Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kindling for literary fires and other matters of Life and Death

Boarding a flight the other day, it felt good to be leaving England momentarily behind.  The sunny, clear-skied fall had given way with bone-chilling alacrity to gloom, mould-producing skies.  Yes, getting out of town seemed just the thing.

But wait! I thought, looking at my ticket, as the plane taxied.  This flight wasn’t headed south, to some balmy clime, the type which turns the British into scarlet crustaceans.  It was going north.  Clearly I’d made a mistake, and I was tempted to sprint down the aisle and demand that the pilot turn us around.  But of course, you can probably get shot doing that kind of thing these days.

I consoled myself with the thought that I was armed with my Kindle, a device about which I remain somewhat ambivalent, its utility aside.  But I’m warming to it.  For one thing, it obviously takes up much less space than a stack of books.  It is also likely better for my eyes, as I can set the print to a fairly large size (this has the added benefit of giving me a real sense of accomplishment as I click through pages with impressive speed).  On the other hand, it isn’t as easy to flip back and forth in the text, there aren’t proper page numbers to cite, and I haven’t mastered the business of marking up the text or writing notes (complicated feats for someone whose fingers move across the Kindle pad with all the agility of a blind-folded musk-ox).  Furthermore, it does grave damage to the Luddite, technophobe credentials of someone who grew up using candles to get around the house after dark and needed to be taught what a light switch was, oh, sometime around my high school years. 

But I was particularly pleased to have my kindle with me for the flight, because the only novel I’d packed was Edward Abbey’s Hayduke Lives!.  For the unfamiliar, this is the sequel to Abbey’s irreverently brilliant The Monkey-Wrench Gang, about a group of rag-tag eco-warriors who roam the American Southwest, taking on The Man, The Machine, and any other representatives of Civilisation and Progress.  A brilliant read and one of my all-time favourites, I had high hopes for Hayduke!.  The rub was that the cover features a fist holding a bunch of dynamite, and I remembered reading that shortly after 9/11 people had been hauled off flights for possessing said literature.

The Kindle—The Count of Mote Cristo—helped the flight pass, and I was laying-over at Gardermoen before I knew it.  It was heartening to see that the bombing and mass killing over the summer didn’t seem to have affected the Norwegian airport experience.  ‘Welcome to Norway! Enjoy your stay’ from the cheery-eyed passport control officers remains the order of the day.  The radical right in the United States should take note: this country is an excellent example of how it is possible to have social democracy without inhibiting personal freedoms (something we haven’t quite mastered at home, to say the very least).

My big gripe emerged when I realised that I’d run out of water.  I quickly discovered that there were no water fountains in sight in the otherwise pristine airport, which appeared to have been assembled at IKEA.  I looked into a shop and only narrowly avoided cardiac arrest when I saw the price of a bottle of water.  Sure that I had a way around parting with a month’s wage to quench my thirst, I headed for the bathroom, only to discover that my water bottle wouldn’t fit under the faucet, which only dispensed warm water.  Disconsolate, I tried to use the loo, only to find the stall occupied.  I waited for a while with no results, came back later and found the stall occupied, the same shoes visible beneath the door.  I hoped that nobody had died in there.

Foiled again, I resumed the hunt for water.  At Uppercrust I paid somewhere in the region of 100,000 kroner for a decidedly ordinary sandwich and asked the woman behind the counter if she would fill up my water bottle.  She replied that she probably wasn’t allowed to do that, and I gave her a look suggesting that her life would be in dire peril if she didn’t reconsider her answer.  She reconsidered. 

In the end, of course, the weather was wonderful, the company inestimably lovely, and I got to try moose...

Flying out of Værnes some days later, I chanced to look out the airport windows and see a five-car convoy, led by a police vehicle, roll up to a stationary plane.  Several people, flanked by black-suited men who glared about at the empty tarmac, emerged out of black cars that looked like they’d been swiped from a Hollywood set and walked across a red carpet to board the plane.  Their backs were to me, alas, so I couldn’t tell who they were.

I changed planes again in Oslo, and on a hunch, peeked into the same bathroom I’d tried before.  I’m pretty sure the same sneakers were still occupying the same stall.  Oh well...if it was a body decomposing I’m pretty sure it would have started smelling by now.

Soon enough, I was immersed in the exploits of the Count, trying to avoid casting wistful backward glances at the forests and mountains and coastlines receding below.  So while I’ll probably never curl up by a warm fire with my Kindle and a mug of hot chocolate, I will be taking it along whenever I travel.

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