Barcelona Airport, 1:40 PM.
As the plane taxis, the woman next to me is chatting up her seatmate.
She’s about 75, short grey hair, and wearing a huge diamond wedding ring.
Seatmate is telling her about the joint custody arrangement he has with his dog and (presumably) his ex-wife.
“We don’t see each other much, now that she’s in Florida,” says Seatmate, sadly.
“She” apparently refers to the dog.
The woman pulls out her phone and pulls up a picture of her pup.
“Oh, is he a terrier?”
“He’s got 59 breeds in him!” the woman exclaims. “I got his DNA done last year.”
I put in my ear buds so I won’t have to listen to more about doggie DNA.
Welp. Back to the ol’ melting pot.
Land of the free, home of the brave. Birthplace of baseball and the banjo.
This could be a long 9 hours.
Practical Information about Philadelphia, city of East America
The United States of North America is a large (roughly China-sized) country arranged horizontally between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Its geography dominated by its border with Canada and a dry, central region in which not much happens, the country is home to some 330 million humans who like to call themselves “Americans”.
They’re quite diverse in some ways, but you can spot “Americans” in many world cities due to their ample frames, their nasal voices and their unusual fashion choices.
(You can say “hi” if you see some in your town, they’re known for being friendly. Also, I happen to be one of them, so maybe I should have used more “we” in the previous couple of paragraphs.)
In any case, my first stop on this journey of re-discovery will be Philadelphia, an eastern city known for its steak sandwiches, a successful series of boxing movies, and a large bell with a crack in it.
A guy named Franklin was a big deal here, back in the day – there are certainly a lot of things named after him. Also, the “Americans” seem to have signed some sort of important document in the historic Old City, thus setting off a war with some distant island nation.
All this was centuries ago, of course, and so even the Americans themselves seem to know very little about it, aside from the mythologized version of the story they learn in school.
The West side of the city, known to Philadelphia locals as the “Land of Will Smith”, is just across the Shuylkill River, and to the East you’ll find the Delaware, which separates the state of Pennsylvania from the barbarian-controlled territories known as New Jersey.
(Further down the Delaware River there is also a state named Delaware, which I admit is a bit confusing.)
But back to the flight…
Some thoughts on air travel in modern times
Adjusting my own ample frame in the hard-backed seat as the plane takes off, I contemplate that air travel is something of a miracle.
The fact that you can fit a few hundred people into a metal tube in Barcelona around lunch time, then fly that tube across the Atlantic in time for an early dinner (after passing through several time zones, of course) is just amazing.
Even more amazing is that people complain about it.
Yes, for a very reasonable price, you can fly anywhere in the world, be there in a number of hours – and spend the whole time whingeing about the temperature on board or the lack of leg room.
That’s the hedonic treadmill for you.
I’m sure the people on sailing ships centuries ago would complain, too. “Oh but isn’t this a dreadful draft? Why I think I’m getting scurvy!”
Or maybe they were just used to being uncomfortable in ways we’re not.
The little animated map on the screen in front of me informs me that we’re going to fly across the Atlantic just south of Greenland, before curving down over Newfoundland towards Maine, Massachussets and points south.
Altitude 12,192 meters. Ground speed 904 km / hr. Outside air temperature -56 degrees Celsius.
The tube floats high above the clouds, miraculously. What a time to be alive!
The Philosophy of Travelling and Writing about it
I’ve mentioned before that I have a sort of aversion to travel writing.
The one travel writer I do like is Bill Bryson. Incidentally, he also spent a couple of decades in Europe before coming back to the US. He wrote a book about his homecoming, called I’m a Stranger Here Myself, which is (I assume) well-written and hilarious.
And that’s exactly I’ve decided not to read it. It’d just embarrass me.
Bryson is the kind of guy who reads dozens of books about the history of trees before setting off on the Appalachian Trail, so he can add tidbits about the Forest Service and the Dutch Elm Plague of 1929 (or whatever) to his stories about walking. He’s also really funny.
Well, dear reader, you’ll find no such intellectual rigor here. I will attempt some humor – key word, “attempt”. And you might get an intelligent observation or two…
But I’m going to treat this trip just like I do every other: go to a strange city, walk around ogling the buildings, eat some local cuisine, drink some beer, learn close to nothing.
The plane is over Newfoundland, now, which I notice that even in early June is fully covered in snow. After that it’s the forests of Maine, then clouds over what should be Boston and New York.
We loop right and go over Atlantic city.
Descending over barbarian-controlled New Jersey, I notice that every town has several baseball diamonds, a ton of suburban cul-de-sacs, and the kind of huge parking lots that really haven’t made it to Spain yet.
That good old American landscape, familiar yet strangely foreign after all these years away.
The plane touches down, and I grab my suitcase and head towards Passport Control.
Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.
P.S. It takes a lot to really understand a culture, or a city, or anything else – and most travel writing is just wildly superficial. In fact, most travel is wildly superficial. You go some place with centuries of history, and you come away with a vague impression and a few memories of meals or museums or people you chatted with. You add the photos to Instagram, and then you tick it off the list and go somewhere else. Romantic Consumerism at its finest. Oh well.
P.P.S. Should I refer to myself as “Mr Hot-dog” for the duration of my trip to the US? You decide! Leave me a comment, right here…