Sunday, 21 April 2013

Barajas Revisited

It’s been exactly two years since I last sat at this café table in Barajas Airport and watched the sun going down over the cranes, wastelands and office blocks that form Madrid’s skyline. The same man’s working behind the counter, the refrigerated display cabinet enjoining you to Elige tu sandwich recién hecho (Choose your freshly-made sandwich)  is still there, but the sandwiches have moved next door, making way for a selection of euro-yoghurts, overpriced health drinks and apples clothed in cellophane.  The cabinet to its left is full of beer, Scandinavian mineral water (€2.40 for a small can) and unhealthy drinks dressed up to look dynamic. Yup, you could be anywhere.

I’m here because I’m flying back to Santiago de Chile. And I can’t wait. After having to turn down their offer to come in 2012 as well as passing on another trip later this year to a colleague, this is my only chance before 2014 to have a roll in the hay with my beloved mistress – not a person, you understand – with whom I fell in love when our eyes first met in May, 2011. The only drawback to working in Santiago de Chile is that I never have any time to really discover the city. In virtually my only excursion outside the theatre I bought a couple of polo shirts, and those in pretty much the first shirtmaker I found. Socks I bought from a street vendor on the way to work. Apart from a few nocturnal trips to neighbourhood indie cinemas (all within a 200-yard radius of my flat), an afternoon at Los Dominicos Craft Market and a Sunday excursion to Pablo Neruda’s house in Isla Negra, all I saw of Santiago was the inside of my building and that of the Teatro Municipal. To be honest, I don’t know that this time is going to be much different…

On thing that is interesting, at least for me, is the fact we’ll be working with Carlos Kleiber’s alma mater. OK, no-one out there gives one, but I do. When he and his family left Germany in the 1930’s, his father set up home in Buenos Aires, where he was a favourite conductor at the Teatro Colón, but chose to send his son to the recently-founded, English-speaking The Grange School, which modelled itself on the venerable so-called ‘public’ institutions such as Eton, Harrow or Winchester. It’s still there, looking unapologetically old school tie-ish and churning out the next generation of Chile’s elite. I’ll be interested to see what its pupils are like, or at least the ones with whom we’ll be working.

It’s 9pm, now, and the Argentinians will soon be arriving, asking the man behind the counter to fill up their thermos flasks with hot water for their yerba maté. Last time I didn’t sleep a wink between Madrid and Santiago, meaning I was sleepless from Sunday morning at 8am till Tuesday morning at 6am, CET. The Iberia hostesses woke us up at the equivalent of 1am South American time in order to give us breakfast, it being, logically, 7am in Spain…and refused my request to substitute the coffee for a miniature bottle of red wine to help me find oblivion, at least in part. This time I’m armed with sleeping pills and am not afraid to use them.

This terminal develops its own energy between 6pm and the swathe of cross-Atlantic flights which leave at midnight. Many of us are in the same boat : dropped off at Barajas late-afternoon by various European short-haul operators and left to trudge up and down the imaginative, if rather soulless, open spaces of the intercontinental terminal. Some pretend to sleep, some log in to an overpriced wi-fi connection, others just stare blankly out of the window and some just sit for hours in Henry J. Bean’s Grill & Bar, a fast-food outlet by any other name, which uses, as its publicity pictures, iconic line-drawings of prosperous white adolescents in 1950’s America. In our overtly politically correct world where we must be seen to be as demonstratively inclusive, tolerant, yea ankle-grabbing as possible, it’s rather amusing to see a company say ‘This is how we see our product ! Anyone not conforming to this visual image need not tarry round our wares’. And that in an airport, possibly one of the most multicultural places on earth, if only during office hours, sort of thing.

OK, that’s enough. There’s a queue of Germans at the counter, now, so I’ll have to wait for my next miniature bottle of Rioja. I can’t entirely rely on those sleeping pills, after all…

Two days later and I'm in Santiago. My luggage, however, is still in Toulouse. I had to wait over an hour just to drop off my case and even then it seems putting it on a plane was too complicated for the workshy Frogs. It'll be here tomorrow, apparently. Or so I was told…


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