Travels and tribulations
by Janina Fialkowska
The transfer service came at 7:30am … which automatically engendered a sleepless night beforehand; a night spent staring at the alarm clock and finally shutting it down five minutes before it was due to go off. Then a frenzy of last minute packing (Passport? Pills? Glasses? Credit cards? Scores?) , putting the garbage out, making sure all the electrical appliances were unplugged and basically starting the journey in a lather of perspiration and stress. At least the driver had turned up on time -one of the many potential worries that pop up on travel days- but he still had to pick up another client before delivering us to the airport. And then we found ourselves at a standstill on a highway that had turned into a parking lot, the radio cheerfully announcing twenty minute delays due to an accident. A familiar tightness made itself at home in my chest as I anxiously stared at my watch and allowed the inevitable, dramatic scenarios to play themselves in my imagination; we would miss the plane, we would miss the connection, I’d miss the rehearsal and it would take hours and a lot of money to re-book the ticket that extended over the next six weeks. I felt ill.
And then suddenly the race was on and we were speeding towards the airport. For the first time ever I was actually grateful for German Autobahn system without speed-limits. Naturally we made it with even time to spare but my head ached and my right eye had developed a twitch.
Monday morning at Munich airport; packed with travelers and the lines at the security check points were long and moved at a snail’s pace. We try to fly Business Class on overnight flights and for these we save our frequent flyer points but today we were at the back of the plane. Thanks to a kind Air Canada official we did have four seats to ourselves with room to spread out but not enough space to actually stretch out comfortably. Behind us a large family settled in- the baby shrieked with ear-splitting volume for a while but finally, exhausted, fell asleep only to resume its vocal misery a few hours later.
Surprisingly the pasta at lunch was edible, even quite nice which is unusual as Air Canada is not renowned for its culinary excellence. On the other hand, my reading light was broken so for a few hours I stared mindlessly at our progress on the map displayed on the screen – the soundtrack for the movies was unfortunately intermittent. Over Greenland I began Peter Robinson’s latest mystery novel on my Kindle which cheered me up but after the seventh hour my back hurt, my legs jumped about and I had the most ghastly taste in my mouth. The hours passed slowly by until we arrived in Toronto. More long lines, an immigration official who was friendly and intrigued (not confused by my profession and status and calling for his supervisor- which is what normally happens) and then more hours waiting, more lugging about of hand luggage which seemed to have gained weight and then we boarded the flight to Edmonton.
Right away the gentleman seated next to me by the window started behaving strangely. He couldn’t sit still, was hyper-ventilating, popping what looked like handfuls of tranquilizers and finally, out of a plastic bag, he produced a blood pressure measuring machine and proceeded to check his blood pressure every ten minutes or so. Finally after about 45 minutes he jumped up and asked to be let out and raced to the back of the plane. Shortly after there was an announcement asking if there was a doctor on board. For the rest of the long flight there was endless scurrying back and forth of doctors and cabin crew up and down the aisle, carrying medical equipment and looking concerned. Naturally the rest of us were completely ignored and endured the long flight with only the glass of water we were offered shortly after take-off. When the plane landed, we were requested to remain seated to allow the emergency medical team on the plane. They raced on dramatically with stretchers and oxygen and all their paraphernalia only for us to observe our ‘invalid’ with a big smile on his face walking down the aisle without any assistance and stopping by my seat to pick up his jacket and to say good-bye to me!
In Munich it was early morning again by the time we got off the plane in Edmonton. I could hardly stand I was so exhausted but , after a long delay at the baggage carousel and more heavy lifting we were met by a driver who whisked us safely to our hotel.
When I am asked- and I am often asked especially when people realize how long I have been playing concerts- if I still enjoy the life, I automatically answer “yes, except for the travel”. Today was a tough and not untypical day, but when I stop complaining for a minute and pause to consider, for heaven’s sake, I woke up this morning in a little village in Bavaria and tonight I am going to bed in Edmonton. This is absolutely extraordinary when you think how long this same trip would have taken in my parents’ day not to mention before the advent of air travel. To wake up in old Europe and less than 24 hours later to find oneself in western Canada is pretty amazing. Yes, there are worries and discomfort associated with modern travel, and the physical hardships will only augment with age, but I for one still can’t get over the marvel, the speed and the thrill of being able to move about from continent to continent and from culture to culture almost ( but not quite) effortlessly.