Archive | November, 2013

“We Regret to Inform You of Another Delay”

11 Nov

An account of the joys and terrors of my first air controller strike in Europe.

Previously published this essay in the October issue of the Brown Yorker, so if you’re a Brownie, you’re lucky: you got a sneak preview at my weird adventures on the tarmac at Gatwick airport!

Striking is not a phenomenon I am terribly familiar with.  To me, it conjures up images of women in shirtwaists and men with pocket watches, hoisting handmade signs in faded photos from the early 1900s.  The only real strike I remember experiencing is the Writers Guild of America debacle from 2008, and only that because it disrupted my weekly ritual of watching Heroes.  When an email popped into my inbox from Easyjet, informing me that my flight from London to Toulouse might be affected by striking air traffic controllers, I didn’t pay much attention.  I’d just finished a vacation in London and was going to cap it off with a few days in southern France.  Striking was not the foremost thing on my mind.

That morning, the plane had already started taxiing down the runway when it suddenly stopped.  The pilot’s voice crackled over the speakers: “Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that, due to a lack of communication from the Toulouse airport, our flight will be delayed for two hours.”  The girl next to me rolled her eyes.  I glanced at her.  Improbably, she was smaller than me and drowning in an oversized hoodie, with black hair hastily thrown into a ponytail.  In one hand, she held a Blackberry; in the other, an iPhone.   She switched back and forth between the two with dizzying speed.

“Um,” I said.  I didn’t want to bother her, but my only hope of contacting my friends in France was to get my hands on a European cell phone.  “Can I use your phone?  I’m American, and my phone doesn’t work, and-”

“Please, go ahead.”  Her English was crisp, tinged with a soft French accent.  “I just need to finish this email to my boss.  I won’t make my meeting.”

“What do you do?” I said, eyeing her clothes.

“I’m an art dealer advisor.  I work for auction houses across Europe,” she said, worrying a piercing on her lower lip.  I tried not to let my eyes get too large.  Here I’d been trying to figure out how many years younger than me she was, and she probably had enough money by now to buy more Hermés scarves than I’d even see in my lifetime.  Her name was Élise, with more emphasis on the first syllable than the second: the verbal equivalent of skipping a stone across a lake.  We drank paper cups of Earl Gray as she nobly tried to find me WiFi.

The movie that shaped my expectations of flights: rampant vomiting, inflatable pilots, and constant near-crashes

Later, I ambled up to the cockpit to ask the pilots if they knew how I could make a call.  I had some hazy idea that I’d find Ted Striker from Airplane! sitting in front of a wall of dials and controls, but instead two young women sprawled in the pilots’ chairs, checking Twitter for updates on the strike.  (This was oddly comforting.)  Although complaining about the French is a national English pastime, they were sick of it by now, so they expertly showed me the inner workings of the cockpit and let me log on to the airport network in the bargain.

“Where are you from?”  said one.

“Virginia.”

I watched her face.  Most Brits did not seem to know where this was, despite the fact that it was dedicated to a certain British queen.  “Is that near Texas?” she asked.

“Um,” I said.  “Sort of.”

“That’s okay,” she said, cheerful.  “I was top of my class in flight school.  I don’t need to know where it is unless I’m flying to it.”

The air traffic controllers at last deigned to let us through, and we took off for Toulouse.  I watched the sun rise from my dirt-stained window, tranquil despite the delay.  Airports can throw you all sorts of surprises, but I hadn’t expected to meet three talented women who were barely older than me.

Later, as Élise and I filed through customs, she unzipped her hoodie to reveal an impeccably fitted silk blouse.  “Au revoir,” she said, thumbs still glued to her Blackberry.

“Au revoir,” I repeated, and wondered if I’d see her name beneath a Sotheby’s sale one day.

Apparently the French strike all the time- they’re only rivaled in this by the Spaniards and the Italians.  Anyone else experienced strikes across Europe (or anywhere else, for that matter)?  Did they turn out as serendipitously as mine?

