a week at the airport
A Week at the Airport was in my reading queue for a very long time. I heard about it years ago and before I knew the title or the author but knew it would be my sort of book. I'm slowly building my de Botton repertoire now and, as suspected, A Week lived up to my expectations.
de Botton spent a week at Heathrow at the behest of "a man who worked for a company that owned airports" shortly after Terminal 5 was opened. He explored all the possible avenues and spaces at the airport, from the maintenance of jets to the making of airline food, to the security screeners to the Airport Priest and the conditions of the Concorde Lounge. I find this sort of thing intensely fascinating. The opening and the closing paragraphs of de Bottons are succinct representations of my own attractions to airports and to travel:
"While punctuality lies at the hear of what we typically understand by a good trip, I have often longed for my plane to be delayed - so that I might be forced to spend a bit more time at the airport. I have rarely shared this aspiration with other people, but in private I have hoped for a hydraulic leak from the undercarriage or a tempest off the Bay of Biscay, a bank of fog in Malpensa, or a wildcat strike in the control tower in Málaga (famed in the industry as much for its jot-headed labour relations as for its even-handed command of much of western Mediterranean airspace). On occasion, I have even wished for a delay so severe that I would be offered a meal voucher or, more dramatically, a night at an airport's expense at a giant concrete Kleenex box with unopenable windows, corridors decorated with nostalgic images of propeller planes, and foam pillows infused with the distant smells of kerosene."
"We forget everything: the books we read, the temples of Japan, the tombs of Luxor, the airline queues, our own foolishness. And so we gradually return to identifying happiness with elsewhere: twin rooms overlooking a harbour, a hilltop church boasting the remains of the Sicilian martyr Saint Agatha, a palm-fringed bungalow with complimentary evening buffet service. We recover an appetite for packing, hoping, and screaming. We will need to go back and learn the important lessons of the airport all over again soon."