stage one. boosters on.

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Posted by Kevin Welch on April 5, 2012

swiss airline ann.March 31, 2012. Flight 614, Detroit-Amsterdam. Delta. I think Delta ate KLM/Northwest. Or something. This feels more like a NW flight than a Delta one. Delta used to always feel like the seats were thin and the planes smelled, much like the interior of the old Detroit International Terminal, like hotdog water. The crew were always angry that you wanted to go somewhere with them. If there were movies it would be on a drop-down screen way down the aisle or right next to your seat above your head so you couldn’t see it. And of course the headphones didn’t really work either. They were sometimes the equivalent of holding a long rubber hose to your ear while someone spoke very loudly in the other end. I mean this literally. They were hard rubber or soft plastic and you stuck one end in your ear and the other end into a hole in the armrest, where there must have been a tiny tiny speaker or something. It just made a squawking sound. But that was usually for the best, because the films were not films you would actually want to watch or even hear anyway. Of course these days all that has improved a lot, at least on most international flights. Each seat features it’s own little screen on the back of the seat in front of you, and you have a handheld remote which lets you scroll through a million choices of films, television shows, documentaries. If you use your own headphones sometimes you can hear the audio fairly well too. None of that matters much to me right now though, because my handheld remote thing is deader than Elvis and the one film I was able to default to, (a George Cloony political thing which is probably pretty good even though I can’t stomach any more American politics) I couldn’t hear anyway, because it sounds like it’s running through my old Tube Screamer fuzz box.
And that explains why I’m doing this, banging away on my laptop and drinking red wine in a plastic cup, sitting next to a perfectly nice older lady who’s remote does work a little. I showed her how to run it.

In the morning we’ll arrive at Schipol in Amsterdam, early-ish. Too early to check into my room I suspect. I booked a room at my new favorite airport hotel, CitizenM, walking distance from the airport, really just a short stroll. It’s ultra modern and interesting, and at 90 Euro right at the top of my hotel budget limit for this trip. [By the time I checked out my bill was right at 200 EU. Ouch. future kev] But I’m tired and I decided to treat myself. I have no other plan than to train into town at some point and eat Indonesian food, and probably have a Heineken somewhere and watch the tourists. The following morning I’ll check out, stroll back to the airport and catch a flight to Moscow.

April Fools Day-April 2nd.
I did nothing but work and rest while here overnight. I didn’t even jump the train into town. It’s fine, as I’m coming back in a week or so. Amsterdam is one of the main hubs for travelers, especially Schiphol Airport. When you walk through this airport you hear all different languages, all different kinds of dress, shades of skin, and the announcements alone can keep me interested for long stretches. The names of exotic cities I’ve never been too, some I’ve never even heard of, places in China, Africa, Eastern Europe, South America, flights to Havana, flights to Newark too, anywhere in the world, anywhere at all, and in this vast birdhouse all the races and tribes are gathered, shuffling along with bags and children and tickets bought and paid for in every currency in existence, and it’s all right here. One thing I notice in these crossroad places, the time of day or night ceases to have such a strong hold on one’s notion of schedule. Our rhythms are unplugged from much of the normal stimuli we subconsciously respond to. One eventually just gives up being horrified by, say, a 3:30 am wake-up call, or inversely, still being awake at 3:30 am. After all, somewhere on the planet it is a more normal time. You just happen to be several thousand miles away from that place at the moment. Sometimes you find yourself still up after 24 hours with little or no sleep. You just roll with it as best you can, because often you have no other choice. Now, I admit much ignorance over our biology, but I would be interested to talk to researchers about what happens to our bodies, especially over time (let’s say, uh, 30 years) when we spend a lot of days and nights in this condition, of asking our bodies to just forget what it thinks it’s supposed to be doing in terms of sleep, manufacturing it’s little sleeping pills or wake up pills, it’s your time-to-take-a dump-signals, all that stuff. If I had a dictionary with me on this plane I’d look up the word ‘acadian’ because something tells me that word goes with ‘rhythm’ to describe these inner clocks of ours which travelers like me so frequently snub and ignore. [Nope, it’s ‘circadian’. future kev ] Oh well, who gives a shit. These things roll around in my head sometimes.

