Not going places

Have you visited the updated interactive encircleafrica.org?

For me nothing can induce the fernweh* like running a finger across a map or standing beneath the electronic departure and arrivals boards of an international airport as they tick over. This yearning doesn’t mean I like airports: the waiting, the drudgery and the lack of national flavour combine to create an international zone. Isolated from the real world outside, they are lifeless buildings that trapped travellers have no option but put up with. Save the chance to buy an overpriced Toblerone, the flight itself has little contextual interest for me either.

Standing beneath the boards at Gatwick Airport the Dennis Potter quote of London’s other airport runs through my mind: “I did not fully understand the dread term ‘terminal illness’ until I saw Heathrow for myself”. Doing some research online later, I couldn’t find a single positive quote.

I’m at Gatwick but I’m not going anywhere, waiting for the board to change ‘landed’ to ‘arrival’ to ‘baggage in hall’, following the progress of my aunt somewhere before me. Staring fixedly at the boards I was tempted by places from Guernsey to Bergen and beyond. The wait got me to thinking just how many places I have been but not actually been, in transit through airports and railway stations.

 Never been to (red)…or have I?

I have failed to see the interior of Cologne’s magnificent cathedral though I could see the gothic exterior from the city’s station. I had no sense of what Zurich might be like despite having arrived and departed from the city at least twice. I have been to Dubai but got no further than the ugly fake guilt palms of the airport; and reached Johannesburg without ever having reached the living city. I wanted to go there now, and see. And that then is the point of our unloved airports, to make us consider, and perhaps go and see, however we get there.
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