Getting out of Europe was a necessity not a desire. But after several months there I was really starting to get the hang of things: finding my footing, using public transport, speaking foreign languages and living out of a single suitcase that, let’s face it, really isn’t getting lighter than the maximum of 23 kilos.
But airports are interesting aren’t they? I’ve got a penchant for those that have tried to turn themselves into small sustainable cities. I even hear tell that some have built in hotel rooms for you to rest by the hour! Most that I’ve seen though put my hometown LA to shame. In fact, I try to avoid the abysmal LAX at all costs.
But moving between international borders is always an interesting experience. We are all people, with the same needs, desires and responsibilities, and for the most part have a good deal of freedom. But when you’re walking through the grim security corridors of the Fiumicino International airport for example, through those sections where you are either underground, moving through dimly lit hallways with a yellowish tinge, or worse yet a experiencing a bright florescent shine that reflects upon a chalky decrepit wall, it feels as if you’re being guided to your doom, or perhaps being deported, as opposed to simply a means to a destination; and this can be a little unnerving.
During such transitions, only the minimal is provided: floor, walls, lighting. Then it’s off to one of those large on airport transit shuttles where you’re packed in so tight you feel like herded cattle, and you really get to see some glowing personalities surface. Here in these moments, context is everything. The knowing that you’ll get through it, that this is just part of your journey and and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel helps steer the thoughts in the right direction.
But as I made my way from the home of yet another generous friend who allowed me to stay on their bed / guest room / air mattress and so forth, I walked to the tram took me to to Termini Train Station in Rome, where I took a train from Termini to Fiumicino airport, and eventually found my way to Terminal five. Talk about planes, trains and automobiles.
It seems these days that’s what my life is about on travel days: racking up modes of public transportation from one place to another. It’s truly amazing that you can get around outside of Los Angeles without a car in large cities, but it certainly is time consuming. I cannot remember the last time I was on a bus before traveling like this and now it seems to be the default way to get around. Oh if only I could have an electric car waiting for me in every city.
In any case, after hearing all sorts of haunting tales of what might happen to you if you overstay your welcome in Europe or the Schengen territory (which is most of Europe), I was keen to exit as soon as possible. As an American citizen we get a maximum of three months to enjoy Europe before we must exit for another THREE. Frankly, three months is about enough time to enjoy half of one small country.
But good energy was flowing this morning right upon my departure.
I used to be in the habit of trying to arrive to airports with as little waiting time as humanly possible to get onboard and leave. Just get me to my destination. But, as I make my way through airports these days, I’ve been arriving earlier and earlier to not feel rushed. In fact, I ask myself, how can I make the experience better and more enjoyable each time I come? How can I feel lightness and ease about being here? What hidden treasures can I discover and how can I amuse myself? With the huge overhauls some of these larger international airports have seen over the years, it’s actually not a bad place to shop, people watch, dine, chat and explore. And not can you people watch. How do people sleep on floors of airports? Have they not seen what the men’s bathrooms looks like on the floor and what gets tracked out of there and onto those floors?
But I was saying some airports can be awesome.
In fact, San Francisco has even added a YOGA ROOM to their airport! There is actually signage telling you so. Baggage claim, ground transport, gates and Yoga Room! I’m so excited to experience it some day.
But coming back to my departure, by now you must know that ease and grace are two of my favorite words. As I am pushing a large 50 lb (World’s lightest) suitcase around the world alongside a smaller wheeled carry-on, I try to make these transition periods as easy as possible. And so, I amuse myself with games like, what’s the lightest push and I can use to get both suitcases to roll, or can I wheel both suitcases up or down an escalator without disrupting my stride or scraping against the sharp toothed surface of the steps.
In large train stations and in busy metros such as Rome, people’s emotions can run high. Here it is evident how many of us possess a huge sense of grandiosity and self importance. This sense of entitlement can lead to people wanting to get on before others get off and I often wonder where this attitude comes from. Aren’t we all in a hurry? Isn’t everyone going somewhere they need to be? I remember once watching a documentary about aquatic life. As it turns out schools fish, literally in the tens of thousands of them, can all swim together, all within a millimeter of each other without once touching one another. But several humans can barely make it through subway doors, to not even speak about China.
But don’t tell me about China, I know China!
But I was suggesting that luck was on my side during my transition out of Rome this morning. Most people I come across, everywhere I go seem happy, friendly, welcoming and willing to help. So when I approached my first level of security, three well groomed border patrol officers greeted me with smiles for the first passport check. Then, after check in, I notice the Global Tax Refund kiosks. I made my way across the hall where one unusually friendly man sitting in a dark and ominous room with all the lights turned off, gave me all the necessary stamps without once asking if I had the merchandise on me I had purchased – something the sign that separated the two of us said must be the case if you want a stamp.
I found myself glad to have allowed an excess of three hours to do such things, I left with a little cash, a little credit back to the credit card and off I went. Feeling great about money flowing *in* I made my way to security and x-ray.
