Saturday, September 10, 2011

Life at the Airport (and some flying)

I have a fascination with airports.  The combination little kid interest in planes combined with a young adult romance of far away destinations collected on one big board.  Airports have become micro-cities that provide all the services you could want and serve as a setting for daily human drama.  In monster-sized airports like Frankfurt Rheim/Main you can go grocery shopping, have an emergency root canal done by the on-site dentist or even find adult entertainment.  Some of the most most gifted travel writers have used their talents to describe the life of the airport. 

(By including an article from the Atlantic Magazine, this entry goes against my rule of limiting entries to books only.)

1.  A Week at the Airport, Alain De Botton (2009).    De Bottom is a gifted writer who can describe the infrastructure of Heathrow Airport while bringing the full set of human emotions and drama into its stark setting.  (Jan Morris, a doyen of travel writers said, "I doubt if De Bottom has written a dull sentence in his life.")   As the title says, De Bottom spent a week at Heathrow Airport with complete access.  The result was a deceptively short book that is both informative and emotionally powerful.   It's deceptively short with evocative color pictures.   Bought this book new at a train station in London before boarding a Eurostar to Brussels.   By the time I finished it in a taxi in Brussels, I wanted to call everyone in my immediate family and tell them I loved them.

Week at the Airport

2.  The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home, Pico Iyer (2000).   See essay on Airports based mostly on LAX.  Iyer feels as if airports are his second home.  Bought used at State Department book store. 

The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home

3.  About This Life, Barry Lopez (1999).   Lopez writes a chapter called Flight about the life of airports and his time spent flying with commercial pilots.  Fascinating accounts world-wide flight paths of commercial airliners, the hidden life of the cockpit.  Chapter includes story of prize race horses transported from the UAE to Chicago O'Hare.  

About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory 

4. Greetings from Airworld! Wayne Curtis (Atlantic Magazine June/July 2006). Curtis spend six days visiting five busy U.S. airports and adhering to one simple rule: I could do whatever I wanted, except leave.

5.  Skyfaring, Mark VanHoenacker.  A PILOT AND A POET.  If you've ever stopped to marvel the the miracle of modern airplane flight, Mark VanHoenacker is a pilot who wonders right along side of you. He works as a pilot but writes as a poet.  He found his love of flight turned into his second career as a commercial pilot.  His most powerful observations are around the mixing of time and place especially on long haul flights that he flies such as London to Tokyo or London to Johannesburg. I found myself underlying passages that I wanted to go back and reread for their poetic nature.  The chapters effectively divide air travel into basic parts: Lift, Place, Machine, Air, Water, Night and others.  The most compelling was Night.  Seeing the stars above and the lights of cities below.  Long haul pilots race into the night or away for it. They will see several sunsets in a flight or a continuous twilight. This book reminds you that even pilots are still filled with awe for day at the office and may even make you want to follow VanHooenacker's examples and enroll in flight school.   Bought new on Amazon.  

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