The strangers are gathering at Gate 4. Several of us will know each other much better by the end of this trip. The others are just strangers and probably always will be. An unkempt couple to my left eats their mid-morning snacks as they laugh about something on their phones. A guy in the back corner by the window is already donning his neck pillow, preparing for a premature nap. Crocodile Dundee with a long braid of hair down his back walks past our gate, no doubt on his way to an Australian safari. A janitorial lady slowly ambles by, pushing her cart of supplies, oblivious to the faceless throngs of people who track up her otherwise clean floors on an hourly basis.
I’m listening to several conversations around me: Young ladies laughing about some something, men talking sports, someone telling me to stop working. Everyone has something to say to their neighbor, except maybe four of us who have climbed into a book, whether reading or writing, if for no other reason than to avoid the chatter that sustains and entertains most during these waits. Boarding. I was given an outstanding seat on this leg, where I can stretch out. Next stop: Atlanta. I’m sure the milieu will be progressively more colorful as we make our stops.
Gate F1 for Air France is mostly empty 2 hours before boarding. Gate F3 is lined up and boarding for Amsterdam. The last airport I used that was as quiet as this is now was Billings, Montana. The noticeable accents are already more varied here, which is certainly a sign of things to come.
Here is a pleasant looking elderly Hindu couple, her in a wheel chair and him attending to her. She wears a black woolen scarf/headcover, a silken blouse with the intricate pattern of a persian rug, and a long skirt of alternating red and khaki print. She sits “indian style” on the chair beside her husband who is dressed in a very western brown plaid shirt. They speak to one another in calm quiet “inside” voices, unlike many of the Americans who come through.
A lovely 60 something year old (my estimate) Italian woman and I had an exchange in line. I complemented her on how well her luggage matched her jacket and she explained that she was Italian and did not understand me. I pointed to her luggage and her jacket and said “bellissima.” She then explained in Italian how large the U.S. is, with beautiful spots, but how “bellissima” all of Italy is, though such a small country. We agreed. We both moved on, smiling.
To my immediate left is a middle aged woman in black leggings and a sweatshirt, abusing the rest of us with her explanation of how ridiculous and selfish it is of her dad who is convalescing in a hospital room somewhere, that he objects to her flying to Paris while he is moments from his expiration, only shortly after her brother passed away.
“I can’t do anything about it! What does he want me to do? I can’t keep him alive so why should I cancel my plans?”
The gate area is filling in now. Next stop: Paris! I hope I’m not seated beside sweatshirt woman. I’m afraid she might steal my oxygen mask, given the opportunity.
Sitting at Gate L7 at Charles DeGaulle Aeroport. We traveled in the same direction as the earth was rotating and crossed the dark side of the planet in about 7 hours doing 650 mph. The pilot had no skill whatsoever at missing potholes, so I was completely unable to find so much as an ounce of sleep on the plane. We proceeded up the east coast of the U.S. and Canada from Atlanta, skirting D.C., New York, and Boston. I thought we had dinner coming around New York but we found more potholes of the sky just after the row in front of me was served and the attendants had to stop. I finally enjoyed some “orzo pasta with curry, chicken in an olive tomato catalan sauce, rice and cereals, with cheese and coffee cake,” somewhere above the Gulf of St. Lawrence, north of Halifax, Canada. From that point we ventured out into the blackness of the north Atlantic, and I have concluded that the roads in rural Faulkner County are better than those south of Greenland. For those who care about such things, we went out over the Atlantic roughly where the Titanic went down.
As I recline at the Gate for Tel Aviv in Paris, I’m listening to a woman speak hebrew on her cell phone and watching an orthodox Jewish man, dressed in all black with the classic black broad brimmed hat. He is presently adorned with his black and white prayer shawl over his head and performing a ritual over by the window with a few jumbo jets in the background. Aside from this ancient practice against such a modern background, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is the fact that he gathers no particular attention as he goes about his business. No one complains or even ogles. Why? Diversity. The fact that so many different people actively exercise their varying faiths is just what strengthens the ability of each to do so.
On the plane, I was seated beside Azin. She is a twenty-something female who is traveling home to Iran. While I admit that “Iran” gave me an initial pause, on continuing to speak with her I learned that she was traveling to see her family upon the passing of her father from cancer. She is a shiite muslim, and on questioning her about her views of Americans, she explained that the views of Iranian commoners are generally different than their government’s perspectives and many people do not appreciate the government’s alienation of the U.S.. This sentiment would be repeated later by a cab driver in Pilgrimage VIII. She was a sad young lady, very polite, and though I would not be praying to Allah, but Jehovah, she was thankful for the promise and goodwill of prayers of peace for her family. We did not fear one another. This is important.
On our way to Tel Aviv.