Friday, May 28, 2010

The Hollow Tooth Diaries: EUST Day Zero

Hollow Tooth Diaries will be cross-posted (that's the lingo, right?) to EUSTblog:

Air travel, as we all know from standup comedy, is terrible. In economy class, they don't give you much food, or legroom, or comfort, or respect. I think I heard someone tell me once about some self-aware comedian who responded to the cliche of comedians hating on air travel by expressing in vehement terms "Yes, let's complain about the food in the metal tube they put you in to fling you at high speeds through the air!" It's a reminder about the age of miracles in which we live. It's a reminder to have some perspective.

The anti-air travel perspective has always mystified me as well. I'd never even thought about complaining about it. It's something that happens to you for a while; you sit still and you read a book or sleep or watch a movie and then you're somewhere else. Even on long flights, I had never had the slightest discomfort

Until this time.

Now, I'd flown to Europe before. That time and this, I neglected to sleep on the plane, as I was landing in the early evening and I could then crash immediately and thereby adapt to the time zone. No more of a challenge than staying up till 5AM with friends, right? Well, something was different. Maybe the frantic packing and final errands the morning before. Maybe the uncomfortable plane ride. (Who puts the seat far enough from the window that you can't rest your head on it?) Maybe panic at leaving my home continent and living out of a suitcase for six months in a post-Soviet republic wracked with unemployment, poverty and political turmoil. Who knows, but I was deposited in Frankfurt with over three hours to wait in a hunger and exhaustion-induced haze.

My departure gate was about as far from my arrival gate as it was possible to be, so I had to stagger through what seemed like the entire Frankfurt airport hauling my probably-oversized carry-on bags. The trip involved creeping around in disused corridors trying to avoid passport controls as long as possible (long story - I was advised that it might have been travelling illegally), and schlepping through a surreal blend of antiseptic corridors, security checkpoints and garish high-end shopping. I finally collapsed at my gate (found only by asking a security guard who was privy to secret knowlege) so early that the flight attendants thought I was running late for the previous plane.

Due to exhaustion, general malaise, and shame over my poor German, I didn't get anything to eat in Frankfurt. It didn't help that the food places were far from my gate, overpriced, and didn't have anything I wanted. Also, once past the mall and through security, the Frankfurt airport is about the bleakest building imaginable. One could likely make a crack about German philosophers, given how great the place is for contemplating the futility of joy.

When the flight from Brussels departed, I basically passed out immediately and woke up just in time to miss the drink cart. My water had been confiscated at Frankfurt security.

The Brussels airport was Frankfurt in miniature. Boring bits, mall, arbitrarily long walks. When I managed to make it into daylight my first Belgian experience was a shouting match between my busdriver and a gentleman who'd decided the best place to park his van was in the only exit to the parking lot.

Research plus transit maps plus (decent French skills X helpful transit guy) got me to the hotel, where I met up with other people on the tour. Plan at this stage was to head out and get something to eat. Street food doesn't really exist much in Brussels and the restaurants nearby were all too expensive for my blood, despite having not eaten in, like, a day. Also, then we ran smack into a pride festival, which took some time to navigate. We also got hopelessly lost three or four times. My friends decided to go boozin' and I decided to head back to the hotel, as my hour of airborne unconsciousness hadn't done much to alleviate my fatigue. Of course I got hopelessly, mercilessly, entirely lost again on the way back. I only found my way home by ducking into a Metro station and finding how absurdly not-going-the-right-way I was. Never did find anything to eat.

Unknown Armies has those little magic urban legends in the margins. One of them holds that food is actually a drug and if you can survive the withdrawal, you can do without it forever. A little insensitive to people who have starved to death but still kinda cool. Anyway, that's basically what happened. The next day (The Hollow Tooth Diaries: EUST Day One!), I went out for breakfast not because I was hungry, but because I knew I should be. I didn't need to eat at all! I was free! This was convenient, because nothing is open in Brussels on a Sunday before 10. After getting lost a couple more times, I found an open cafe, just to test myself.

That was the most delicious croissant I have ever tasted.

1 comment:

  1. The whole hunger feeling is more a less a trick of the mind. after 24 hours of not giving in to it, you stop feeling anything straight on into the near dieing hunger pains. that little trick got me through saving a lot of money in high school, but you know, could kill you. I wouldn't suggest trying it too often