Monday, January 21, 2008

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Extended air travel is often nauseating, especially if you can’t sleep through it. To make matters worse, I changed planes in New Jersey. New Jersey, as the old adage goes, is the land of refined oil and crude people. Newark airport is where this comes to a head. No one there wants to be of assistance, in fact, they are seemingly there for the express purpose of making life as unlivable as possible; clearly with the goal of causing you to commit suicide. Newark is the natural population limiter. It exists so that others will die.

I found myself stumbling around the Newark airport, as part of a travel Odyssey that would make Homer blush, en-route to France, having left Portland to its rain and its gloom. My time in Portland had been restorative – certain crucial relationships had been repaired and I felt a sense of freedom that I had not before as a result. Upon boarding the airplane to Newark however, and it should have been a sign, any morning that begins at 5:00 tends to have its consequences – that things would be bumpy. I spent my first 20 minutes airborne after the plane had stabilized scrubbing vomit out of my jacket after the women next to me got air sick, a feat that she would repeat upon landing. How she was able to vomit on me with her face buried in an paper bag I leave to the field of theoretical physics to address. The flight also seemed to include an avian of screaming and baying children; but sometimes this cannot be helped. We flew at high altitude with the sun striking my side of the plain. I pulled the shade to prevent instantaneous blindness, only to observe in horror as said shade proceeded to heat up, blasting a cone of heat within inches of my head, forcing me to sit ever closer to my aforementioned weak stomached seat mate to prevent being scalded. The narrow jet of stale air blasting from the ceiling remained my only source of reprieve.

The second leg of the flight, from Newark to Paris was quiet and dare I say it and despite my inability to sleep, somewhat pleasant. As I write this, I am searing across the French countryside by train, en route to Montpellier. Montpellier is a small, Mediterranean place, very near Barcelona. The French countryside in beautiful in a stereotypically bucolic sort of way. Low trees, farmland and the occasional home. Everything you would expect from wine country. The French conform to stereotype, or at least as I remember them. Pleasant, helpful and wantonly stylish. There are more West Africans since the last time I was here, some 7 years ago, but despite rumors otherwise; they seem to integrate into society as a whole. The bulk appear to hold white-collar jobs and carry themselves with a dignity that has long since been broken in much of the American black population. The hostility of interaction between blacks and whites that remains altogether too explicit in America (Newark provided example after example of this) seems to be minimal in France. People seem content to simply live their lives and allow others to do likewise. Even those working service seem to retain a greater sense of human dignity and thus are more likely to treat you humanely. Even the elderly, and my train car holds a perfect cross section of the French population, seem to be able to interact with the young in a non-venomous fashion. Is it possible that things do not simply seem more civilized, but in fact are?

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