Why I Can’t Walk Through Valencia Without Embarrassing Myself

3 Nov

I have a confession to make: I have a dog problem.

This is maybe not a new development.  I was raised by parents who considered the two dogs they adopted before my birth to be their first two children, and I’ve grown up with no less than five dogs of varying size, breed, and personality.  Whenever I Skype my parents at home, I get a few minutes to reconnect with the three who are still with us.  Schizo Dog, whom we added to our family after she had been abused as a puppy, is a gorgeous Chesapeake Bay retriever: ladylike, regal, and completely insane.  (She once ate an entire door frame, and her bladder control has never been what you’d call…constant.)  Snuffly Dog is a shaggy black mutt who has the same cheerful, cuddly ugliness as most indiscernible mixes (is she a shepherd?  A Lab?  Maybe part spaniel?  It’s anyone’s guess!).

Small Dog, who is undoubtedly a bit of a camera whore.

Small Dog, who is undoubtedly a bit of a camera whore.

Small Dog, a late addition to our family, is half wire-haired Dachshund and half Shih-Tzu, meaning that many people mistake her for a teddy bear until she barks.  This breed is apparently called a Schweenie, which is possibly the silliest name for an animal ever created.  Growing up with dogs rubbing their faces against my knees, eating food off my plate, and licking my nose when I’m sad means that it’s never been a question of whether I’ll adopt a dog when I get my own place.  Instead, it’s when.

The root of my problem is that Valencia.  Is full.  Of.  Dogs.  I can’t even walk to the fruit store next door without encountering several Chihuahuas, a few pugs, and maybe a terrier or two.  Owing to the small size of most Spanish apartments, most dogs are of the little kind (it isn’t strange at all to see hulking men in leather jackets walking frilly Pomeranians with bows in their hair), but the occasional golden retriever or Bernese mountain dog isn’t uncommon either.  In the main plaza, I once encountered a Great Dane so large I probably could have ridden him down the streets of Valencia instead of taking the bus.  It seems like every single Valencian has a canine best friend, which means that I feel the pain of lacking one even harder.  Maybe it’s my latent maternal instinct kicking in and telling me to reproduce, except that my brain seems to think that I’m a dog, because all I want are puppies.  Lately, I’ve been ending every message to my family with “and please send me a puppy in the mail, xoxo, Elizabeth.”

In which I bond with Maravilla, the cuddliest donkey ever.

In which I bond with Maravilla, the cuddliest donkey ever.

My obsession has gotten so intense that I’ve found myself going gaga over animals everywhere.  A pair of regal, plump Persian cats that I’ve named Victoria and Albert live on the balcony below my apartment in Spain.  My roommate Sally and I sometimes spend our mornings meowing at them, trying to see if they’ll meow back.  (They haven’t.  Yet.)  In the nearby town of Bocairent, I let a two-month-old boxer puppy chew on my fingers and leave bite marks on my leather Steve Madden boots, then had an intimate moment with some random man’s donkey.  I will sometimes stop dead in the middle of a street to stare at someone’s schnauzer or doe-eyed chocolate lab.  At this point, I’m considering making a sign to tape to my shirt that says, “I’m Not Staring At You, I’m Staring At Your Adorable Dog.”

Things have gotten so bad that I found myself Googling “animals in teacups” a few nights ago.  Did you know that all kinds of baby animals can fit in teacups?  Because THEY CAN!  Take a look:

Kittens!

Bunnies!

And this hedgehog even matches the color scheme!

After reading this Buzzfeed article, I terrified my boyfriend by telling him I wanted a kid for Christmas (before I clarified that I meant a baby goat).  I told my mom that I was thinking of adopting a dog and keeping it in my dorm room next semester.  Perhaps I’ve always had it in me, or perhaps living in Valencia has brought it out, but I am starting to lose it to clumsy-legged bundles of fur.    All I can hope is that I’m able to hold onto my senses until I return to Schizo Dog, Snuffly Dog, and Small Dog in December – or my host mom might come home to find that I’ve snatched a ‘regalito’ for her off the streets while some poor dog owner had his back turned.