I spent Valentine’s Day 2005 trapped in an airport in Denmark. A month earlier, in the spirit of the Black Friday anti-holiday “Buy Nothing Day,” I’d decided February 15th should be celebrated as Love Nothing Day. I also spent that day stuck in an airport. My worst jokes always have a way of coming tue.
Saturday, 12 February 2005
On a train leaving wintry Copenhagen, I desire to attain the poetic. Plush blue seats, violet headrests, and a woman smoking help set the mood; I feel as if I must be close to poetry. I have skipped headphones in favor of the train’s own music: the soft hum of the wheels on the track, a ‘whoosh’ of automatic door between cars, a phone conversation in Danish to my left.
I feel serene amongst the blanched plains. It is obvious why the Swedish chose Minnesota as their home away; there is comfort in uniformity of environment, regardless of its misery. I do not think I would be happy in a warm climate, and even in England the absence of snow has made itself known. Spring in February is not a delight.
At each new station we arrive to more and more snow, allowing me to feel closer and closer to home. A home. Sweden and Denmark have too many trees and hills for them to be the expansive nothingness of my eastern South Dakota childhood; rather, it is closer to my intermediary home in Duluth, Minnesota, yet it is a place viewed from the context of my current home in Birmingham, England. Even as my homes increase, I find my families fewer in number, or perhaps that I find myself distanced from them is a more apt statement. Distance has made it easier to forget.
I am unsure if my heart is growing fonder, but my nostalgia does grow larger. I want the past, but I do not want to return as I am now. That would be impossible and unsuitable; knowing what I know now, the present is still the best. Snow is always more romantic when it is falling. A parallel to memory could be drawn here, but it is weak. There is romance as the event happens, but it is upon recollection that it grows, expands, and changes. Old snow only grows dirtier and becomes blinding on sunny days.
Sunday, 13 February 2005
In an art museum in Odense, Denmark the day before Valentine’s Day, I have just paid the equivalent of $5 USD to glance at paintings I barely appreciate. I recognize no artists, and even the styles seem different somehow. The titles are incomprehensible in a language I do not know; however, I must confess an element of awe at this scene. Placed throughout the museum are terra cotta sculptures: the busts of priests, women preparing for a bath that never comes, and best of all — the little boys. Boys who stare inward and peek around corners; they move when I cannot see them. They appear sullen, but I sense their jubilance. Is their melancholy an act, begging for the reward of attention? Is my melancholy an act? With their innocent bodies, I imagine this museum is perfect place for them. They are kept warm and dry, free from the harsh Scandinavian winters—they are loved avidly by some, but left to themselves by many others. Imagine their delight when groups of marauding schoolchildren invade during the week. It is at those times they must be the most alive.
In a gallery on the main floor, there is what I interpret as a satirists response to the melodrama of plains and prairies in the works of Harvey Dunn, an artist whose works rarely escape the boundaries of a small gallery in Brookings, South Dakota. In the Danish painting, the artist has rendered the same drab, bucolic scene exaggerated, but placed in the foreground is not a mother of the prairie. Rather, it is an apparent grandmother, hunched over her now dead husband; the scene is true pastoral angst. Land worked so hard to sustain has finally killed. The farmer’s wife, abandoned, looks off the canvas to the right. Is this the future she sees, or is it the void?
Monday, 14 February 2005
Sometime between one and two am, Valentine’s Day. Hour three.
RYANAIR FLIGHT DOCUMENT
From Aarhus (AAR) to London Stansted (STN)
Sun, 13Feb05 Flight FR715 Depart AAR at 22:45 and arrive STN at 23:23
I have underestimated the power of pastoral angst. I am now stranded in Århus Airport in the middle of nowhere, Denmark. It could be days before I get back to England. For now my fellow travelers, Amanda, Cindy, and Dom, and I huddle together on two rows of airport seating we have pushed together. This is our ship, our fortress. We have no roof but that of the open airport, and our floor is a hard steel covered by tightly worn blue fabric. Cindy and Amanda huddle together, but I am alone on the side. I curl up in an attempt to get comfortable and prepare for the long wait ahead of me.
Eight am, Valentine’s Day. Hour eleven.
Sleep was only a brief respite, for it seems that in the morning the small regional airport of Århus springs to life, and in its exhalations grows cold. I would be miserable if Cindy had not the foresight to bring blankets with; it is one of our few concessions in this situation. Since we are awake, we begin to hope we might catch the Monday morning flight. Our hours in the queue the night before earned us numbers 16, 17, 18, and 19. Poor road conditions gave me hope. I crossed my fingers in anticipation of more people stranded outside the airport; this was my subtle revenge. When the time came, there seemed to be promise. Not that many people appeared to have arrived, and one unlucky family was denied access to the plane because they had come too late.
It was to our horror that the group learned waiting list numbers go by booking — several entire families had boarded by the time number eight was called. I ready myself again for the wait, perhaps we can make it onto the Monday night flight.
Past six pm, Valentine’s Day. Hour nineteen.
Unsure of how we were getting to the airport yesterday in the snowstorm, I elected to call the bus company. One prophetic line from the telephone conversation sticks with me, “there may be delays.”
I remain in the Århus Airport. Cindy, Dom, Amanda, and I have taken up residence in the “Chauffeur Lounge” of the upstairs restaurant. No one has asked us to leave yet, but we remain certain we are trespassers into the Pilot’s Lounge. Our bags sprawl across the room as Cindy and Amanda imitate them on the couch. Dom writes postcards and I just write. It took an unreal effort to bring us here, yet it may take several combined acts of airport and weather gods as well as smiles from the fates to get us out of here before Wednesday.
