Weekend escapes are a somewhat of a vacation oddity. You don’t really feel like you’ve taken time off anything, because it’s the weekend anyway, yet you feel invigorated by the feeling of discovering a city in two short days.
There’s something ephemeral and almost hypnotic about it. You don’t even realize you’re in a new city; your mind doesn’t process your short trip to somewhere new. The sights and sounds seem oddly familiar and alien at the same time. They feel mundane because you were sitting at home just hours ago, but in truth they are anything but. You’re in a trance, being pushed along by throngs of tourists in a similar state. And you start tp go through the motions of visiting the city.
By the time it sinks in that you’re somewhere new and wonderful, it’s Sunday afternoon and it’s time to head home. It happens just as you’re getting your bearings in the city. You’ve figured out the Metro map. You’ve chosen a favorite restaurant, a favorite bar. You’ve picked up a couple of unpronounceable words that can make a local cringe or laugh with you. But it’s time to check out of the hotel, and drag yourself to the airport.
You get that sinking feeling as you approach your gate. Just as landing in a foreign airport for the first time is the closest we can get to rekindling our childlike wonder in our adult lives, the departure gate on your back is probably the starkest reminder available of your adult responsibilities and constraints.
That’s more or less the feeling I’ve always gotten coming back from a weekend, wherever I’m based. Heading back to Beirut, there’s an added level of frustration. Dozens of people who’ve been acting in a perfectly civil manner for the last few days, suddenly revert to their basest instincts. As if to satisfy every cliché, they start trying to queue-jump, they want preferential treatment from staff. “Who’s flying the plane today, is it Zouzou? Tell him it’s Fadi, he loves me. I want to sit in First Class and harass the stewardess for whisky for the next 2 hours. Don’t you know who I am?”
As I flew back from Istanbul on Sunday, after one of the most eye-opening, interesting and fun weekends I’ve had for a while, I had a bemused look on my face as I observed everyone’s slow relapse into a Lebanese state of mind. Once on the plane, things got a little nastier. About 20% of the passengers decided they didn’t like their seats and caused a commotion. Typical situation on a Middle East Airlines flight, right? 300 people want an exit seat and everyone feels entitled to sit next to their 20 friends. But then one man’s request to change seats caught my attention…