Here’s how to win a book deal. Be a big fat pain in the ass. Yeah, baby! Oh, all right, Alain de Botton does bring fancy credentials to becoming the first ever writer in residence at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Talk about re-branding; Terminal 5, much heralded, was a loathed disaster when it opened. Now de Botton, whose books tend to the cerebral, is spending a week at the terminal, given total access and free rein to write whatever he pleases, his laptop open and his words projected on a screen so passersby can watch him at work. The result will be published as a book.
My friend Rachel sets up her easel and paints portraits on-site in some pretty unlikely spots, from a nursing home to a hardware store to a fire station. This week she’s painting a portrait of a communications tower. Many people, she tells me, love having a chance to watch creativity in motion, meet an artist and ask questions about what she’s doing and why.
It’s a fun idea. Of course, a Canadian did a fictional airport portrait decades ago, becoming one of the era’s best selling authors in the process, Arthur Hailey’s Airport came out in 1968. As someone who took her first flight alone, to Antigua, at six, and who lives for the smell of jet fuel and the next chance to fly away somewhere exotic, I totally get the attraction of airports. The stories-high departures board at Heathrow, its little metal panels clicking constantly in the roll call of departures to all the places I’m dying to see — Oslo, Palma, Abidjan — makes me practically burst with desire.
Some of my favorite airports? Seattle — whose elegant terrazzo floors have brass salmon figures embedded in them, one of whom carries a briefcase; Vancouver, Canada, with exquisite wooden totem poles and a waterfall; Bastia, Corsica, where sheep graze outside the terminal; Mae Hong Son, Thailand, where the only sound is the bells of the Buddhist temple across the street; Santa Barbara, CA, about the size of a suburban living room, with a red-tiled roof. I don’t mind my local Westchester airport, as I get to walk across the tarmac the old-fashioned way and step up into into what I affectionately term the cigar tube, a 12-seater prop plane that wings me home to Toronto. Makes me feel like an out-take from Casablanca every time.
Do you have a favorite airport?