The airport and the hawk

Last month I took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee to visit my sister. I was rolling my little green suitcase towards the security gate in Berlin when all of a sudden a woman swooped towards me, like a hawk.

She was wearing an airport security uniform.

“Excuse me,” she said.  (But I don’t think she meant it.)

“Yes?”

“A moment ago, you had a German passport. Then you switched.”

I paused. This was a rather odd accusation. I don’t have a German passport. And I certainly hadn’t taken anyone else’s.

“No, I didn’t,” I answered eventually, trying to avoid her piercing eyes.

She began firing questions at me. They weren’t hard but she phrased them oddly, so sometimes I had to think a moment before answering.

“With whom has your case been this morning?” she asked.

“With me” I said.

“Who packed it?”

“I did.”

“What items have you purchased at this airport?”

“None.”

“What did that man whisper to you?”

She turned to point at LSB. He was watching the scene from afar, looking rather puzzled.

“I’m sorry? I asked.

“Who is that man?”

“My boyfriend,” I replied. “But I don’t remember him whispering anything. Wait, let me ask him.”

I motioned for him to come over. “What did you whisper to me just now?” I asked, forcing LSB into the same position hawk lady had put me in.

“I think I said goodbye?” he said. “But I wasn’t whispering.”

Our confused expressions seemed to satisfy her. “Okay, fine. Off you go,” she said.

I toddled off, taking care that my farewell nod to LSB didn’t appear conspiratorial.

I’m not used to this kind of treatment.  It’s one of the unfair advantages of being non-descript, female and white.

I imagined the kind of terror I could prompt by browsing the airport shopping area sporting a long beard, turban or burqa.

When I set foot in the United States, a nice customs officer asked me some more questions about myself.

“Do you have food in your bag?”

I knew he only wanted to know if I was bringing  fruit, seeds or meat into his country. But I didn’t want to give him a single reason to send me back to the scary hawk lady in Berlin, so I confessed I was carrying some Puffreiss Schokolade for my sister.

He wasn’t interested in my snacks. But he did want to know how long I intended to stay.

“Only eight days?” he asked. “Do you not want to stay here forever?”

“No,” I said. “No, thank you.”

“Why not?”

I mumbled something about being content in Europe, which seemed to surprise him. But he handed me back my (not German) passport and wished me a pleasant stay.

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Gate Expectations

On Friday night, LSB and I were to return to Berlin after spending a warm, damp Christmas in Dublin.

The day had been stormy and the queue at the airport was frightful. IMG_7793[1]

The woman before us looked particularly dismayed so I said: “Well, you’re one ahead of us!” to which she replied, “that’s not saying much given the circumstances.”

It took us an hour to reach the check-in desk, where calm was restored. Our luggage was within the weight allowance and the lady helpfully circled the departure gate on our boarding pass with a biro. It was quite old-fashioned really. Almost worth the wait.

We pulled our little carry-on cases to Gate 412. LSB whipped out his first ever smart phone – a Christmas present from his siblings – to connect to the free wifi. I reminded him of the time he used to read books, speak to me and look at me lovingly. I said those things because now I am the only person of my generation without a smart phone. He was too busy playing with his German grammar app to pay me any attention, so I took out my laptop and logged onto the free wifi too.

Moments later, a bell sounded and a soft female voice from the void said: “Attention: passengers of Flight EI330 to Berlin: this flight has been cancelled.”

image source: Wikipedia

image source: Wikipedia

LSB and I gaped like goldfish, our eyes meeting as we tore them from our respective screens.

I issued an expletive.

Soon after a tall, clean-looking man dressed all in blue appeared. He was proportioned like an ice pop. Perhaps this pleasant association explains why I took an immediate liking to him.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said. “I am extremely sorry but my supervisor has informed me that this flight has been cancelled. Unfortunately, Aer Lingus will not pay for accommodation as this is a weather event.”

A rotund German man in a brown coat erupted in indignation. “You are obliged to take us to our destination,” he spat.

The man said he was extremely sorry. He was merely repeating the instructions of his supervisor.

“You can re-book free of charge online,” he said. ” Which is what I’d advise you to do. The alternative is to queue downstairs, but you will be waiting for hours.”

An Irish woman with pink skin and mousy hair piped up: “Well what about all your taxes and charges shite? Will you be charging us again?”

“No, Madam we will not be,” said the man in blue.

LSB and I retreated to a corner with our electronic devices. His smart phone didn’t live up to its name – but after a few stressful minutes we had managed to re-book our flight for Sunday night using my laptop.

An elderly German lady was most perturbed by the commotion.

“What is going on? Does anyone speak German?” she asked.

I put up my hand and explained the situation.

