David Franca Mences wrote a wonderful and very inspiring text on the meaning of being and the possibility of reinventing oneself in airports 1. Considering myself as an ”Airport People” according to David’s definition, I could not help but to give it some thoughts.
During plane travel, everything is organized for passengers to forget who they are, to gain more anonymity so they have more acceptance of what they usually will certainly not bear. Sitting for one third of a day; being surrounded by unchosen strangers, eight of them within distance of less than fifty centimeters; smelling and hearing unnameable ”stuffs” (remember the babies, the infinite patrol to the toilets, the drunk passengers ?).
One follows the rhythm given by the flight attendants, one follows their smiled orders. “One drink, Sir? Fish or pasta, Sir? One more coffee, Sir? Would you need another blanket or pillow, Sir?”. Even the napping-resistant five years old child is now gained to their cause, while all the passengers willingly surrender, preparing themselves for the next step of the process. Is it by accident that the readers choose the long waiting book they usually never read? Or that the bored ones digest movies they would never admit having watched? Any link with Space, Time and the Other is broken — European passengers certainly do not bound with their travel companions, especially if one inch away — Hell stops from being other people could have said Sartre, we are deprived from any ways of vindicating who we are. Plane travels offer the perfect place to escape everything. At both ends of these journeys, airports then acts like gates between many versions of ourselves; deconstruction and reconstruction with nothing but void in between.
I remember having once to travel from Rio’s Carlos Jobim Airport to Paris CDG with a three hours stop in an International Airport. As always, I began getting rid of my Brazilian experience during Rio’s security check, achieving the process in a nearly empty plane during the nine hours journey, and arriving “brand new selved” in the deboarding area of my stop. Like an actor passing his hand in front of his face, changing his expression from a smile to a frown in a second, the fiction was on. A new personality in a new foreign country surrounded by a new impersonal décor. I then approached the security gate, where to my first surprise then worry, I was greeted by a woman officer with a warmful “Oi! Como você vai ?!”… ?! Portuguese ?! Again ?! The sound of a rip in my utopian world, just one step from utopia into dystopia. ”How does she know that I was coming from Rio? How does she know I was speaking portuguese? How does she know who I am ?! She is not supposed to!”. It then took a few minutes so I could get rid of this unpleasant feeling that everything was wrong, a bit more that what it was needed to my brain to process that my stop was at Lisboa Airport .
Train travels work with a more connected and a smoother move. Passengers have enough space to carry their personal bubble, allowing them to bump and interlace with the one of others. Glaze and glance then names and advices are exchanged. The time of a travel, foreigners exchange political news, impressions on their next destination, giving recommendation for restaurants, hotels or place to visit. The changing landscapes act like stories waiting to be told, like testimonies of human activities. The journey convey the traveler with what he is. I am not a speaking person, but I usually can tell the destination and goal of maybe a dozen of my car companions. I learned once about the danger of too much rubbing invigorating herbs under the shower, another time how to avoid a broken ankle when military parachute drop, then what it meant to be in Paris during the Libération in 1944 — first hand experience each time from of course. There was also this Bamako boy sent by its family in France for education, or this single mother whose delight was to see my embarrassment when insisting on “How cute” I was. Yet enslaved by his connection with others, the train traveller gains a more intimate experience which still allows him to become someone else at the arrival; not a fully stranger to himself, just an enriched one. There is no deconstruction, the construction process is built upon the journey
I thus can not but to disagree with Iggy. True punk takes neither the train nor the car; true punk decides to be a passenger in a plane[^1].
See David’s Hi moment. [^1]:” Ceux qui m’aiment prendront le train” is a movie in which a dozen of characters are forced to cohabit, gathered for the funeral of a man whose presence and regard were defining their existence; now without landmarks anymore they have to build new ties with the others as well as with themselves. ↩