We felt lucky to have been promised a free cab to the airport when we heard the bus was not coming. We would still make it to the airport! When all the free cabs had come and gone, we felt relieved to pay our cab driver 700 kr to ferry us to the airport. It was retribution when we ran the final 100 meters across an unplowed road littered with hopeless other taxis and stalled vehicles. Most cars had given up the struggle. We were happy to pay the cab driver an extra 200 kr because we had at least made it this far, our excesses would soon be over. Traversing the last few hundred feet to the airport, we ran, we fell, we drifted into thought. The check-in desk was still open. Once again, we believed ourselves lucky.
Now, we are overjoyed (perhaps a stretch) to find we might fly out as soon as Tuesday evening. That discovery came this morning at 3am, long after I was supposed to have been on a coach from London to Birmingham. I failed to phone this coach, and I lack faith in National Express’s ability to understand my situation, but what is £19.50 to them? At this point, I do not even know what it means to me.
Our 46 kilometer drive through mountainous snow drifts, half plowed roads, and inexplicably stopped vehicles had been for naught (assuming the going price of naught these days is 900 kr, $150, or £75). We had not failed, but our coach had. Our flight had too.
We have effectively been Ryanair’d—the torturously low fare airline as I call it. Cindy opts for the moniker “the unfair airline.”
Valentine’s Day. Hour 21.
We are unsure of our fate. We have not been offered compensation for the taxi, for sleeping in the airport, or even for food. We are too weak to fight it. Victor Navorski in The Terminal at least started out with food vouchers. With great regret I must admit I am not Tom Hanks. His fictional political coupe reminds me there are worse things than being snowed into a Danish airport, regardless of the inconvenience. My struggle will not end here. I must grow and learn to play the adult game. Groups of students fail to evoke pity or attention; an inability to e-mail parents concerns none. I sense distrust caused by my increasingly greasy hair. My t-shirt, a souvenir from the trip, is literally a red flag (“DANMARK”) alerting tired airport employees to my tourist status.
By covering my shame with a German thrift-store sweater and by attempting to cover the mess of strands on my head, I can approach the customer service desk of destiny alone and coax information out of them with a smile. I have not yet made any kills with kindness, but I have gained information. I must stick to the childish hope that I can trust what they tell me; otherwise, the whole process begins anew. Even so, an “adult” brush off is infinitely more satisfying. It is certain that the adult game takes money, and I have never been good at budgeting.
My one hope is that the group’s perseverance has earned us spots three, four, five, and six on the waiting list for tonight’s flight. It seems almost certain we might make it onboard.
Valentine’s Day. Hour 24.
I shook with nervous anticipation when I was finally called forward to check-in. The waiting list had paid off, but this triumph seemed dreamlike. I beamed as I went through airport security for the second time in as many days. The four of us laughed and joked; it became my new mission in life to eat breakfast in our dormitory Manor House on Tuesday. When it neared the time of the flight, things started slipping into the past. A sense of dread, déjà vu, and existential giddiness filled me as the departures screen changed our flight’s expected time of arrival later and later. Then came the same announcement as the night before, “we at Ryanair regret to inform you that Flight 715 has been cancelled…”
Knowing what awaited, our group sprang up and ran back to security. Those unfortunate enough to have been there the night before did the same. It would be a hellish ordeal to reschedule. We were stopped and told to wait, how many times does an airport try to keep you in? Once freed, we ran to Ryainair’s customer service desk, despite several airline employees desperately pointing us to our returned luggage. For the Tuesday morning flight we secured numbers eight, nine, ten and eleven, but the roads are clearing, and with them, our hopes of reprieve quickly blow away.
Much to my chagrin, assurances made during my dabbling in the adult game were false. We had lost our seats on the Tuesday evening flight when we boarded the Monday evening fiasco. Our sprint to customer service hopefully saved us the embarrassment of another day in the airport.
Tomorrow is Love Nothing Day. What won’t we love?
Tuesday, 15 February 2005
Love Nothing Day. Hour 35.
Those boarding from the waiting list ended at number six. So close, but so far from home. The prospect of flying out tonight, on a flight we now have actual bookings for, seems like a last hope. The group has decided if we do not fly out tonight, we will live in the Århus airport indefinitely. We can remember no other home.
Love Nothing Day. Hour 37.
How many kroners are you willing to pay for a large plate of pommes frittes, inhabited with salt and bordered by a rogue state of ketchup? After so long, these are the things that become good ideas.
Love Nothing Day. Hour 40.
It seems Mary Shelley saw this coming:
“…and my voyage is only now delayed until the weather shall permit my embarkation. The winter has been dreadfully severe, but the spring promises well, and it is considered as a remarkably early season; so that perhaps I may sail sooner than expected.”
Love Nothing Day. Hour 42.
It is almost certain that Purgatory for me would take the form of an airport —Århus Lufthavn to be precise. There I would wait endlessly for my sins to be absolved and for my flight to Heaven to board. Every misdeed would take the form of a waiting list, standby for a flight I could not hope to catch. Greater sins would be the cancelled flight, taunting in its promise.
Love Nothing Day. Over 49 hours after our scheduled departure time.
More than two days in a small Danish airport were penance for misdeeds. I was taken to this place not by Virgil, but by a cab driver who succeeded in navigating the icy wastes.
Love Nothing Day. Over 50 hours after scheduled departure time, somewhere over Scandinavia.
Once airborne, the journey already seemed unreal.