Monday, June 18, 2012

Dancing Lessons from God

If anyone is reading about these travels with a touch of envy, they will now be so happy that they’re in their comfortable armchair and not in Seat 21 C. I won the lottery on the Istanbul-Helsinki flight, in the aisle seat next to a couple and their charming 10-month old baby. Charming for the first five minutes of the three-hour flight, that is. After that, the screaming commenced, following quickly by the kicking and back-arching and all of it continuing non-stop—and I mean non-stop literally here— for the entire duration of the flight. Count them. That’s 175 minutes and the only break was when the father (who held the charming tot most of the time in the middle seat right next to me, probably so the little guy would have a better shot at knocking my book out of my hand with one of his seemingly random, but perhaps purposeful well-placed kicks) got up and walked him up and down the aisle to share the music with the other passengers. The other break was when I left my seat and hid out in the bathroom for ten minutes to ease my aching ears. When I got out, the people in line were wondering whether to offer me a laxative or nod in understanding. There, isn’t that armchair feeling even more comfortable now?

In the micro-seconds between the high-pitched screams, I was trying to stay alert to interesting things. Like the fact that all the silverware on Turkish Airlines is real and not plastic. The pleasant surprise of cherry juice as one of the choices on the beverage cart. The green pepper under my omelette that had me considering a blog titled “Apologies to the Green Pepper,” complete with full confession that these past years, I’ve completely overlooked it in favor of its red cousin. Next time I grill vegetables, I want to welcome it back into the family. But not easy to develop such intricate thoughts with the banshee from hell next to you. Now I love little kids and try to be an understanding compassionate human being, but believe me, I wished I had brought with me that best-selling new children’s book, “Shut the F**k Up!!” and read it out loud. (I wonder if they’ve made a Turkish translation yet?)

Five minutes before the flight landed, the little guy finally gave up and sat there peacefully sucking a pacifier as if nothing at all at happened. Which made me wonder: “When does remorse kick in?” Someone just meeting him now would exclaim, “Oh, isn’t he darling?” with no idea of the pain and suffering he inflicted on my eardrums. And he wouldn’t fess up or apologize. Well, of course I forgive him and understand that he was the innocent carrier of his body’s anguish or the channel for someone out there having fun with us mortals. Wasn’t it Kurt Vonnegut who said, “Travel plans are dancing lessons from God”? And this guy was the soundtrack of a very bad dance class.

I departed the plane into the welcome silence of Helsinki Airport, but now with the tension of making a tight connection. One thing I’ve learned in this life is to speak up and I was fortunate enough to ask the right questions to the right people to get me to the right place at the right time and lo and behold, I made the plane! And it seemed like there was enough time for my luggage to switch from Turkish Airlines to Finn Air, as I arranged with some helpful folks back in Istanbul.

But, surprise, surprise!, this was not to be. I got to Estonia, but my bags didn’t and also didn’t show up on the Baggage Reclaim guy’s screen. Isn’t your armchair feeling yet more comfortable? And why did I get such a clumsy dancing partner today?! Like any traveler, I’ve had my share of lost bags stories (including one that scored me a wedding jacket from Iberia Airlines), but the one that came to mind was 11 years ago—in Estonia. The bags didn’t arrive for three days, by which time brushing my teeth with my fingers and wearing the same unmentionables was really wearing thin. With only a one-day workshop tomorrow and a few important items in my bag, this doesn’t look good.

What to say but “Oh well.” All minor tremors on the disaster Richter scale. Or back to Vonnegut’s image: The music may be pounding disco with a screech-track, my partner stepping on my feet and kicking me in the shins and me with no toothbrush worried about bad breath during the slow dance, but it’s all in a day’s travel. 

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