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A tale of two airports June 11, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Stansted Airport, waiting for flight to Italy. I had left a boiling Berlin. In ‘London’s’ 18th airport, people were huddled, sheltering from the blizzard that swept into the award-winning building every time someone traipsed determinedly or panickingly in.

Six identically-sized Welsh goblins hovered near me and expressed wonder at everything that happened here in the land of the big people. The ladies had Judith Chalmers hair. The men joked constantly. The man of the youngest of the three couples – presumably son+daughter-in-law/son-in-law+daughter goblins – smiled much too eagerly which made him look as if he was on a marathon smelling-sour-milk session. I worried that his legs were a bit too thin and hairless, even making concessions for the fact that he was a goblin, for someone who was probably planning, judging by that grin, to father children in the near future.

All Europe was at Stansted. Persecuted-looking young Polish women married to older English bits of rough. Lucky bitches. Some grungy Italians played basketball with their rubbish and unstinting accuracy. They whooped in fake celebration, much to the amusement of a Geordie mum and her two children. She read them, one eagerly on either side, Roald Dahl and I wanted to sit cross-legged on the floor. Her boisterous son, his Dahl-listening done, would get up to four-year-old mischief. She curtailed each bout by counting. “If you divvun’t stop doin’ that, we won’t get on the plane. 1. 2. 3.” The counts got longer and longer as the son computed the emptiness of her threats. I left for a wander when she’d reached 99 and three quarters.

A three-member family wore the same persecuted look. Mother+son+daughter. Maybe because there was no father. Or because he’d upped and died. Or because they were on their way to Marbella to see him. No way of knowing.

A cleaning woman in a buggy refused to adjust her route along her selected floor tiles when she came across a TV crew filming someone trying to be authoritative about the airport. They shuffled twenty centimetres sideways to avoid being mowed down by a mop on wheels.

The noise of hard plastic – hard plastic handle snapping against hard plastic suitcases – as parents dropped luggage in anger at another child’s misdeed. “Hold mummy’s hand, Natalie.” Natalie looked at dad with a look that said, “Fuck off, loser.” “Wave to grandma, Natalie.” Natalie perfected her look.

Police strode around with swagger and enormous weapons. I pretended to smoke a cigarette out of my rolled-up bit of online boarding A4 and only stopped when I fainted into one set of manly arms as two boys in blue completed their butch and authoritative sprint towards me. I woke up being probed by some woman doing some survey. The cow was always attacking the vulnerable. Surveying oldies too polite to refuse. “Do you live in the UK?” asked the only woman in the UK I saw without straightened hair. “Germany, dontcha know,” I whispered before fainting with effortful choreography into policeman no. 2’s even burlier arms.

700 girls with straightened hair loomed into view wearing t-shirts that said, “Czech me out”. They were presumably back from a hen-do in Prague. (Suggest an occasion you’d dread more here.) “We didn’t have to pay to go to the toilet in Prague, did we?” one asked, heading towards our great, free-of-charge, British toilets. “Yeah, we did in one place,” answered an identical pal earnestly.

A woman with a limp so severe that she looked like a car with one flat tyre rotated past me slowly.

“Perhaps I should pop into London for the few hours,” I thought resourcefully. “Hmm, 26 quid for the ticket. Perhaps I’ll stay here and observe Europe in all its glory instead.”

Bari Airport, waiting for flight to Milan. I was given a charming proto-bollocking by the no-liquids-of-more-than-100ml man. I felt a satiable urge to tie all Italian men’s hands behind their backs to see how it would affect their speech.

All of Europe wasn’t here. Just Italians. I felt exotic and sported my British passport with pride in case folk couldn’t guess from the unironed and filthy shirt I was wearing from not having packed enough clothes.

The noise at the departure gate rose steadily with Italian men inadvertently knocking each other flying as they rocked their hands back in forth in front of themselves, which led to easy conversation. “Che belli bambini! Quanti anni hanno? Bellissimi.” The hubbub didn’t have the same frantic gossipiness it would have had if we’d been in Spain but if you were hosting a house party and you got this hum going, you’d think you’d done a good job.

