At the airport, I lurk at the British Airways check in. I’m there when it opens. There are three desks and a cattle chute for each. None are labelled economy. I finally realise I no longer travel economy: I’ve been rebranded World Traveller.
Going through customs is uncrowded and uneventful – until I’m randomly selected for a bomb check. I’m taken aside, wanded, frisked, and finally declared harmless. On the way to Gate whatever, I’m waylaid by Vegemite, and have it sealed with as much ceremony as if it were Dom Pérignon.
I sit waiting, mind doing what mind does best: nothing. I watch planes take off and remain totally idle. For the three hours that I am early.
I have one small bout of paranoia on the plane. One of the cabin crew rushes the length of the aisle, shining a torch into every seat. Looking for the bomb someone else, not randomly selected, managed to get on board? After a doze, I realise she’s merely checking that seatbelts are fastened.
In the brief stopover in Singapore – rush off the plane, pause, pass through customs and get back on the plane – my phone emits a flourish of pings as roaming kicks in. One of the messages is particularly pleasing. I can get into my apartment at 1pm – I don’t have to zombie my way around Warsaw until official check-in at three. I’m amused by this text. After all my struggles with the pronunciation of Grzegorz, my Airbnb host signs himself Greg.
And that’s the end of phone connection. I’m out of credit and Telstra refuses to let me recharge. It seems as if I’m doomed to be incommunicado.
I sleep, maybe five hours out of the thirteen from Singapore to London. Mouth open, no doubt, drooling, but I am oblivious.
When I wake my eyes are brighter and I watch the flight path. We fly over Mashtaga, Aghsu, Shamak, Goychay, carving a yellow line above mountain ridges and lakes into Azerbaijan, wrinkles in the topography. Aghdash, Yevlakh, Mingechevir, Tbilisi as I edit and sort photos. Georgia: Borjomi, Zestafoni, Kutaisi.
Flying through an ocean of air I read The invention of clouds by Richard Hamblyn.
Samtredia, Zugdidi, Tkvarcheli, Batumi and over water again out of origami ranges.
Flight time remaining 04.14 hours. Altitude 35997 feet. Outside temperature -74° F. I’ll think about this information when I’m safely landed. For now I need not to see the plane for what it is, a metal cage suspended in air a very long way above the Black Sea.
I dip into Solnit’s A book of migration. She talks about being in multiple places at once. On this flight I’ve covered vast distances geographically, but I’m only occasionally aware of this. That gasp of astonishment that I’m going to Poland; stopping off in Singapore, transmitting through Heathrow and flying over Georgia and the Black Sea is only part of it.
I’ve been in back in 1802 as Luke Howard delivers his electricfying lecture about clouds; in the world of AA Milne and dark celebrity as I watch Goodby, Christopher Robin; briefly in the world of Stalin as I watch only part of The death of Stalin; in Ireland and the Shoshone culture as I read Solnit; in the past of one year old twins as I scroll through photos on my iPad; in the recent past of this morning as I blog my walk around China town and Darling Harbour; in the immediate present as I pop up and down catering for my own needs and the needs of my seat companion; in the half-conscious world of sleeping in public; in the prospective world of my arrival in Warsaw.
Sinop, Ayancik, across the Black Sea to Mangalia, Constanta, Dobrich, Slobozia. A river on the map like ink on silk. Crunkled mountains and river- dendrites. Turda, Cluj-Napoca, Zalau, Alesed.
Lights on. Only two hours to Heathrow.
I watch other people’s absurdities on screens. Batman. Face-peelers. Man with an eye-patch. Ugly cartoon characters. Confrontation – rage or affection? Period costume. Great fjord scenery. Plenty of bam-bam-biff.
Over Germany – Dortmund, Essen, Düsseldorf, Cologne. And then all the familiar English places: Cambridge, Ipswich, Milton Keynes, Maidstone, and others so familiar I’ve forgotten them.
Heathrow is monstrous. I ask a pilot for help and he gives it with grace and a Scottish accent. I change from train to bus which seems to travel at least 20 kilometres, and there I am at Terminal 3, waiting for the gate announcement for the flight to Warsaw. By now experiences are merging.
The window seat I asked for is over the wing, which doesn’t matter much because there is dense cloud cover. The woman next to me is nervous. Her rosary beads slide through her fingers, and her lips move till we’re safely in the air.
I am not enamoured of the invitation to “fly with us again soon” as we land. I’ve had enough.
I blithely buy a SIM for my Warsaw phone, a map and a bundle of bus tickets at a news agency and settle with a coffee to install the SIM. It doesn’t work. What is it with me and phones? This is the third failure in a week. No one else seems to have a problem. By now I’m fatalistic, and very thankful my arrangements for accommodation are already made.
All goes well. Greg meets me at the agreed time. The apartment hasn’t been cleaned yet, but he takes me on a tour of the ‘hood and then for a coffee. We chat. I say “Do you always treat your guests like this?” He says “Only the nice ones.” I say “But you’ve only just met me. How did you know I was nice?”
He says “I’ve read your blog.”
He leaves to go back to work. I read my Warsaw map and terrorise the waitress with English chatter – I am after all jet-lagged, as you can no doubt see from the photo.
I return to the apartment carrying $5 worth of food – 6 eggs, two mandarins, a lemon, a head of garlic, and two tomatoes, and meet Pani Valentina, the cleaner, just leaving. I let myself into the apartment and heave a great sigh of relief.