Friday, June 26, 2009

The Neverending Birthday

When: 12:01 a.m., June 25th, 2009
Where: 37,000 feet above sea level, seat 27A, Lufthansa Flight 411 from New York to Munich

Even though my seatmate is a petite German man with the polite habit of coughing into his fist, I still feel like a sardine. The guy in the row in front of us lucked out and got two seats to himself. Still, since take-off he has tried various contortionist positions: feet against the windows, under the seats, in the aisles. Even two seats is not enough room. The smug travelers in business class snooze away in seats that turn into beds.

So my birthday begins in Economy class....

Ordered the vegan meal on the plane though I haven't been vegan in over 10 years. Still, it's a good plan since I got a yummy array of vegetables and fruit salad while my seatmate got mystery meat (then he coughed politely into his fist).

Started out watching "Confessions of a Shopaholic" in English with Chinese subtitles, but switched to "Slumdog Millionaire." Passed out at some point and slept through the first several hours of my birthday floating overseas.

When: 8:34 a.m., June 25th, 2009
Where: Airport in Munich

Landing in Munich the ground is covered in fog. No view of the city or any landscape, so it reminds me of Invisible Cities, Marcovaldo by Calvino when he ends up on a plane to a strange place.

A woman in bright red high heels and matching leggings gets into a shouting match with the customs officials. Good times in Munich.

Lots of experimentation with hair dye going on in Germany, some with odd results. One guy has blonde highlights that can only be described as cheetah-patterned. He works at the airport. If I worked at the airport I might try hair like that too to spice things up a bit. Still, it looks like an accident that happened at some low budget beauty school. A woman with a shock of maroon hair passes as I stand in line for security.

After setting off the alarm with the Euros in my pocket, the whole German airport task force descends. Soon I'm shoeless and bagless, sitting in a plastic seat like a school-child having a time out. Happy Birthday to me!

A German airport official pats me down, front and back. It's way too early in the morning for this. Another rifles through my carry-on bag and looks with curiosity at my collection of fuzzy socks, travel-sized toiletries, and airplane munchies. He finally finds the offending item: a plastic bag of shampoo, lipstick, etc.--clearly a danger to humanity. Sends it through the x-ray alongside my shoes. Now that I've been fully invaded and woken up, I get to continue on my way to Trieste.

When: 10:25 a.m., June 25th, 2009
Where: Aeroporto FVG, near Trieste

No more fog or bad dye jobs, no more grumpy airport officials. The air is soft and balmy, the mood calm. Camera crews waited outside the plane and I looked back to see if Brangelina had snuck onto the plane without me seeing it. No such luck. Some UN conference in Trieste and all the officials spill out of the plane wearing navy suits and carrying briefcases. Still, who can help but smile? We're in Italy. It's summer. Real summer. Not the fake summer of New Haven with flash storms and gray skies.

Waiting for the bus into Trieste with my massive collection of baggage (note to self: when heading to a European metropolis, however small, no need to pack a lifetime supply of cotton balls or toothpaste), a fellow traveller with bright blue boots strikes up a conversation. He's from Trieste but lives in Hong Kong. Our conversation is interrupted by my spontaneous narcolepsy and sudden need to lie down flat on the shiny yellow bus waiting area bench. Once on the bus, I pass out again, impeding further talk. It's a sleep with no dreams, one of those rests you don't even notice until you open your eyes and find that an hour has passed. Most of the ride along the coast lost to jetlag. I wake up now and then, see an elderly Italian man on a pink bicycle with a basket, wonder why American men can't ride pink bicycles with baskets, go back to sleep. Wake again, see three Italian men, skin weathered from years in the sun, sitting on a bench facing the sea.

When: 11:56 a.m., June 25th, 2009
Where: Filoxenia hotel, downtown Trieste, in a narrow twin bed with a mustard-colored duvet, under a series of pastel paintings of Greek gods riding chariots through clouds


When: 7:16 p.m., June 25th, 2009
Where: stone walkway overlooking the Gulf of Trieste

There's a line from a Lucille Clifton poem about "water, waving forever." That is the view of the Gulf of Trieste. Here's the whole poem, "blessing the boats," a good one for starting my adventures:

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that