Monday, May 23, 2011

Llegada en Buenos Aires: la cola interminable

Since I am clearly not loath to bore the Broad Readership with even the most mundane details of my voyage, it will likely come as a welcome surprise that I am not going to recount the trip down to Argentina in excruciating detail. But I will pass along some highlights, to the extent that a tedious overnight international flight can have highlights:

Upon boarding the plane, it soon became evident that due to light passenger carriage, I would have all to myself a two-person row along the right side of the plane. This aided the travel process immensely, meaning that the experience was merely very uncomfortable, as opposed to a ten-hour psychodrama of unfathomable discomfort.

During the voyage I read "Rawhide Down," a book about the Reagan assassination (factually informative but not really illuminating beyond basic narrative); watched Woody Allen's movie "Whatever Works" (watchable but not particularly interesting, and I say this as a fan of Allen's films generally, so it's not exactly praise); and read 1/3 of Sebastian Junger's "War" (gripping and fantastically written).

There was also some sleeping, of the immensely-uncomfortable sort where you are waking up every five minutes to see if there's some way to move your body so it's not poked by a metal outcropping or configured so that circulation is not immediately cut off.

Arrival initially appeared quite painless, though I was surprised to learn that Argentina charges US visitors $140 to enter the country, and slightly more surprised that they do this only because we charge Argentinians an equivalent amount to enter our country.

The whole trip seemed to be going quite smoothly, almost suspiciously smoothly, and then, of course, at last any suspicions of smoothness blew up when I got my bags and turned to find a line for the final customs bag x-ray that was so comically long I literally could not see where it either began or ended.

This line--in which one had to stand in order to have any shot of exiting the airport--snaked through the entire, large customs room and then back and forth through the baggage claim area (which created obvious logistical fiascoes when people getting their baggage wanted to break through the line to do it). The line had the looping physical appearance of a Disneyland queue on the most crowded day of the year, except that instead of getting to look forward to a fun ride at its terminus, the treat one gets is to have one's bag X-rayed, which it sort of goes without saying, is not nearly as fun as, say, the Dumbo ride or Captain EO.

The line was so mind-boggling that people in it kept looking around, as if trying to find the hidden camera and the dude who was going to leap out and say "Ha! Tricked you! It's all an gag to gauge your reaction to an absurd situation!" (Or however one says all that in Spanish--I haven't a clue.) At one point, a few people tried to cut the line and were met with the South American equivalent of shaming--loud whistles and shouts of increasing intensity--so that the would-be line-cutters scuttled to the rear.

The line was really less a line than a reasonably well-organized miasma of humanity. At times, people seemed to drift in ahead of their place, and at times, as the line doubled back on itself, I was pretty sure my linemates and I were drifting in front of others' rightful places, and I suspect this all canceled out in the end. And while no one exactly savored having to end their international arrival with a forty-five-min trudge through an elephantine queue, it was really a pretty great example of group organization and focality. Without any apparent help from authorities, we all managed to figure out the best way to distribute the line through space that was not designed for it, deterred attempted defectors through group-shame sanctions, and waited with grumbly but basically good humor until we were finally expectorated into the throng of waiting attendants in the main hall of Aeropuerto Ezeiza.

I can certainly imagine that none of the above is particularly interesting, or at least interesting only to me. So the sheer unlikelihood that anyone is still reading this post makes me feel freer to end on a loonified note possibly inspired by my current battle contra el jet-lag. It's this:

International travel is a little miracle. You pay a nontrivial but not utterly impossible sum, show up at the airport, and after an uncomfortable but not torturous day, find yourself whisked away to a place as far from your home as any place can be on this earth. Early yesterday I was in beloved Los Angeles, and now I'm in a slick apartment in the Recoleta, about a block from where they buried that chick Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a song about, and everyone is speaking a different language that I struggle to understand, and I'm constantly beset with that mix of exhilaration and confusion that I remember with fondness from travels past.

Wait, did I say that international travel is a little miracle? Screw that, it's just a miracle.