Saturday, January 26, 2008

Posts from Rufus

Rufus couldn't get these up, but sent me a bunch of posts he'd been working on so I offered to put them up in chunks for your are the first few about his trip:

The Airport

Claire calls the airport a “non-place”; it is probably the closest thing we moderns have to purgatory. Airports tend to look “futuristic” in the way people imagined the future would be in the 1960s: everything is hygienic, homogeneous, scrubbed clean, and very non-specific. Airports are timeless, not in the sense of having a “classic” look, but in not evoking any era at all: they stand outside of time. It’s like a place designed in a laboratory to stage vast psychological experiments inside of- all random variables have been removed. It’s a locale after a lobotomy.

Even worse, more and more places look like airports now. Travel hotels look timeless and placeless in the same engineered way- like the Disney version of a nursing home. In fact, these places share a common aim with asylums and nursing homes to hide the passage of the outside world from the people inside. The same goes for newer libraries, shopping malls, schools, even police stations have started to look like airports. It’s a sort of manufactured indistinctiveness. Before long, no place will look like any place, and every place will look like no place.

Beware the savage lure of 1984

I’m flying to Milan on Air Italia. Apparently, the flight is a stop-over because nearly everyone on my flight transfers in Milan. They look to be headed to India or the Near East. What this means is that I’m the only person on the flight who doesn’t fit the “racial profile” of an Islamic terrorist, and conversely the only person to be given the full treatment in customs: once through the metal detector (no beeps), twice with the hand-held metal detector (still no beeps), one pat-down, search of my bags, two more (more thorough) pat downs, searching my shoes, chemical swab of my camera, several questions, and then released back into the wild. It’s very impersonal; they don’t even give me a hug.

It’s an open secret that these searches don’t really accomplish anything. Seemingly every local news program’s “investigative reporters” have smuggled “bomb components” onboard a plane in order to show that the searches don’t work. The classic problem with putting security in the hands of security guards is that the job doesn’t pay very well, so you never get the best or the brightest. Instead, you get bored average Joes who can’t wait for lunch. I don’t know if the nightmare of dealing with a dim border guard who can’t quite understand the answers given to his questions comes from Franz Kafka or Woody Allen, but the joke is ruined now that Guantanamo Bay is the punch line.

No one will ever be safe. But they have to search us anyway. If they don’t search anyone, the bed-wetters will complain; if they search everyone, the rest of us will complain. So they settle for the happy compromise of searching all the wrong people. During the customs once over, I’m wondering why they’re searching me so thoroughly, and suddenly realize that there’s no reason at all. I don’t fit any “profiles” whatsoever; it’s just random selection; it’s a game of chance. I’m contestant number 237. If the terrorist boogeyman really is looking to fly the unfriendly skies, he’s got a good betting chance of getting aboard. We should never trust anyone who promises to make us safe.

And it’s amazing how quickly we adjust to these things. People who loose their limbs experience the phantom limb syndrome, but we seem to miss nothing we’ve lost. We just push on and put up. When I leave the customs date rape, the first thing to go through my mind is a sort of relief: “Well, at least now they know for sure that I don’t have anything!” I take their side and am relieved to discover that I’m not a terrorist.

Mother and child

The plane is packed. When the young mother with an infant gets on, nobody wants her to sit by them. They look at her like she’s calling out draft numbers for the military. Please God, don’t let it be me!

Customs 2

In Milan, the customs people are considerably nicer, or just less diligent. But they do search my detachable camera lens here as well. Apparently, a wide-angle lens is an extremely suspicious item to travel with. A note to all the drug smugglers reading this: do not try to hide your cocaine in a hollowed-out camera lens.

Greg and Holly were right about the interview to enter Europe: it really is cursory at best. I’m used to the American interview, which is brief, but complete. A full transcript of my interview in Milan would read:

Border guard: Hello. You are American?

Rufus: Yes.

Border guard: Is this you? (Pointing at my passport)

Rufus: Yes, it is.

Border guard: Okay. (Stamps passport) You can go.

In flight

The flight from Milan to Paris must be frequented by models. They play lots of hip mellow music on board, stuff like Air and Portishead. The in-flight movie is a video of models walking the runway in a recent show. It’s hilarious; it’s like AbFab airlines

1 comment:

Holly said...

JG Ballard has written interesting thoughts about how airports are actually the last bastion of communal human Purpose.

Airports, thankfully. are designed around the needs of their collaborating technologies, and seem to be almost the only form of public architecture free from the pressures of kitsch and nostalgia. As far as I know, there are no half-timbered terminal buildings or pebble- dashed control towers.

He's not necessarily right, but it's interesting. To me. :)

You probably got the lottery boarding pass. There is, to my understanding of things, a lottery system with boarding passes, where passengers are actually selected at random for The Treatment. Unless you find yourself in a small room at the mercy of someone with a flashlight and a spatula, they probably don't expect to find anything. It just gives the other passengers something to stare at: You have just been used to prove How Safe Things Are Now! (Congratulations...!)

And, Greg and I concur, your customs once-over was at least 2 orders of magnitude more formal and thorough than ours.