“I am officially attaching myself to you” she said.

The tall, blue man appeared again.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please follow me to reclaim your baggage.”

The German lady who had attached herself to me, said “where are we going?”

“We’re collecting the bags we checked in an hour ago,” I said with cheer that belied the dread I was feeling at having to call my office in Berlin to let them know I would be unable to work my weekend shifts.

As our dejected group was making its way to the baggage reclaim – I still had my laptop in my hands – a woman with blonde hair, red cheeks and a course voice pushed me to the side and said “Get off your fucking computer! Fuck off and let me by! I’ve been waiting for nine fucking hours!”

“You’re not the only one,” said LSB.

She stuck up her middle finger.

“Céad Míle Fáilte!” I said.

We retrieved out suitcases from the luggage belt. Then I sat down with the elderly German lady, who told me she was on her way back from Belfast, where she had been visiting her son – a translator who had married a Northern girl.

I explained that to re-book her flight, we would need her booking reference, as well as the e-mail address which had been used to buy the ticket.

She took out a small black notebook which was neatly filled with useful information. (I believe all German women of a certain age have a notebook just like this.)

She produced her booking reference, which she insisted on calling out to me in English. But the e-mail address presented a problem.

“My son booked!” she said. “And I don’t know what e-mail address he used!”

We tried three but none of them worked.

She called her son on her mobile phone but appeared either not to get through or to be unable to hear him.

At one point she said: “I am now hanging up! Alright, goodbye. I cannot hear you.”

The whole process took about an hour. I found the lady grateful but impatient.

In order to exit the airport, we had to go through passport control.

In an act of pointless confession, I told the passport control man that I had in fact never left the country and that my flight had been cancelled because of the storm.

image source: Wikipedia.org

image source: Wikipedia.org

“I understand,” he said kindly.

The elderly lady with the notebook got on a bus to Belfast. My father collected LSB and me.

We spent the weekend drinking Guinness with friends who thought they’d seen the back of us for another six months.

And who did we see at the airport on Sunday evening but the blue ice pop man from Aer Lingus.

“Remember us?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said. “Flight to Berlin.”

“Rough night on Friday, wasn’t it?” I asked.

“You’ve no idea,” he said.

LSB and Kate Katharina Fail to Elope

LSB’s arrival scene had been playing on loop in my head for several weeks. I would stand at the dingy arrivals hall at Schonefeld looking radiant. LSB would get off the plane and fly into my arms. We would embrace. He would vow to abandon his studies in Edinburgh with immediate effect. We would elope. Publishers would flock to our door offering him a job. If that didn’t happen, I would pick up enough freelance shifts to hire him as my domestic servant.

But my dreams were thwarted by wintry showers. The trains on the way to the airport were cancelled. LSB’s flight was due in at 12.40. I was shivering at a train station at the time. The plane had the audacity to land punctually. At 12.45 LSB called me.

“Katzi! I can’t believe you’re trying to dodge me. After all this time!”

“Did you not get my text?” I cried. “I’ll be there soon, promise.”

“Four months!” he said, sighing.

The S45 condescended to arrive. When it pulled in at Schoenefeld, I dashed like there was no tomorrow. I arrived panting and with a pile of snowy slush heaped on each of my boots. LSB was standing there, looking maddeningly nonchalant. “Oh you turned up then?” he said.

LSB and Lego snowman

LSB and Lego snowman

I welcomed him with a punch.

LSB has aged gracefully since I last saw him in August. The highland air has been kind to his complexion and he even trimmed his beard in anticipation of our reunion. He still insists on wearing unsuitable canvas shoes in all weather and lists meeting Joe Duffy as the most momentous occasion of his life.

The highlight of LSB's life to date

The highlight of LSB’s life to date

The last few days have been idyllic. We have been streaming Seventh Heaven online and pressing pause at opportune times. Reverend Eric Camden’s expression of brave resilience has been etched, again and again in our memories. Last night we listened to the Adrian Kennedy phone-show.

Sometimes we interrupt our analysis of the Camdens with weighty conversations about our future. When we get tired of that we go to the Christmas market and buy a bag of five Quark balls, which we share in an equitable ratio of 4 to me and 1 to LSB.

Sometimes we use our infinite wisdom and experience of travel to cast wistful judgement on the country we’ve left behind. Ireland has become homogeneous and backward since we left.

We wonder how the Catholic Church can still have such a hold. And we wonder if the recession will ever end.

Then we smile when we think about cosy nights in the pub with friends, Tayto crisps and the way Grafton Street twinkles at Christmas time.2012-12-15 17.03.59 - Copy

We may have been temporarily evicted but it’s home, glorious home and the craic at Christmas will be almighty.