Was there something in the air? As though I was some Italian dignitary, the Italian TSA spoke gracefully: “Sir, it appears you have a laptop in there, would you mind taking it out for us?” Then they found I had a large bottle of water and yes I know better. “Sir I am afraid you must drink it or we must dispose of it.” Remarking finally to his colleague, he said, “The Signore will take a few drops more for himself and then dispose of it.” I then imbibed what would unequivocally be more than a few drops and continued on towards the big moment, Passport control.
All guys and one woman, so of course I smiled at her and yeah, surprisingly, she smiled back and I could feel that lady luck was on my shoulder. Buon Giorno! Buon Giorno! She glanced me once over, then down at my passport, stamped it and without any fuss this ex pat was on his way back to North America.
First however, more long corridors and tunnels. Did these corridors lead back to the Vatican City? But just as things started to feel grim I see before me the succulent thigh of an incredibly well manicured woman in a miniskirt making a provocative face, dripping in diamonds and staring me right in the face. She was three times larger than me but there she sat, looking larger than life on a billboard before Damiani. My how the scenery suddenly changed. As I came up the stairs from the dark alley of doom and rounded the corner to the flight deck, I could swear I had been whisked back to the Spanish Steps. Gucci, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Damiani, Dolce & Gabbana- every high end fashion house apparently has a boutique in terminal five. What a stark contrast, Roman security to the highest form of consumerism on the planet.
I boarded the plane and found myself sitting next to a larger man. A much larger man whose size was spilling over into my seat. Hmm, how to remedy? The whole plane is full but I am quickly distracted by how plush the seats are, how far back they recline and the absolute abundance of legroom to be had. I had never heard of Air Transat but this was great. I knew it would be a comfortable flight.
I also know from experience that larger men can do something that I can not, which is cross their hands over their round puffy belly, essentially using the belly as a pillow, and sit, even sleep comfortably like this! I wish I could do such a thing. Eventually he nodded off allowing me to wedge my elbow on the armrest and share.
But to my right was a screaming child, who
And we weren’t even moving. She was fed, she had been to the bathroom, she had toys, love, ipads and more but she was having none of it.
The shrieks are so loud, so piercing that in these moments I believe the noise alone to be a full deterrent to having or ever wanting children. My thinking is that any country wishing to work on population control should just sit next to a screaming child that isn’t their own for 30 minutes and all will be solved.
This little girl – who really seemed like she could control it IF she wanted to whaled on and on, pausing only to stare meanly at glaring passengers despite very loving parents doing everything they could to make the noises stop.
But guess who has child canceling headphones on?
Me! And Trust me, it worked.
I slipped back into my comfortable chair and closed my eyes.
Fondly I reminisced on the last time I was on a flight when a French stewardess announced: Ladies and gentlemen welcome aboard EasyJet. We have one persons who suffers from nut allergy aboard so we must ask please do not eat your own nuts and we will not be allowed to serve you ours…”
Yup, that’s a quote. I wrote it down.
My thoughts wondered. It was so nice to be back in Europe for a healthy amount of time! It would be very easy to take I don’t know, 2-3 years, just spending two weeks in each of the cities that I love the most. Two weeks is a good amount of time to really settle in and feel like you can mix it up.
Interesting things popped in my head, like being in Rome and discovering that Dyson has made both a sink and hand dryer all in one one. Water and wind unite with the earth on your hands that needs to be rinsed off. It’s shaped like an airplane and when you put your hand under the body, water shoots out. When you put your hand under the wings, it takes off like a jet!
Canada provides a strong contrast to Europe much the way America does and to my surprise both countries are actually quite similar. On my first day walking around I stumbled right into TIFF, The 40th Annual Toronto International Film Festival! The streets were packed with people just wanting to be out and seen!
McDonalds of course was trying to lure people in with a free coffee booth and a DJ inside of a human size Coffee cup on top of their pop up tent bouncing to the beat. Sexy girls in dresses were handing out free bottles of “Fresh Perrier,” (is there such a thing when it’s canned?) And one company had even come up with the idea of pouring Indian sauce on a can of tuna and calling it a tasty high protein snack.
Nevertheless, I was pleased to be back in a place where stores were open till 9, open on Sunday, open during siesta hours and the like. It was also nice to be back in a place where you can return something if you don’t like it. A place where, if food isn’t prepared correctly, you could say so and exchange it.
I also love the colorful money both abroad and in Canada. Canadian money actually has transparent holograms in the bills! Every single bill I handled here felt like it was Fresh off the Press, and each bill has a silky soft tactile feel with a full thick strip of plastic in between. truly cool.
What’s more cool than that? Taking 23-28% off every single thing you buy! The dollar is so strong right now that everything that is sold, even with a whopping 13% sales tax, is heavily discounted, when you’re spending American dollars. So Lululemon for instance… with an R&D discount is like getting 45% off full retail. Hot! Since more than half my suitcase has been full of Lululemon since the beginning of this trip perhaps this is a good place to stop.
Three weeks of alone time in Canada, rejuvenating, working out, touching weights regularly for the first time in over 8 years, visiting a chiropractor and physiotherapist to break any unneeded patterns, visiting with a couple dear friends and before I knew it was time to come back to American Soil for Divine Play…
Until next time friends, thanks for ruminating with me and here’s a video from Divine Play if you just need a little adrenaline.
Tari Mannello for Tari TV and Elegant Acro.