Although I dislike flying, I do like airports. They seem like existential, deep places for me, like churches or the ocean or high mountain tops or the night sky.
I like watching people clutching their passports with wide open eyes, reduced to their bodies and their bags, getting ready to be catapulted around the globe, handing their lives over to the pilots and mechanics. The trust they have! The hidden fear! The hope of getting somewhere better! It seems to me like air travel is a cleansing procedure in a new religion.
Airports are the cathedrals of this religion. They are the biggest, most spacious, most modern things people seem to build in our age. This is not by accident; they are the hidden centers of our way of living, our way of thinking. When I read the list of departures, I stand in awe every time. Tanger! Tokyo! I could go anywhere if I have the necessary cash, and I start to suspect anywhere else just has to be better than here, the real life has to be in Tanger and Tokyo, it just has to be!
Oh, and the airplanes. So beautiful, so elegant and simple, and yet so brute force! We want to get away from here so much that we burn crazy amounts of fuel, to lift tons of metal into the air! How bold, how crazy, how typical of our culture!
I could watch airplanes lift off all day. How clumsy they are during taxying, and how vulnerable and fragile when they lift off the air, probing, searching, ascending, disappearing into the clouds like a story finished mid-sentence.
And I love reading the airline names on the airplanes, Cathey Pacific, China Airways. They have just been to the furthest away places I can imagine, just been alone in a vast sky, and now they are here, transcendence made metal, endless possibilities made metal, total freedom made metal.
We all know that this cannot last for so much longer, this age of crazily cheap airtravel, the fuel will eventually run out, or perhaps the climate change will happen, and make us tear our hair out in regret. But for now, everyone travels. The old neighbours fly to Teneriffa, the family flies to San Francisco, the schoolkids fly to Italy together, the business man commutes between London and Frankfurt. Noone is left out.
But what for? Why do we absolutely need to travel around the globe in the few weeks per year that we do not have to work? Why does it seem so essential to our life satisfaction?
I really don’t know. I suspect, though, that the monks in a buddhist cloister in Bhutan that I have seen in the last KLM magazine don’t need airtravel for their happiness. We however, we need it. We need to get to that cloister, in fact, and take pictures of the monks. That will be an experience. This will be real.