Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 15, 2014

Italy: A Vacation Which Became a Pilgrimage (Part Four)

In Which We Close the Door Behind Us

I will not deceive you and say that I stepped out bravely down my not-so-evenly-any-longer-bricked-walk.  There were a lot of imponderables, free radicals, roaming around in my head.  This was to be the longest time I had spent away from home since I was a mere lad sailing before the stack around the world.  Then I was 18.  Now I am 72 and on my best days NFFD.

We were on our way to a place where no one I knew was waiting with open arms to welcome us; not as in Ireland where I have often felt more at home than the place I called home, or some of the other places I’ve visited down the years since I first put my foot over the rail onto a ship when I was young and had neither fear, nor the sense to have it.  Now, I had sense, or was supposed to have it.  What, I wondered as we got into our neighbor’s car for the short ride to the bus which would take us to Boston’s Logan Airport, what was I, what were we getting into?  We would be strangers in a strange land.  That song kept going through my head, “Two Lost Souls”.  Small comfort that “we got each other” I mused in the back seat while Mariellen and our friend Miriam chatted amiably and excitedly about the adventures, the lovely times ahead; all of that history, culture, good food, great weather; and I thought about being stranded thousands of miles from home, or surrounded in dark streets by cut throats, or poisoned by bad food, bad water, bad attitudes.

Well, before I knew it, really, we were on the bus, and incredibly, soon at the airport.  Maybe, I remember thinking, as we built a tower of luggage on the sidewalk to wheel inside the doors to the check in desk, maybe it was a good thing that this trip had so far come off without a hitch, and so very quickly.  God had so arranged the traffic that we slid south from Nashua in near record speed, and through the still relatively new Ted Williams Tunnel to the airport as quickly as I’d put an arm through a silk shirtsleeve; if I had a silk shirt.  All of my previous experiences of that particular artery have convinced me that it suffers, and painfully so, from cartherosclerosis.  As well do those suffer, too, who must inch through it in any direction.

With her incredibly sensitive nose for sniffing out a bargain, Mariellen had arranged for us to fly to Europe on Icelandic Air.  Those of a certain age will remember Icelandic Air, and its ads in those happy days of yesteryear when they offered the cheapest…and longest…flights to Europe of any airline in the universe.  One only had to stop off in Reykjavik, to replace the feathers on the wings, probably, and then fly on to your sunny destination.  We are of the bargain age, now, so we took the deal.  Check in was a breeze.  They spoke English and we only had to wait while a party of visiting Walrus before us haggled with the booking agent about their carry on stuff, raw fish from the No Name kitchen.

Eventually they flopped away and we were next.  The agent at the desk, dressed in typical Icelandic costume: whaleskins, a ski mask and wearing a caribou’s antlers for a hat, motioned us forward and took our checked luggage, two overnight bags into which we had both managed to get a month’s worth of clothing and assorted accoutrements for modern travel, including four or five miles of charging cords for our “hand held electronic devices” and a Bowie knife I brought along just in case we were threatened with all of the threats I dreaded we’d have to contend with where we were going; Etruscans included.  The bags themselves each had the density of a neutron star, but in a miracle of physics and folding, they were under the weight limit, two and a half pounds each, and we did not have to pay a thing for extra baggage; a real arm and a leg apiece.  I crossed off one of my paralyzing worries and felt circulation begin to work in the leg I feared I might lose.

Actually, it was a breeze, and so was the trip through the labyrinth of chutes at the stockyard-like TSA grope-a-thon.  I was surprised that we weren’t touched, wanded or scoped.  I suspect that we were profiled, though.  White haired old folks have their own categories: confused and harmless.  And so, in record shattering time we found ourselves fully dressed and “inside” the special zone of travelers freed to leave the country, that zone where everything you might need is at least three times the cost of the same article anywhere else in the universe.  And, we only had three hours to wait for our plane to take off.  Or, was it four hours?  What difference does it make, now.  We were in somewhere not anywhere else.

Now I Know Where Limbo Is

It is no longer spoken of nor speculated about, but I know all about Limbo and where it is.  It was where I spent the next few hours.  It is always there, and has always been.  Those favored with a ticket may pass through.  Thousands do each day.  I know, though, that millions uncounted, poor souls all, are there forever, like Charlie on the MTA.  Though no Virgil spends his time there, nor unbaptized infants or pagan babies, eternities pass for who find themselves inside its borders more or less uncomfortably confined in little black chairs, committed to little more than the pleasure of CNN’s interminable stroll through the world’s daily woe, perfection of the art of the thumb twiddle, or a bad meal in a noisy place at outrageous prices.  Not to mention a chocolate bar or bag of peanuts for $4.00.

We wandered up and down Limbo’s 600 yards.  We knew it well, having passed through less than a year before on our way to Ireland with Carolyn, our granddaughter.  Eventually we stopped for a meal.  I had some breaded and fried cardboard.  I can’t remember what Mariellen had, and I am pretty confident that she doesn’t want to remember it.  The beer was good, though, and when we were finished I still had enough money left for our trip.

Then we decided to exchange some of that money for the pretty stuff that passes for money these days in Europe, and wandered down to the American Express booth so to do.  We didn’t exchange a thing except hot air, and the reason why we didn’t I shall tell you.  American Express declined to accept our American Express card.  The nice lady behind the counter smiled and said, “Sorry.”  I did not think she was nearly as sorry as I was; thinking then of panhandling my way through Europe.  Mariellen and I walked back to the vicinity of our departure gate where she took out her lap top and began notifying all four hundred of our credit cards carriers that we were leaving the jurisdiction.  As she said just a moment ago the notifications may not yet have reached their destinations.  That is how slow the connections with the real world are in Limbo.  We would have had, I think, a better chance with a cote of pigeons.

Well, there not being much else to do for another hour, we did just that.  Mariellen, once finished with her notifications opened her kindle and disappeared.  I sat and watched the flow of people in and out of gateway doors, up and down from little black chairs while, caring not a whit for the fact that we would be paupers in what once was paradise, CNN’s brigade of anchors prattled above me.  At one point I took out my little camera and played with it, snapping photos of spies, terrorists and skullduggers eating away at the heart of all that is good.

The restrooms were nearby.

In Which The Crew Arrives

I didn’t hear the fanfare, but I did hear the heavy sound of heels on the floor as the crew of our plane arrived.  It sounded like an occupying army marching down the boulevard.  And soon behind the sound came they, the Icelandic crew straight out of the Edda.  All of them were at least seven feet tall, even the women.  They carried spears, and wore huge broad double edged swords or axes at their sides.  I vowed then and there that if I was allowed on board I’d not move again until the doors opened to let me out in Switzerland.  Then I remembered that we had a stop over in Reykjavik.

It was good the restrooms were nearby.  I thought about that as the flight was announced, and our rows were called for boarding.  It was only five hours to Reykjavik.  I could wait, and sleep, maybe.  They’d never notice me.

And pray, too.  Yes, that.  Pray.


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