Tuesday, 24 May 2011

From Madrid Airport.

This is the  first time I’ve blogged from anywhere other than our sitting room. OK, I’m currently typing it into a Word document to copy and paste into FrenchFingers later on as the WiFi fees are so exhorbitant, but you are getting words direct from Madrid Barajas Airport, so there.

Taking off in Toulouse was as it ever is : people from everywhere, few of them able to behave. There was an adolescent Portuguese rugby team waiting to fly back to Lisbon, the boys’ faces as vacant as their language was offensive. Portuguese really is proof that romance languages can be excruciatingly ugly : if your sisters are Monica Belluci, Emmanuelle Béart and Penelope Cruz, how come you turned out like a lusitanian Lyle Lovett? Talk about the black sheep of the family. It takes an awful lot of skill to make a mediterranean tongue sound that bad, but the Portuguese managed it. They also gave us Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho, so you can make of the little country what you will.

A consignment of soldiers was due to fly to Maesbrook. The airport changed their gate and proceeded to announce that the ‘flight to Brussels’ was now leaving from Gate 28, the woman’s voice getting increasingly frantic as she realised that no-one was turning up to board. One of the soldiers got wind of the mistake and started to phone colleagues to inform them of the change. Word gradually got around and the unit got on their plane. How do I know this ? Because our flight to Madrid was due to leave from the same gate at the same time, so we all witnessed the passage of information as it slowly seeped out, no thanks to Blagnac Airport, that is. Our Iberia flight was delayed half an hour because of this ; had the airport said ‘Maesbrook’ instead of ‘Brussels’ we might have taken off on time.

The other, predictable, joy of Blagnac Airport on a Sunday afternoon was the state of the loos. No loo paper, no towel rolls, puddles of urine on the cubicle floors and excrement encrusted in the bowls, yup, you’ve guessed it : la France d’en bas doesn’t work on Sunday. According to the hygiene chart on the wall (pure decoration, you understand) it had been three hours since a cleaner had last been seen in that establishment, which, for an airport, is inexcusable. Still, that’s Frogland for you ; the best you can hope for is a Gallic shrug and more of the same tomorrow. Making peace with this modus vivendi is imperative for a stress-free life, here.

In the meantime, night has fallen over Madrid. I can just make out the leaning towers around Chamartin, the rest of the city has descended into the worldwide generic black with yellow, white and red dots of light. We could be in Sharm-el-Sheikh or Shrewsbury, Dakar or Doncaster, Aberdeen or Adelaide. I could carry on like that for hours, but I’d miss my connection. Plus, you’d get bored, as it wasn’t you making up the alliterations.

There’s no available aisle seat on the flight to Santiago. This might mean nothing to you, but it’s life or death to me, he who hates being hemmed in by anything or anyone. The strategy is clear : three pints of Jack Daniels with dinner then oblivion until we hit the runway in the southern hemisphere, nothing else will do. The only downside to that scenario is that I have to play an entire Richard Strauss opera three hours after landing, so I’ll need to be pretty sober, too. Maybe a few yoga relaxation exercises could do the job ; after all, the novelty of the situation and the adrenalin will probably take care of the rest.

An interesting aspect of what’s happening here is that the South Americans waiting for the late flights to their continent are coming up and asking the café attendant to fill up their thermos flasks with very hot water. This is for their yerba mate, a very popular drink in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and southern Chile. I’ve drunk mate for the last few years and absolutely love it ; it’s fairly easy to find in Toulouse. I was looking for the most popular drink in Santiago and stumbled across an article about a new Santiago tradition, cafe con piernas, which is, basically, espresso, cafe con leche and cortado served in dimly-lit joints by attractive waitresses in their lingerie or in bikinis. The cultural superiority of this concept is clear, even if the bombilla is absent.

There was a Spanish guy in Toulouse Airport who talked incessantly on his mobile from check-in to the moment on the airplane when the flight attendant basically says « Now turn those irritating fucking machines off ». Once we’d landed in Madrid, Senor Chatty-Patty whipped out his BlackBerry as soon as we’d entered the courtesy bus, pushed a couple of buttons, raised the infernal metal block to his ear and said « …Pues.. », as if he’d never been off the phone at all. Unbelievable. At least if his conversation had contained anything worth listening to, but it didn’t. It was just the usual stream of shallow diarrhoea that everyone feels we absolutely have to hear. God ; why can’t we go back to the days when people considered their communication discrete and private ? Everyone has to feel famous and appreciated these days, their every utterance offered up for universal praise and estimation. Don’t believe me ? Then why the hell is Twitter so successful ? I like the fact that I can ‘write’ this at a café table in Madrid Airport, but no-one knows what I’m writing except me.

Madrid Airport is now completely non-smoking. Yup, even the Spaniards have had to swallow what my old Bayreuth dining companion Elena Salgado instigated back in 2005 but had to dilute until recently. Like the French, they also appear to have taken it on the chin but I don’t know how they manage to get around it outside of places like airports. People keep saying that loads of cafés and the like in France flount the law, but I’ve never seen one, probably because I never go out at night. Now, Madrid Airport is just as antiseptic and characterless as any other Eurozone public building. Bravo Brussels ! I’m not saying there should still be clouds of blue carcenegenic mass swirling around our heads and down our throats, but one significant purification measure seems to ensure that any other element of individuality will also be eradicated. This departure hall could be anywhere, just like the passepartout nightscape outside.

I’ve just seen something which makes me want to retch. You know these signs that say things like « Here’s your freshly-made sandwich » when all that surrounds it reeks of industrial standardisation ? Well, there’s a refrigerated booth not ten feet from my seat, bearing the legend « Elige tu sandwich recien hecho ». Firstly, the Spanish for ‘sandwich’ is ‘bocadillo’, but even that is now considered too tacky and provincial in an airport café, so we’ll use the English word which is, apart from anything else, completely superfluous. What’s more, Spain has a wonderful gastronomic tradition, so the idea of foodstuffs being fresh or « recently made » is as normal as having coffee first thing in the morning. Behemoth-like Anglo-Saxon culinary philistinism then tries to patronise customers in a food-conscience society by informing them that their airport « sandwich » is – wait for it – fresh ! As opposed to the shit we’ve been feeding ourselves for decade upon decade and, therefore, ignorantly believe that everyone else has, too.

I’ve prattled on for quite a while, now. It’s been something of a novelty, ‘writing’ on the hoof and I could get quite attached to it, provided my computer plays ball. It’s currently 22.48, my flight leaves in an hour-and-a-half and my battery is 60% charged. Tomorrow, I’ll be in a completely alien culture, playing Ariadne auf Naxos in a country where it’s never been heard before, trying to find the right notes after travelling for 20 hours and a mere 180 minutes after getting off a 14-hour flight. Now it’s time for me to people-watch until take-off…

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