Saturday, August 27, 2011

The bitter-sweet curse of holidays

One generally looks forward to taking a break. The more the departure approaches, the more the inconveniences of contemporary travel loom. Airports which look like mortuaries, airlines which further poison the atmosphere, border controls which have become the Olympics for the rude. Human behavior in a plane becomes strange. The class system creates a remake of an Indian situation wherein the Untouchables in economy are treated like cattle while the First Classers are encouraged to indulge in cholesterol, booze and fats. Hence I am already indulging in my masochistic pre-cooked mood hoping that the end will compensate for the humiliations in between. Western airline personnel looks mostly like used goods. Asians tend to be overdressed, over-courteous, kneeling like worshippers of some travelling deities. Nevertheless, the difference in quality hardly compensates for the boredom. Have you noticed how passengers tend to look at the progress of the flight or at maps as if they were watching “Casablanca”?

I prefer not to think about it and try to feel Zen or Marcel Proust-like and let the time slowly do what it does best, make you sweaty, miserable, monitor the toilet signs and try to find refuge in the indignity of an Ambien-induced nap. The arrival mess, the luggage conveyor, the robotic hotel reception, the syrup-tasting welcome drink and fruit platters are the last straws. Hotels are like alien bedfellows. You have to touch, smell, push, pull and try out before you tolerate them. The hostess who explains to you the workings of your room is generally brain-dead but all parties continue smiling and talking, like in some reality show.

Finally, you build some firewall to protect you from your “fellow” travelers and you go for it. In Cambodia, Burma (I cannot say Myanmar), their particular “otherness” is their doom. Few countries have accumulated so much beauty, created so many codes. The exaltation they emanate breaks moral pre-conceptions and barriers. Andre Malraux and Margueritte Duras understood this silence of unresponsive gods, while desiring to appropriate it. They also knew the tricks of displacement. I also want to be the thief of dreams, like them, and climb those dark stairs in dislocated shadows, sense the void of temples they violated and return to some banal hotel where re-enacting figures on the menu. I will return every day, early morning, thinking I was born in the wrong place but realizing I could never live there.

The return flight becomes both an act of defeat and lucidity. I do not care. I am going ”home”.

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