I’ve become a fan of Alain de Botton’s books, especially after reading “The Art of Travel”. Being an ardent fan of travelling myself, albeit in a rather different way, I was very much impressed and inspired by “The Art of Travel”. What else could have drawn more attention from me than a book about airports, the new-age teleporting machine all travelers have to step in, on the way to our destinations.
Alain de Botton was invited to be a “writer-in-residence” at the new Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport for a week, to jot down his observations of everything from the passenger, a family member of the passenger, the pilot to the cook, the shoe-polisher and the toilet cleaner. As de Botton explained in the book, “there were still many aspects of the world that perhaps only writers could be counted on to find the irght words to express” (11). Indeed, in the following lines, he (and his friend) deemed the words found on the most effective advertisement posters as “bullshit”.
His acute observations of each twitch on the faces of the people, the smiles and tears that break out from the facial expressions of the people, are a joy to read as he explains them with great profundity, and from a wide perspective, taking into consideration how they have just, or are about to disappear from one end of the world and reappear at the other in a matter of hours. He examined how the airport functions, from the technical specializations of the engineers and architects, to the more obvious atmosphere in the airport contributed by each grievous cry, angry shout or smacking kiss.
Perhaps it is because I have had similar experiences at the airport, I could relate to what he wrote, “there is no one, however lonely or isolated, however pessimistic about the human race, however preoccupied with the payroll, who does not in the end expect that someone significant will come to say hello at arrivals” (98). I would like to add that, similarly, the person waiting at the arrival hall carries similar sentiments, as he strains his neck and eyes, trying to look past his own reflections in the glass wall, anticipating the apperance of his loved one(s). I remember sitting at the first row of chairs in front of the arrival hall at the newly opened International Terminal of Haneda Airport, staring blankly into “Sputnik’s Lovers” by Haruki Murakami, with every kanji in sight evading and disappearing at the back of my mind. I was eagerly and impatiently waiting for my girlfriend to step out of the arrival hall and into my arms.
After reading this book, I was inspired to read more books by de Botton as I zoomed onto amazon.co.jp and purchased two new books using the One-Click function. On a more personal level, I was inspired to write something similar, perhaps in Japanese, of what I observe and interpret at airports, perhaps on my next visit to the airport in three weeks time.