and actually making contact with a new or familiar land - a blast of heat as you step off the plane always exciting.

De Botton also talks about people setting out on holiday having made endless arrangements but forgetting that they themselves, their thoughts and inner demons, are going too. Shades of Cavafy and Ithaka.
"As David lifted a suitcase on to the conveyor belt, he came to an unexpected and troubling realisation: that he was bringing himself with him on his holiday. Whatever the qualities of the Dimitra Residence, they were going to be critically undermined by the fact he would be in the villa as well.  He had booked the trip in the expectation of being able to enjoy his children, his wife, the Mediterranean, some spanakopita and the Attic skies, but it was evident that he would be forced to apprehend all of these through the distorting filter of his own being, with its debilitating levels of fear, anxiety and wayward desire.....
We cannot enjoy palm trees and azure pools if a relationship to which we are committed has abruptly revealed itself to be suffused with incomprehension and resentment."
End the day with an episode of Mad Men: Don Draper drinking after his daughter discovers him in flagrante delicto with the neighbour's wife.  He is spiralling down into despair.

The bar here seems an entire world. It's in Manhattan and the best kind of bar. Dark. With a bank of bottles. At best, bars promise something - a journey - not just a drink. A passage to another frame of mind.

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy