Airports are one of my favourite places in the world. But why?
In this post, I’m probably supposed to tell you a tale relating to my latest book, The Sum of These Things. But, as is usual with writers, we have moved on to new projects by the time our stories are fully birthed into books for you readers. So forgive me if I tell you something related to my most recent book, due to be published later this year.
Points of Departure is about a group of girls who travel overseas for the first time, and is about the role that journey takes in their transition between high school and young adulthood. That means many scenes in the novel are set in transit, a very familiar state for me. Travel is something I do well, and as often as I can. I have travelled with friends, and I have travelled with partners, but I also adore travelling alone.
And I am one of those people who love airports. I do. Every time I enter one, whether it’s for another long adventure, a quick pop across the water to see family in Tasmania, or even just to pick someone up, I get this feeling. It’s the humming of anticipation, of possibility.
When you come from Australia long plane rides are a part of life. So are lengthy stopovers. Most people hate these long blocks of enforced pause in your journey, but I love them. Airports are little universes in themselves, offering hints of the world that lays beyond them. They act as orderly, sanitised versions of the city they represent. I explore them just like I will explore the places they bring me to. And I find they are all the same, but very different in important ways.
As an ardent traveller and a regular victim of long stopovers, I have even become utterly familiar with the airports of cities I’ve never actually entered. I know where to find a cheap but luxurious shower in Changi airport, washing away the last leg of the journey in readiness for the second. I have visited that cordoned-off flank of seats in Doha, Qatar where, if you hand over your passport they’ll give you a seat-bed to sleep in for a few hours. I know I always get asthma while waiting in Hong Kong and bring Ventolin just in case. And I could conjure the smell of old carpet at LAX airport on call any time, long before I ever did more than change planes in that city.
I have wondered what it is that attracts me so much to these liminal spaces and moments, crushed between between destination points. There’s the fact that you’re travelling, of course, which is always a joy. But it’s more than that, too. I feel the pleasure is intrinsic to the actual space.
I only put my finger on the feeling when I was re-reading Michael Cunningham’s The Hours some time last year. I found this moment in the book, where Laura leaves her house and her son behind and goes into a hotel, thinking she’ll hide here for a while. She thinks of the hotel as a haven because of its “cool nowhereness”. That’s the closest I’ve come to describing that other aspect of my love for airports
When you are in an airport you are somewhere and nowhere at once. And when a solo traveller, you are someone and you are no one at the same time, with no one to anchor you. Here, strung in a brief limbo between departure and arrival, you get to take this brief respite from the responsibilities of beingness. In that limbo called transit, your only job is to exist until the next phase, when you get where you’re going. There’s a freedom in this fleeting detachment from the real world, this anonymity. And there are not many times in your life you get to feel that kind of freedom. I wouldn’t like to stay there long, but it’s fun for a few hours.
I guess it can be likened to the way that one of my favorite things to do in a foreign city is to jam my headphones in my ears and just walk around and watch the world. There’s a pleasure in that kind of non-participation at time. Of course, I also love to meet people and have experiences, but I first meet a new place by via this limbo of watching. Inside and outside at the same time. In my latest book, I have one of my characters try to explain this feeling as her own.
This weekend I leave for a brief overseas holiday, and already I can feel that vague thrumming in me that happens every time I walk through the sliding doors into Tullamarine airport. I can’t wait. While I am there, I will work on my story, and I hope I can translate a little of that feeling into my next book.
The next stop on the hop is at Andi Marquette’s Blog, so head on over there for the next story.
Points of Departure will be released by Ylva Publishing later this year.
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