Okay . . . I’ve seen the light. You can turn it off now.
That’s what I wanted to say by 21:30 in Stockholm. After about 30 hours in transit, I was ready for a spot of sleep. Only, my eyes couldn’t close. It being still too bright outside.
Even with the shades closed, there was no masking the fact that the burnt orange sun lingering on the cusp of the western panorama, was yet undecided about whether or not it wanted to set. Or, you know . . . perhaps just hang on the horizon for another 30 minutes.
Pillows pressed over my head, buried beneath the blankets, it felt like I had been consigned to live through the outtakes of Insomnia.
And then . . . I must have dozed (which was a relief) . . .
only to wake at 4:30 in the morning; where, to my infinite surprise, the scene looked like this:
I kid you not. (I couldn’t believe it, myself, [and thought no one else would], which is why I snatched up my digital and snapped off a few rounds before diving back on the futon).
Hey—it suddenly dawned on me (yeah, pun intended) lying there (unable to sleep) on the futon: maybe this is the way it is in hell . . . glorious. But relentless.
I started the day in the northeast tip of (the main isle of) Japan. Bright, humid, suffocating heat. I ended the day in this northeast tip of Europe. Bright, cool, oppressively light. And when I woke up six hours later . . . nothing had changed! Still oppressively light.
Well, no sense in complaining. That’s what it means to travel. You give up control; you embrace the logic, the rhythms, the ways of the place. That is the whole point, after all. It is the why of experience, the how of growth. Without that, then why bother ever packing a bag and boarding a flight. Right?
Good philosophy. Wise counsel.
As for the previous 30 hours, the time sunk, the process of getting to wisdom—well,
had been far less incisive. Oh, save for the part about becoming reacquainted with one of the staple elements of the peripatetic creed: you get what you pay for.
In this case for me, it was the cheapest fare which, in the current economic times means Air China; and the cheapest fares buys you—surprise, surprise: the least inspired service, the most insipid food, and the greatest quantity of post-hoc regret.
But, seeing as how I had just run smack dead-on into a core precept in the peripatetic creed (which I, myself, had helped author), why would I be surprised? Why should I even waste energy boo-hooing?
The main meal on the plane was—can you guess?—Chinese food. Meaning, in this instance, a kind of battered and fried chicken piece in a heavy sauce, on pasty, rather tasteless white noodles. That was on the first flight. The second featured a foodstuff that they labeled “beef”—but who can really say? It presented itself as a kind of deep fried log of what might have been sausage, although my vote is for pressed pork belly. Whatever it was was not fully recognizable given the tangy paste that (mercifully or not), it had been grilled in. The beer came warm (but hey: with ice! so who’s to complain?) and the light pre-landing lunch was three pieces of bread, halved, with, alternately, a thin spread of tuna and cheese paste, wrapped in copious amounts of unevenly applied plastic wrap. The movies were period dramas—one about clan wars (which was exceedingly graphic for a flight that had numerous children under 7 years old) and the other about the attempt by a lieutenant in the Korean conflict to gain posthumous recognition from the Chinese government for his perished troop.
Patriotic, the flic was, in numerous ways that Chinese could feel good about getting behind. American patrons might have had a few mixed feelings here and there (say about the time that the hero aimed a grenade through the open hatch of a fast approaching (yank) tank).
What was of greatest interest about the entire trip was the airport I passed through: Beijing Capital International Airport—but that is worth an entry all its own. Oh goody: something for you all to look forward to!
As for the moment though, that leaves me with the thorny matter of how to draw this entry to a close.
Well, it may only appear to be one line later, but actually quite the many minutes have passed. And now that they have, here is what I have come up with.
It is a kind of associational motif. (I hope you like games). Let’s see if you can pick up on the clues, catch the logical warp and weft of this thread.
Here goes . . .
I started the trip (yes back in the bright, humid, suffocating heat of northeast Japan) in the following shirt.
How you doing associationally so far?
I do have to confess that, as much as I try to avoid national identifiers when I pass through various cultural contexts (for obvious political and social reasons centering on safety and good taste), I just couldn’t resist on this particular day . . . (who knows . . . it might even help expedite the processing of passports).
As for the place I was leaving, it apparently had no qualms about identity, as its farewell posters declared themselves like this:
See how the scenes have all become signs? This was it that on the two planes I rode to Sweden, the beer I had looked thus; accompanied by nuts that looked like this:
Passing through Beijing Capital International, there were posters like this:
. . . and this:
the first one making me pause, contemplating how far we’ve come; the last one making me wonder whether we’d budged at all: its pen and ink motif looking a little too close to political history for my taste. I don’t know about you, but I see in that stark stack of humanity, the grim recognition of how the present stands on the bones and gristle of the past.
But maybe I tend to see too much; to read too deeply into signs in ways that probably are not intended; possibly not even there.
The final signs that caught my attention were these for Coke. Well, the Beijing Olympics, of course, but—you know—sponsored by the International multi-national:
Well, compared to the Adidas poster, a more sugar-coated world; one pressed through the lens of happiness, consumption, progress, frivolity, play!
Even if it is (coincidentally? felicitously? for the hosts) . . . draped in a banner of R E D.
(Fortunately) not quite the color of the early morning (and late evening!) sky.
If it were I probably would never get to sleep, over here in Stockholm. Land where it is all light, all night.