My tragic love affair with the International Airport…

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I came back to Melbourne nearly three months ago, and am now filled with an intense desire to leave again… It’s not that I hate being here, it’s just that I feel like life is at its most interesting and I’m probably at my best when I’m travelling and away from the familiar. I’m halfway between the fear that this makes me a sad lost individual and the belief that this really isn’t such a bad thing. I guess I’m simultaneously indoctrinated with the need to feel settled and achieve the approval that society offers to those who are, and filled with the lust for life that new experiences inspire in us. The latter part of me would argue that in order to live life to the fullest, one must push ourselves to our limits, pursue the experiences that we crave, and never let go of the ones that shape the person we become. And for me, so many of the experiences that have tested and shaped me the most have been had whilst I’m on some kind of adventure.

My desire to be on the move is so strong; it’s almost as if, I have an infatuation with displacement and chaos, and the beauty that I have found in the experience of such. But then I know that to live a life of displacement and chaos can become exhausting, and no doubt those who love me harbour disapproval of this pursuit… The more I think about it, it’s almost as if for most of my life I have been conducting a kind of ongoing forbidden love affair with the international airport. When I say this, I mean that I’ve been in love with what it represented. (I don’t mean in the physical sense, like that woman I once saw in a documentary that was in love with the Berlin wall, and kept taking pieces of it away to make love to… that’s another problem entirely.)

My love affair with the international airport could be chronicled into a kind of tragedy of sorts, beginning very early on. One of my clearest and earliest childhood memories is of being dragged through customs by my exhausted parents as they warned me of the disarray and the ‘weirdos’ that airports were characterised by. This offcourse filled my little head with an intense curiosity… I have a vague recollection of asking what a weirdo was, and twenty years later I think I may still be waiting for an answer… (I mean, what a thing to say, what would make them think that ‘weird’ people took more flights than non-weird people..?) Although, perhaps by this point I’ve actually become one of those weirdos sitting alone in an international airport whom passing parents warn their children about.

My love was requited when in my late teens I began traveling without any parental supervision, and at first it was awe-inspiring… There were often extended periods between our rendezvous, but the romance never ceased to carry on in my head. In saying this, the attraction was one that was plagued by exhaustion and doubt, and after several years of on and off independent travel the initial passion had waned. The excitement of a grope on my way through customs, and the intoxicating prospect of chance meetings with interesting strangers no longer allured me. These things had become simply a nuisance.

Being in transit no longer gave me the gratifying flutter of butterflies in my stomach which it once had. But despite my fondness weakening, its pull remained strong.

By the age of twenty four, the International Airport and I were not even remotely happy bedfellows in our longstanding romance. Two weeks before Christmas that year, due to an airstrike I was stranded for 39 hours in a merciless French airport. The recession of had hit London hard, and I’d been underemployed for months. With just a few Euros in my pocket, I survived this ordeal on only a can of coke, a croissant and a bag of peanuts which were donated to my cause by a kindly young Moroccan man.

The international airport and I were not even on speaking terms in these torturous hours. I resented its disorganisation, its lack of consideration for my needs. I was physically unwell, my body deteriorating rapidly. The only absolution it found was a steady supply of paracetamol from the airport infirmary. (The doctor who had not spoke much English diagnosed infected sinuses and a touch of dehydration in theatrical gasps and hand motions.)

The moments seemed to crawl by, the way they do when a lover is destroying you. I could almost feel my sanity slipping away as I lay on the linoleum floor in those final hours. The winter had been a harsh one, and despite layering myself with almost every item of clothing in my backpack, I shivered hopelessly throughout the night.

I did a lot of thinking in those 39 hours. This wasn’t how I saw my life working out. I was helplessly stranded in an airport (not even a well equipped major airport- a budget one that was really more like a glorified train station), I was completely alone and so broke that I was literally begging for peanuts from strangers. I couldn’t understand what had driven me to travel with no money, no travel insurance and no fallback plan… Why had I felt the need to take such risks?

It was then that I realised that it wasn’t the International Airport’s fault that I had become so disillusioned, or that I had put so much at stake in the name of its pursuit. After all, my passion had always been more about what it had represented, rather than what it was. To me, it stood for something exiting, something new, something to learn from, something to indulge in. But most of all, it represented something ELSE. Something else to long for, something else to look for, something else not to find.

Interestingly despite this realisation, the affair continued, although it never reached such lows again.

I hope that one day the International airport and I can cease our invigorating but slightly destructive bond, but I would never want to abandon its pull completely. After all, I think it’s clear that my passion never stemmed wholly and completely from feelings of inadequacy- there is also just a huge part of me that longs to feel life in the sharpest, most intense and most challenging of ways. And often it is the international airport that has led me to do this. The sky has taken me to many things in my search for something ELSE, and I hope it will continue to do so. It has taken me to moments of truth, clarity, and deception all at the same time. Shown me how to be brave and how to be resourceful. Led me to wonderful people, crazy people, kind people and lost people. All of whom I’ll never forget. Many of whom I still think of often and hope I’ll one day meet again.

My search for something ELSE has offered me experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. So perhaps the search itself does not necessarily equate to self destruction, or a lack of productivity… So I’ll never be someone who has a secure nine to five job, a mortgage and only goes away one week a year. Life wouldn’t make sense to me if that were the case, just as my life continues not to make sense to so many. But my truth need not be their truth, and the more I think about it the more I see the beauty in this…

Perhaps it is as Kerouac said ‘There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.’ Maybe the way he felt about the road, is the same way that I feel about the sky. That its call is stronger than anything else. and perhaps this call isn’t so bad as many would have you believe.

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