daily preciousness

Friday, June 29, 2001

landing in dublin

Abroad again.

Lime, mint, chartreuse, spinach, kiwifruit and a hundred shades of green that I'd never imagined before. These are the colors of the checkerboard below me. The orderly squares and rectangles spread out below, now 10,000 feet below, now 8,000. Lower and lower we go, until…

We set down, the plane's nose at a smart angle. Engines rumble like a mechanical whalesong, fighting our forward momentum. Within moments, the armrests stop their trembling. I can breathe now. Landings always do that to me: a few moments of paralysis, as if my heart's playback is paused for the sake of the pilot's concentration.

We are on the Emerald Isle. Condensation on my oval window flickers casually in the morning sunlight.

The checkerboard that I'd gazed upon moments before is replaced with the monotony of tarmac. On the blacktop, amid yellow directional marks, oil-stained puddles shimmer with swirling rainbows. "No leprechauns in those rainbows," I think to myself.

We are taxiing into the airport. A squat little man with tanned arms and orange reflectors points us towards the docking area. Gripping my carry-on, I hear the attendant's (or the "air hostess's") anemic delivery of the de-planing benediction. Instead of making eye contact with anyone, she stares blankly ahead of her. I focus on my cuticles. She delivers an Irish greeting, something about 100,000 welcomes. "Nice touch," I think.

The ka-chinks of seatbelts unbuckling sound like metallic popcorn bursts around me. Contents in the overhead bins may have shifted during the flight. My legs ache. And, getting up, I bump my head. (It's a little tradition I have on planes and trains and buses built for short people.) We thank you for flying Continental today. We know you have a choice in air travel providers…

The dark-haired man with the two boys stands up. They were sitting in front of me during the flight. The father was so patient with his son. The little boy was only about 10. His eyes were set apart in that uncomfortable, telltale way. Smiling to the child, Dad enthuses, "We're here, Brendan, we're home!" The boy grins, struggles with his seatbelt and reaches up for a hug. The man obliges.

I am so impressed with him. The man can't be more than 30 and he has two sons. He demonstrated such maturity with them, asking them if they needed to go to the toilet or if they were hungry or bored during the flight over. And his lilting Irish accent turned everything he says into poetry.

He and his two sons, traveling in front of me for the past 8 hours – they were my introduction to Irish family life. This unshaven man has dark, curly hair and warm green eyes. He gathers up the bags of toys, treats and toiletries, unbuckles little Brendan, hugs him and begins to stand. All the while, he tries to give his older son, Jacob, the same amount of attention as the little one.

But Brendan's naughty, laughing a disabled laugh while batting at his older brother's head with the open packet of snack mix. Pretzels take flight as he slams the bag on Jacob's head. I get a faceful of flying debris and a high-pitched laugh from Brendan. Jacob doesn't retaliate, but holds Brendan's hand to stop him from flinging any more food our way. Jacob, who can't be more than 12, turns around and apologizes.

There's no way that I can be upset. Little Brendan is too cherub-faced for me to be cross with. And he was well behaved during the entire trip, watching Spy Kids with me on the monitor above the seat. Dad apologizes and I assure him that there's no harm done.

We shuffle off in those peculiar baby steps that slow crowds take. It's just the right speed for Jacob. He holds his younger brother by the head, steering him gently toward the front. He's incredibly mature, just like his father.

Into the Immigration line – a queue, they call it. It's the one for "Non-European Union Citizens." Of course, it's the longest.

Calculating my distance to the red line, I realize that I'll be standing here for a while. I re-set my watch to local time, 10 a.m., and tap my money belt in my compulsive check. Immigration clerk has fine features – handsome green eyes. The uniform looks good, too. The black light on his desk reflects off of the silver buttons. Poor guy looks trapped in his bulletproof glass enclosure, though. I feel sorry for him.

He nods at me, wishes me a good morning and asks if I'm a student. (Will I always be taken for a student? Or is it just my studious nature that these observant types notice?) I guess it would be rude for them to ask, "Are you a drug dealer?" which might be what they're actually thinking.


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