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  • Writer's pictureDamian Robb

Stray Thoughts 07 | Airportland


As I write this, I am sitting on my brother and sister-in-laws couch in Vienna, looking through their back window at their small square plot of lawn and the ivy strewn wall that sits behind it. Four days ago, I was half a world away, across endless oceans and vast land masses, in my own home in Melbourne, Australia; a distance that, while I’ve travelled it many times now, is still largely unfathomable to me. Life is weird, and sometimes what makes this most apparent is getting on a plane.

The entire plane and airport experience is a surreal one. As soon as you pass through those glass sliding doors you have entered a tiny pocket universe, one known as airportland, and which has tendrils that reach into all the countries in the world. Upon entering this tiny universe you may not immediately realise that you have left your original universe behind and now stand outside of it, but slowly, it will dawn on you that you presently exist nowhere and everywhere.

The scenery of airportland is a giveaway. It sits under innumerable and ever burning tiny fluorescent suns, positioned in its perpetually white blank sky. It has a countryside consisting of long stretching corridors backdropped with vistas of glass windows. While it is rare to step beyond these windows, at least without first sacrificing hours of your life, they do display fields of tarmac and the wild winged beasts that live there. The flora and fauna inside airportland is equally as interesting. Seating grows in rows of uniform symmetry, the occasional charging station spotted between them. Wild food courts burst out of the carpeted floor like a jungle, all selling their goods at prices that’ll make your eyes bleed.

The inhabitants of airportland are interesting, in that they are both familiar and yet entirely unique. They speak in all the languages and accents of the world and all carry with them a collection of strange objects that only seem to serve the twin functions of entertainment or rest. Despite their varied appearances they all share a common dazed expression, and can be found in one of two states, either the most extreme rush you’ve ever seen or lounging and lazing to such a degree that they appear to have entered some kind of fugue state. This is in fact, a temporary hibernation common to the inhabitants of airportland, and one used to better bear the long days and nights as they wait for their turn to ride the great and wild winged beasts.

The activities to be found in airportland are consistent if not exciting. Besides the wallet draining food courts, they also have high end shopping that, while you’ll never actually buy any of the products they sell, even if you weren’t limited in the amount of luggage you carried, you will find yourself wandering in and out of them, inspecting perfumes and leathergoods, stands of liquor and shelves of toblerones, all with a level of intensity and interest you only have while visiting airportland.

Eventually, you’ll find a need to rest and so will head to your designated housing, a gate that is near identical to all the others, whereupon you’ll sit in one of the rows of seating, and either look at your phone or a book, or stare out at all the people of airportland and quietly judge them, sometimes sharing these observations in gleeful whispers with your friends or partner.

Finally, it’ll be your turn to board one of the great winged and wild beasts, whereupon you’ll realise that by doing so you haven’t left airportland at all, rather you have simply entered a smaller, more crowded, and less comfortable version of it. 

And then the great wait will begin. 

But it’s not all bad. During the great wait, you will be gifted meals with multiple parts and, while their levels of appeal will differ, you’ll likely eat every bite, perhaps commenting that it wasn't quite as bad as you were expecting. You’ll also explore a carousel of viewing options on the small screen in front of you and find a strange pleasure in watching one after another as you wait for yet more food to be brought to you. You’ll also “sleep”, a term here I put in inverted commas because this sleep is not like the traditional sleep you are used to. This is more like a forced temporary and uncomfortable unconsciousness brought on by extreme tiredness and boredom and which is unlikely to last as long as you’d like. But, at least when you wake, you’ll have even more food waiting for you.

After a period of time, how much it’s hard to say because time in airportland works differently, you will disembark into fresh air and freedom. No, only joking. You’re still stuck in airportland and about to do it all again because your trip is only half way done.

All jokes aside, our flights were surprisingly pleasant. We left our house at midday on Saturday and arrived at Jon and Alex’s at around 7am their Sunday morning, which would be roughly 3pm Sunday afternoon Australia time. We flew for fourteen hours to Abu Dhabi, where we had a four hour layover, before another six hour flight to Vienna. In that time, I wrote about one thousand two hundred words on a story, watched five movies, read a bit, and entered the strange half consciousness of plane-sleep for as long as I could.

I have mixed feelings toward flying. Firstly, I have a small phobia toward it, brought on by a very memorable and terrifying experience decades ago, and which now leaves me gripping the seat and sweating uncontrollably whenever we hit some bad turbulence. Or at least it did, I think I’m slowly getting better at regulating myself in those situations, but I’ll also never not be aware of all the distance between me and the ground, or experience a feeling of relief when we finally land. I also do firmly believe that flying is one of the more uncomfortable experiences any of us will have, especially when travelling anywhere from Australia since we’re so far away from everywhere else. And yet, there’s something strangely pleasant about it as well. It’s a period of time where you are so limited in what you can do that you really don’t have to do anything. All expectations on you, including your own, are dropped; something that is so rare that the only other instance of this I can think of is when you’re ill to the point of being bedridden. With this comes a strange freedom, a temporary pause in everyday life, where you truly just exist for a while, even if that existence is within the confines of a single seat in a long metal tube with a few other hundred people, twelve kilometres in the air.

Then there is also the fact that usually when flying somewhere, it’s for a holiday, and those are golden. For this one, so far, there is not too much to say, at least not in terms of travel. There is plenty to say about visiting family and immediately nesting into their lives, which is exactly what we’ve done. This first week is still a working one and so after landing on Sunday, it was back to work for both Holly and I on Monday. Again, this wasn’t as bad as I think we may have imagined, no doubt thanks to being with family and the space and environment they kindly and lovingly made for us. Truly, it doesn’t feel that different to working from home, which is such a special and spectacular thing to realise. Certainly, something I never would have predicted was that one day I would have a second home in Vienna’s twenty second district, or that a piece of me would feel a sense of belonging here. But, through marriage, and now the adorable existence of an equally bubbly and emotional two year old boy, I will forever have ties to this city. More than that though, after a number of visits, Vienna feels familiar and comfortable. The language barrier will always be a barrier, but outside of that it feels like visiting an old friend. 

As for my actual friends (by which I mean my family but that was an easy to reach segue and so I went for it) it is of course a joy to be spending time in their company once again. We haven’t, and are unlikely to do anything particularly touristy while in Vienna, because that’s not the point. Quite the opposite. We are after all the mundane things, just doing them in another country with our people who happen to live there. That’s what makes it so special. Having coffees together in the morning, taking Roo to kindergarten, walking down to the local shops, going for a run with my brother, playing with a bubble machine in the backyard, and sharing home cooked meals and talking about our day. 

Right now, and it has been a day since I first started writing this post, I am back on the couch, now joined by my brother and nephew, at said nephew’s request as he wanted some company while he ate his lunch and watched the inexplicably odd videos of kids youtube. It’s a public holiday and so we’re all at home. The day is sunny and mild. We have eaten a delicious and sweet Austrian breakfast. Our plans for the day are to nap, get an ice cream, then have a barbecue in the backyard. 

There are worse ways to spend a holiday.


Thank you so much for reading these Stray Thoughts and until next time,, if you happen to visit airportland be sure to pick me up a souvenir, maybe a last minute beach read or some tiny toiletries.


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