Airports Anonymous

It hardly matters which airport it was – airports do not contain the essence of a city as stations used to do (*). At the most airport-names evoke a particular level of stress and complexity on the international airports scale. Airport experiences are interchangeable and strangely separated from the memories of the voyage they enclose.

That chaos in the Florence airport 10 years ago has nothing to do with the memory of a near deserted, dimly lit Uffizi by night. The 6 hours wait in a Frankfurt airport is now a hazy memory of killing time and smoking cigarettes outside eternally opening & closing glass doors, but which trip was that again?

This time the 4 hours wait due to a delay was spent wandering about the many covered corridors and spaces in this European airport. All those people walking by, all those languages, but despite their variety of origins they all seem to look & act the same, pulling their hand-luggage on wheels with one hand, holding their mobile in the other. The stream of loudspeaker announcements spewing out international destinations and names in polite airport- English, it could be anywhere.

At airports people uniformly seem to fend off boredom by eating, drinking, shopping and shopping (they're not even allowed to smoke anymore). Brightly lit shops with international brands. Brightly lit eating areas offering an international range of fast foods ( granted, with the occasional local flavor or attempt at sophistication).

Most airports have given up all aesthetic pretense and are just content to be blatantly transient structures. They are the nowhere places par excellence, lacking individual style and identity. But as such they are emblematic for the driving forces of the present age: Business, Pleasure, Shopping.

And it is no doubt symptomatic of my own temporal out-of-step- ness that I still get slightly depressed by the harsh truths airports thus flaunt:

1) Shopping is our ultimate need, vindicated by our innermost hunting and gathering instincts.
2) We clearly prefer to spend endless waiting hours in gaudy shopping halls instead of withdrawing in a quiet, pleasantly decorated room (to read Proust, for instance).
3) The main legacy of western civilization to the world is frantic consumerism (and not Proust, for instance).

A naïve lament, I know. But once upon time higher hopes were cherished for the human race. They say that such luminaries as Bertrand Russell and Hannah Arendt really thought that thanks to our higher economic productivity, people would wisely spend one half of their day working and then dedicate the other half to the contemplative life. Well, it didn’t quite turn out like that…

(*) Proust – Noms de pays : le pays : “l’opération mystérieuse qui s’accomplissait dans ces lieux spéciaux, les gares, lesquels ne font pas partie pour ainsi dire de la ville mais contiennent l’essence de sa personnalité de même que sur un écriteau signalétique elles portent son nom »


Phoenix said...

personally, I can stomach malls and the greed-binge for a day in some days...

ffflaneur said...

hmm the greed binge - yes, am not immune to it myself - like wallowing in trash-TV; junk reading, fat&fast foods --- letting go of all dignity & restraint!

Phoenix said...

sounds like a perfect saturday night, doesnt it?! :-D

ffflaneur said...

it does ;)