And the power of empty airports.
American Airlines flight 142 with service to London Heathrow was a blur. I put all my luggage under the seat in front of me, large carry on, personal item and all, took some Dramamine and a sleep aid, and fell asleep to the whir of the turbine outside my window. I woke up once when they served breakfast, and once again when they gave us what I think was dinner. I’m not quite positive, I still felt like a spooked cat cowering in my window seat. I’m singularly glad there was no passenger next to me, I am not sure I would have been in great shape for meaningless conversation.
When we landed, I was told, after aimless wandering around the shuttle bus terminal for a connection to Terminal 5 in London, that Heathrow closes after 11 and that all travelers that had overnight layovers must stay the night in one terminal under the surveillance of airport security. All I can comment about Heathrow is my displeasure at the quality of the design and my treatment I felt as if I were a sheep, corralled into one roped off area to be watched by wolves. If anything, it felt like what my idea of purgatory would be, a poorly lit, empty airport, with lonely travelers spread out on uncomfortably generic airport chairs, lost in the abyss that was the witching hour between dusk and dawn. Airport security patrolled up and down the aisles as if guarding the streets of a garish indoor city advertising currency exchange and stale fast food, its gates locked up against the loneliness the travelers seemed to emanate from the terminal. I slept very poorly, waking up every thirty minutes to a security officer walking by, heavy foot steps sending fantastically awful reverberations through my dreams. Needless to say I was very happy to exit that terminal promptly at 5 AM, and be well on my way to Terminal 5 and my next flight to Germany.
At this point my mental capacity for remembering things was at an absolute end. Communication was not at the top of my list of things I could perform without appearing drunk, and exhaustion had claimed my physical processes most important for survival. Thus reduced to a zombie, I boarded British Airways flight 990 with service to Berlin Tegel, and promptly fell asleep. The rest is even more of a blur, as the zombie disease continued to eat at my brain. My perception picked up small things: like my brief (subdued) panic at not being able to find the NYU representative at Tegel, exchanging my dollars to Euros for the first time, meeting some fellow students briefly and making a mental note to not speak too much because zombies don’t generally talk to their food, the shuttle and the bright cold morning sun, the resident assistant kindly reviewing check in procedure to me for the sake of propriety, only registering where my room was, getting lost and having to ask someone for directions to my room, struggling with my new front door, attempting to connect to the internet, failing, and then falling asleep with my face in my laptop and all my clothes from my travels still on for the next 6 hours.
In the morning I woke up in time for breakfast, served at around 8, though I was still suffering from jetlag and had to drag myself out of bed and into a cold shower to wake up fully. I stopped by the office, grabbed my little breakfast sack, and headed straight to Dylan’s and Andrea’s room to eat and start the day with them. We did a housing tour and a neighborhood tour, and then a trip to the academic center where I will be having class to go through orientation sessions on general things to know before we start class and met quite a few new and awesome people. I began to be more and more amazed at the actuality of what I was experiencing. I didn’t know what to expect before coming here and I definitely did not expect everything that I was able to take in now that I wasn’t so exhausted. The architecture was old, from before the Berlin wall fell, full of renovations and newer architecture overcoming post Cold War structures. The academic center itself was a renovated beer brewery, with a cobblestone courtyard, wrought iron fences, old brick buildings, but the restaurant we had lunch as a collective abroad class was very modern and classy, with chandeliers and shining wood bar and tables amongst the exposed brick and dark steel that made up the brewery’s intact structure. Absolutely beautiful and inspiring use of design in this kind was all over the city. I found it in the suspended steel platform staircase in the academic center, and again in the theater on campus. I am so excited to see more of the city and to see the redevelopment of a nation that has been so dedicated to a different kind of social infrastructure during the Cold War and during World War II. Almost as excited as I am to start learning more about the subway system here, and to learn more German so I don’t feel quite as lost as I do now operating public transit and buying groceries.
In relation to an excerpt of "On Travelling Places", I find it necessary to note that there is a certain desolation to the in between places of travel that provides context for the places one has to be. I became terrified of the process of traveling, as a different kind of endurance is needed to get oneself to where one desires to be. As described, "there was poetry in this forsaken service station perched on the ridge of the motorway, far from all habitation" (30). Indeed, being "alive to the power of the liminal traveling traveling place" is interesting in that most travelers are unaware of the power of these places. The only power that I've noticed in these liminal places, or mainly just London Heathrow, is the power to enhance whatever feelings you are experiencing at the time. Mine simply happened to involve exhaustion, homesickness, and self doubt. But the liminal traveling places have power. And I am expecting I will find power in this foreign land in places I least expect.