Friday, 16 May 2014

May 13 - Coming and going

(The airport of Mytilini)

It has been more than ten years that I have been writing about the island of Lesvos. I will not pretend to know all corners of the island, nor that I have written about everything on the island; but it’s not easy to find an entertaining subject to write about every week. If it was only for me I would have written: “Woahh, the island is so beautiful”, because I do enjoy being on Lesvos. But writing each week things like: “The apricots start to blush, the vines are reaching to heaven and this morning the sky was ink black”, is not too interesting for a reader.

This summer a cultural anthropologist / sociologist who is also a writer has settled on the island. I have persuaded her to write some columns for me. Because everything will be new for her, we start afresh discovering the island. I am not finishing writing, but my columns and those from Pip will be published alternately on this blog.

Here is her first column: Coming and going.

The friend who is picking me up from the airport in Mytilini is not waiting behind glass walls, but just next to the luggage belt. While we have a welcome hug, my suitcase passes by on the belt and I have a tenth of a second to grab it before it will disappear outside again. My plane landed barely five minutes ago, it was four minutes ago that I descended the wobbly stairs leading out of the Havilland Bombardier. It is still early in the season, so there are not yet direct flights to Lesvos. The Havilland Bombardier came from Athens. The name of this relatively small two-prop plane, reminds me of images from the end of the movie Casablanca: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in a romantic scene at an airport, in the background an airplane looking like the one on which I had just travelled. It is a strange association, because this movie is from 1942 and relates a story occuring during the Second World War. It may be that I have mixed up Ingrid Bergman with Olivia de Havilland, who is another actress from those times. Although de Havilland did not have a role in Casablanca, but in Gone With the Wind, and she was not in the same movie as Humphrey Bogart. Even stranger is the fact that I was born decades after those movies were made and I was not at all impressed seeing them so many years later on television.

What did impress me was the landing of the de Havilland at the airport of Mytilini. The forty passengers just barely ended-up not in the cockpit, because the plane had to brake so hard. Another impressive thing was that the hundred or so metres from the plane to the arrival hall were crossed by bus (it is not long ago that you just could walk this distance). This arrival is so different to those at the big airports elsewhere in Europe, where you leave the plane through a tube, then you still have to walk another kilometre and a half and you may wait at least half an hour before your suitcase arrives. Arrival at Mytilini airport is pretty rapid: within ten minutes I am standing outside. Tourist season on Lesvos starts around the first of May, when people from (a.o.) England, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Czech Republic and Turkey start pouring in with the big international charter planes. And even though they come in big numbers, they all quickly are able to depart the arriving hall, pleased to be facing the bright blue sea and an idyllic chapel at the other side of the road at the beach.

Returning home is another story. The gap between a big airport and a local Greek airport such as on Lesvos then starts to show. The automation is simple and controlling names and luggage costs time, a lot of time. The fact that each airline has its own rules for luggage gives the airport staff hard times. Handling the luggage is not easy, because the belt that used to run behind the checkin counter has been removed because it failed so often. This means that passengers after checking in their luggage, must take their suitcases back and drag them a few metres further along to the scanning machine. A metre before the checkin there are poles indicating that you have to wait there for your turn. But nobody seems to notice them or they just disregard them. As soon as holidaymakers pack their suitcases to go home, they become impatient: everything has to go fast again. The Greek siga siga (slowly, slowly) – so enjoyed during their Greek holiday – is now cause for stress. Everyone wants to be first in the queue and everything has to be handled as fast as possible. People pushing-in and suitcases that block the paths are causing chaos. Slaloming your luggage through the waiting crowd from checkin to scanner requires a lifetime of experience. You will hear and see irritations accumulate in this traffic jam as time runs out.

However the Lesvorian ground stewardesses seem to have a lifetime’s experience of all this and remain calm whilst hearing the grumbling and seeing the angry faces. They keep on doing their work in a friendly and secure way. Even the people who think it is bullshit to come to the airport two hours before their plane leaves, and arrive at the last minute with their rental car and then panic because they cannot find the rental agent, they will be welcomed by reopening the checkin, even though it was long closed. That is: if the latecomer does not cause a row, because that does not work on Lesvos; for then the airport crew will work only according to the rules. So just remember, patience and a smile are the thing. Then all will be good. Even flying back home.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Pip 2014

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