For the Love of Airports

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Although the 3-hour cab rides through the heart of Moscow and the layovers in Istanbul are not always thrilling (not to mention the malfunctioning digestive system side effects of cabin pressure), there was one aspect of travel that you admired in a detached way as if you were a narrator of a Woody Allen film. An outer-body experience that made it feel as if this was the kind of thing you would be explaining to your grandkids one day because they would be of the public space-shuttling generation and they would find these transatlantic journeys so primitively historic. Then again, you were supposed to be of the flying-car generation so who knows what travel will really mean in the decades to come.

You want to roll through an airport and have the narration in your head begin as you people watch, where are they from? Where are they going? A father asks you to photograph him and his daughter in Frankfurt Airport. The little girl has a fabric bracelet with the Jamaican flag colors. What language are they speaking? It’s not French. Where is her mom? Maybe they’re divorced. You try to go Sherlock on them and read their story through their mannerisms and nonverbal behavior, appearance, and clothing. A group of high-schoolers are lining up. Their teacher is screaming who’s on the waiting list and passing out passports to kids in oversized hoodies emblazoned with various college acronyms and university crests. What a strange and fascinating place an airport can be. A stopover where all people abide by a system as if there is a guidebook of rules as to how one is to internationally travel. It’s the one ritual that all citizens do in the same way: carry-ons, portables, chargers for our devices, check-in counters, baggage claims, money exchange. Don’t even think about packing the cosmetic scissors.

And then you observe a foreign city from the air. Residents going about their days because your existence does not relate to theirs. Where are they driving to? All these people living their lives completely unaware that you’re flying over them heading to some plant nursery in Bucharest. I wonder if the driver in that white sedan on the highway is happy. I wonder if he looks up at my plane climbing overhead and thinks, ‘I wonder where that plane is heading. I wonder if the girl on that plane is happy.’ Lives continuing simultaneously while we throttle across the sky and into the clouds. Parallels physically and figuratively.

You spend hours next to strangers, at gates or in lounges or even onboard budget flights that make you feel like you’re flying in a recycled Pringles tube with wings. You judge your neighbor by whether or not they’ve heard of your home country, the notorious troubled Lebanon, that exotic sliver of hedonism and resilience hidden in the bosom of the Arab and thus, conservative Middle East. Beirut usually gets more recognition, although not knowing that it’s a capital (not a country) doesn’t exactly sedate your fears of where the education system is heading. Either way, bonus points if they show geographical knowledge not just polite interest in your brief exchange before either one falls asleep or puts on headphones. Another internationally recognized symbol for travel for please leave me alone, thanks. 

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You find yourself missing cities as if they were people you know. With all of your friends relocated to opposite ends of the earth, you’d think you were not looking for more to miss – the roster should be full by now. And yet, you are longing for breakfast on Brooklyn rooftops, a walk through Gorky Park, and a lazy cappuccino before the Dubai Mall fountains start their sunset dance. You’re homesick for places that were never home and wishing that you didn’t find comfort in those washed-out Tumblr photos with the word wanderlust scribbled in handwritten font across the center.

But maybe, it isn’t wanderlust. Maybe it’s just curiosity and the need to see beyond your balcony or border. Maybe it’s embracing another place’s magic and your own home’s chaos. Maybe it’s just about feeling like you’re part of humanity. That every place can be part of your story that some other person at an airport is trying to read off of you.

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