I’m on a SwissAir flight to Zurich right now, about halfway in, connecting there for another SwissAir flight to Moscow. I went for a walk last evening looking for a bottle shop and a chocolate shop, which meant Schiphol itself, because as anyone knows who has passed through there, it’s one of the biggest shopping malls in the world. I entered on one end, side entrance, and walked straight through to the other end, or at least the end of the line for passengers or shoppers. I wish I had had a pedometer to measure the distance. I think it was a mile. And if it wasn’t a mile, it was damn close. And this was just the front part, before you actually go into the airport itself, which is so vast that you really have to plan on possibly walking for 45 minutes or so to your gate. No lie.
I did find a good Dutch chocolate Easter Bunny for the Konradi girls, and a decent bottle of French red wine for Ann-Tyler and Brian. All I know is that I wanted to do my shopping in Holland, because I don’t want to buy anything at all in Switzerland, duty free or not, if I can help it. Years ago I recall dumbly staring at a bottle of regular old Jack Daniels and computing the cost at around $120.00 US. I have a story that goes with that, but I’ll tell it somewhere else if I get the chance, god willing.
And now it seems that we are getting close to Zurich, and I have to stop writing for a time.

The Swiss used to irritate me sometimes, even though I’ve always admired them for the very things that bug me. They are so obedient, so thorough, so clean, so on-time. One of the biggest ironies I know of can be experienced simply by crossing the imaginary line that divides Italy from Switzerland. The Italians provide an insanity from the opposite pole entirely, and I admire that somehow too. The trains don’t always run, or if they do, they are never on time, you oftentimes have to poop in a hole in the floor, and when they tell you to be in the lobby by 7:45, you are hereby advised not to appear before 8:15, unless you have some reading to do. And so forth. Cross the border into Switzerland and immediately, the trains arrive and depart with unnerving precision. Almost to the second. Everything is hyper-modern, except for the old stuff, which they also keep in perfect condition. They rebuild the tower clocks regularly it seems, whether they are working perfectly or not, and every few years they burn all their money and reprint new, fresh stuff. And the Swiss Franc bills are, or at least used to be, before the advent of the Euro, amazing in themselves. I’m no expert at all about this, but I recall once when I was touring through there, they had a new bill with a picture of a famous woman writer on it. In order to make it very difficult to forge, embedded somewhere in the bill was a little microchip or something, which contained the entire biography of the woman. This was a long biography, book-length, in the bill. And remember, this was probably in the mid 90’s. I guess after these things had been in circulation for a couple of years they were all gathered up and burned, because they were getting a little dirty.
I say all this, and believe me, I could say more, because on the first leg of today’s journey, I boarded the Swiss flight in Amsterdam, and as I was sitting in the exit row, not only could I not keep my carry-on under the seat in front of me, which you can do in the States and I think everywhere else, but I even had to put my shoes back on before we could take off. Little stuff like that, you know? They are very careful, the Swiss. That’s why I was amused to notice that, as the next flight, from Zurich to Moscow, was backing out of the gate, we had yet to have any attendants checking to see if our belts were fastened, our seatbacks were up, our stuff was under the seat, or anything else. In fact, there were even people still walking in the aisles. In fact, one of those was a woman on crutches. I checked again. Yes, this is a SwissAir flight. Of course, I thought: Russian crew….I mean, I guess it must be. Never, ever, in the 20 odd years of dropping in on the Swiss now and then, have I ever seen anything remotely as loose as that. That’s the kind of thing that would probably so horrify a…..(what are they called, a Swissman? Nope. Future Kev, check that out for us please)….ok the Swiss, I can only imagine they would arrest themselves and march themselves right down to the Policia, or whatever they’re called there.
Well, that little rant has worn me out, so I’m going to see if I can doze off for a few minutes, while we soar above the planet to lands which I have never known.
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Next up: Mother Russia.

2 Responses to stage one. boosters on.

  1. Tammy K

    Interesting reading. my favorites were….in the 20 odd years of dropping in on the Swiss. Picture of you parachuting in.

    hot dog water bring memories of New Orleans.

    Who is future Kev?

  2. Ella Johnson

    good luck with the Moscovities… interesting perception of the Swiss, give me the Italy…!!
    Be safe out there…
    Ciao!

    Ella

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