Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Alain de Botton "On going to the airport"

It's just a 5 page essay in a slim book called "On seeing and noticing", but "On going to the airport" by Alain de Botton has to be the most beautiful thing I've ever read about travel. Has anything more lovely ever been written about a 747:

"On a grey day from the edge of the runway at Heathrow, a 747 appears at first as a small brilliant white light, a star dropping towards earth. It has been in the air for some twelve hours. It took off from Bangkok at dawn. It flew over the Bay of Bengal, Delhi, the Afghan desert and the Caspian Sea. It traced a course over Romania, the Czech Republic and began its descent, so gently that few passengers would have noticed a change of tone in the engines, above the coast of Normandy. From the ground, the white light gradually takes shape as a vast two-storied body with four engines suspended like earrings beneath implausable long wings. In the light rain, clouds of water form a veil behind the plane on its matronly progress towards the airfield. The plane is a symbol of worldliness, carrying within itself a trace of all the lands it has crossed; its eternal mobility offering an imaginative counterweight to feelings of stagnation and confinement. This morning the plane was over the Malay Peninsula, a phrase in which there lingers the smells of guava and sandalwood. And now, a few metres above the earth which it has avoided for so long, the plane appears motionless, its nose raised upwards, seeming to pause before its sixteen rear wheels meet the tarmac with a blast of smoke that makes manifest its speed and weight".


Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

Agreed, it is wonderfully written. I struggled though, with his "How Proust Can Change your Life", but it was probably my fault.

Mark O'Neill said...

I cheated by buying his slim volume of short essays :-)

And, I get bonus points because it's quite rare. It is a limited edition, although I did not know it at the time when I picked it up at Heathrow a few years ago. So, if the conversation turns to Alain de Botton, and some people have struggled through his Proust book, I can then trump them by asking have they read "On Seeing and Noticing", knowing that they almost certainly haven't. It is a bit like only reading "Stephen Hero" by James Joyce - it's easy to read, and relatively unknown - so if you bump into someone who has struggled through Ulysses, you can say "Have you read Stephen Hero", and the answer will almost certainly be "No".

Of course, I hasten to add, I also read books for pleasure and enjoyment, not for literary one-upmanship.

JamaGenie said...

Beautiful! And since the rest of us are unlikely to ever own a copy, thank you for sharing this excerpt.

vintagebutterfly said...

Thank you for this... I love de Botton's works :)

..could you possibly tell me what page it is? I'm including a quote from it but I haven't got the text itself, just an except off his official website. :D