Saturday, March 1, 2014

Letters from the Equator, 4 - At Sea, Loftily

                                       West by North
               (for the previous letters check the archive, right)                                                     
AIRBORNE: I wanted to travel due west from South America along the equator, a route, as I have mentioned, no one takes. My choices for reaching the far Pacific were two: Santiago to Tahiti to points north, or Miami to Los Angeles to Honolulu to... But I am getting ahead of the story.
     Airports are curious indices of countries and cultural institutions. In the Sao Paulo airport I might have learned a lot about Brazilian monetary policy, for instance. I didn't have to pay a fee to change my dollars into reals, the local currency, and then discovered that in no other place - even among Quito's black marketeers -­ could I change my reals back into anything else, at any price.
     Sleeping on the floor of the Caracas airport a few nights ago, after running the surly immigration gauntlet, I realized that the carpeting is much better in the international section. There were no electrical outlets in the Bogota airport and there are a lot of men holding machine guns. Miami's airport is really in Cuba, indicated by the specific gravity of the coffee and the spoken language.
    Los Angeles's airport - LAX is a particularly apt, if demonic, acronym -­ had all the traffic problems of the Santa Monica freeway.                         
      I wrote all this somewhere over the Pacific, blown by supersonic gales. I had been traveling for about 15 hours on this leg of the journey and had covered roughly 5,000 miles, with a thousand or so to go. I had eaten a cheese omelette, mixed nuts, mango and watermelon slices, a tortured chicken filet and a kind of eclair; I had drunk a beer, three cups of coffee and much orange juice.
     I felt odd but not unappreciated. Good fortune had placed me in first class, with a view of individual clouds marching toward the equator, fluffy meringues on an infinite blue cookie sheet. I had been provided with a plastic kit containing bizarre accoutrements. I didn't wish to brush my teeth with paste squeezed out of an envelope, but the value of earplugs was irrefutable. They reduced the pilot's electronic therapy sessions from migrainal to merely distracting.
     I loved the booties. Put them on over your socks and insulate yourself, symbolically, from strangeness and the night, from the grit of the celestial dome. They induce sleep, no doubt through association with childhood; everyone is helpless at 35,000 feet above the vast ocean. The nice stewardess was preparing din-din. Maybe, I thought, she'll read me a story.                                   

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