Stunningly handsome twin brothers ambled in. They communicated and ignored each other with the well-worn expertise of a married couple. Or a parent and child. Or, indeed, twin brothers. Their haircuts were identical, as was their level of careful unshavedness. They both wore polo-shirts, but one was blue, the other white. The blue one had his collar turned up and sat with his back to me. The upturned collar revealed, just where a tattoo would have been on his neck if he’d been a very different type altogether, the word ‘kissing’.

Che bello. Bellissimo.


1. annie - June 11, 2008

Are you back? Much as I loved this portrait of waiting-around-in-Stansted-people-watching, are you going to spill the beans about Italy?

I love going abroad and feeling like an exotic foreigner. It’s worth waiting around in the airport for. (I wish you were there when I was waiting in the airport, we could gossip about the other people.)

2. IsarSteve - June 11, 2008

Ich warte noch :o)

Welcome home!

3. Marsha Klein - June 12, 2008

I was going to say pretty much the same as Annie (right down to wishing you were there when I was waiting at the airport). And, yes I’d like to hear more about Italy and whether your brother and his family were still loathing not being in New Zealand.

Did enjoy the bit about Italian men waving their hands about. It reminded me of a time when Brian was buying rail tickets in Italy and I told him, rather snottily, that waving his arms about didn’t make him look (or sound) more Italian. He told me, huffily, that I could do it next time. That shut me up. I still feel mean about it.

4. BiB - June 12, 2008

Marsha, I think they’re enjoying it more now, but less enjoying the uncertainty of the nomadism that the whole trip entails. And I know it’s horribly clichéd or unworldly of me to find standard Italian behaviour mention-worthy, but it’s so magnificent. I loved the easy way Italians communicate with each other.

Worauf, Stevechen, worauf? But thank you for the welcome home. I had an exchange with my ex sort-of mother-in-law once, discussing how difficult it is being away from home. She agreed, saying being away from home was hell and, indeed, even worse than being at home, which made me chortle.

Annie, what more could there be to say about a hol than what, and, indeed, whom I saw at the airport? Mind you, that’s bollocks, isn’t it, because surely Italians would be even more fun to watch in their natural environment than all sorts afflicted with the tinge of fear/excitement at the airport that travel brings. But there was a drop of sun, beauty (man- and nature-made) and Milan’s cathedral. Fucking hell. What a stunner.

5. zoeleon - June 12, 2008

Me mum’s invited me to a walking tour round-about Genoa in October (a bit of recompense for her having canceled out on both India in January and Berlin in February). I intend to milk it for all I can; how much time should I extort in Milan, would you say? Why does it have a rep as solely a business city, when I’ve heard there are lovely things to see?

6. Sylvia - June 12, 2008

It’s nice that there are some people who find Italians quaint and exotic, but to me they’ve been irritating for quite some time now. Perhaps it’s to do with the fact that I can understand what they’re saying – believe me, it’s not funny, and it’s not clever……

7. BiB - June 12, 2008

Sylvia, it may have been a style-over-content thing for me. Obviously I only catch a bit of what Italians say when they’re small-talking, but I liked the way they did it. And they were the height of politeness and charm compared to Berliners.

Zoeleon, are you still here or did our trips coincide exactly? Well, I was in Milan for one day so really can’t say much. But I don’t think it has all the charms you might want from your fairy-tale Italian city. But the Duomo is worth visiting for alone. I’d say two or three days tops for Milan.

8. Sylvia - June 12, 2008

Zoeleon – You could spend your time at one of the lakes – either Maggiore or Como. I only know Como really, but everyone seems to be very impressed with it!

Bib – you said it – it’s style over content every time, believe me….. Italians themselves say that when God created Italy he thought it too beautiful, so he created Italians to balance things up a bit. And I have to admit they are generally smarter than some other Europeans. I am pleased to report, however, that where I’m from it’s more last of the summer wine than a martini advert!

9. BiB - June 13, 2008

Ha, I like that nice self-deprecating thing they say about themselves.

10. Geoff - June 13, 2008

I hated Milan. Probably my least favourite city that I’ve visited in Europe, especially as when I go there there the Duomo was covered in scaffolding.

Actually, now I think of it, I didn’t really like Rome (the only other Italian city I’ve visited) much either. It felt like a museum, not a proper city. And the Italians themselves I managed to take an instant dislike to.

Not that you’re allowed to say anything like that in civilised circles in London – saying you’re not a fan of Italy is apparently akin to saying you eat babies.

11. Mark Holland - June 13, 2008

I hate to be a bore, but couldn’t you have just flown direct from Berlin to Milan rather than zig-zagging you’re way around Europe like some sort of jet-set Glaswegian drunkard staggering home?

12. Mark Holland - June 13, 2008

“you’re”! Scusi signore.

13. BiB - June 15, 2008

Mark, it was a complicated route. I wanted to get all the way to Brindisi which, when I was booking, made the best route be via Stansted. On the way back, even that wasn’t manageable, so I had to travel further to Bari with the stop in Milan. Still, at least I got to have a trot round Milan.

Geoff, you’ll be saying you don’t like France next, which is an imprisonable offence. I claimed not to like Paris at one point but was browbeaten back into a correct way of thinking. The only equally sacrilegious thing I want to say about Italy is that I thought the food was utterly, utterly average.

14. zoeleon - June 22, 2008

BiB, so sad, I left Berlin the 11th, thus we missed each other completely. When next blindfolded and throwing darts at a map of Europe (to plan your next itinerary), I’ll hope that one hits Madrid. I have what I strongly suspect to be a seriously closeted housemate who needs some shaking up. Sylvia, thanks for the lakes tip, it sounds great.

15. BiB - June 24, 2008

Bugger, just screwed up a comment. And I’m sure I won’t be able to repeat the incisive wittiness with which it was written…

But, yes, it would be nice to reacquaint myself with Madrid. I was last there over 20 years ago and was horribly in love back in London (for the first time) (anywhere, not just in London) so was probably too lovelorn to enjoy it.

So, yes, time for me to grow out of Barcelona.

Does your house-mate look anything like the Spanish goal-keeper, by any chance, while we’re on the subject of Madrid men?

16. Geoff - June 24, 2008

Madrid is fantastic, much more fun than Barcelona. Which just feels overtouristed now, in the sense that more people I know seem to spend more time there than anywhere else. In fact people jet over from London with such frequency that it just feels like a slightly warmer version of Brighton to me.

Where as Madrid is fantastic. It’s a very sexy city. Well worth a visit.

17. zoeleon - June 25, 2008

The ONLY hint that he may NOT be gay is that he is developing a bit of a belly, but nothing out of line with the overall fattening up of Europe. Aside from that he looks EXACTLY like the Spanish goal-keeper (bald-faced lie as I have no idea what that guy looks like)… He’s slightly balding (all that testosterone, don’t you know!), with a cute baby face, tall, good ass, dresses up very well, there, am I tempting you? Sometime soon I will have to blog about how much better looking the average metro car full of men is in Madrid vs. Berlin. And YES, about Barcelona, who needs a city that’s completely overRUN with tourists, lines everywhere, and prices out of this world? Come visit the capital city girl…

18. BiB - June 27, 2008

Zoeleon, horses for courses. I’m sure a train full (or trainful?) of Berliners would float my boat, or, indeed, train, more than a train full of Madrileños, though that’s purely from the fancying point of view. I feel almost sycophantic saying it but I think German men are pretty bloody fantastic(-looking). Anyway, good, yes, I’m glad to feel that I am mentally moving beyond Barcelona. It must be an important stage of growing up.

Geoff, and I’m intrigued to hear you recommend Madrid too. The Russian did just announce, about ten minutes ago, that as of some month or other he can go to Israel without a visa, so Israel will be top of the fantasy destination list for a while, but I need to rub out a couple of items or two and pencil in Madrid.

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