Hoffnungsvolles Reisen (engl. Originalversion der Kolumne in der htr vom 29.01.2015)
Ducking wildly as a rocket flew towards his head, he elaborated. ‘Don’t expect too much,’ he advised from a crouching position, ‘and you won’t be disappointed.’
There was ample opportunity that evening to test his philosophy. We couldn’t get through to a taxi company, so resigned ourselves to staying at the party for another three hours. At 3 a.m. we still couldn’t get a taxi, so we resigned ourselves to a fifty-minute walk home. ‘You see?’ nodded my friend, as we slithered over snow and gunpowder. ‘No point in fretting over things you can’t change. Lower your expectations and life gets easier!’
I don’t altogether like this approach, but I have to admit there’s something to it. With every passing year we resign ourselves to all sorts of things: falling standards, rising prices, wetter and windier weather. Over the past month, I’ve started to think of my friend’s attitude as a nihilistic version of optimism.
But there’s one thing that I just can’t resign myself to. Everyone knows that human beings are getting bigger – so why are aeroplane seats and hotel rooms shrinking like the polar icecap? Last week, cramped in the middle of a row in the middle of a Boeing 777, I brooded over this irony. ‘Stay resigned!’ I said, strapping myself into a seat suitable for a pygmy. Thus I remained resigned to twenty-two hours of flight-time without being able to straighten my legs. I remained resigned when the man in front put his seat so far back that my movie screen touched my face. I remained resigned when my sleeping neighbour slumped alarmingly into my one square foot of space.
I grew up in New Zealand and I have a great fondness for the place. It’s a little like Switzerland – spectacular mountains and lakes, great food and wine – only with fewer people. In New Zealand you can drive for an hour and not see another car. Physical space is plentiful.
Yet I had an ominous feeling when I changed planes in Auckland. The plane to Wellington was tiny. The runway? A teeny strip between sea and hills. And the sign ‘Welcome to the Middle of Middle Earth!’ didn’t fill me with nationalistic pride: it filled me with panic. Who wants to be in the middle of the middle? Claustrophobia set in. My friend Resignation was nowhere to be seen.
The hotel looked nothing like its website. It was a cramped dark cave wedged between multi-storey carparks. My suitcase, too big for the lobby, blocked the doorway awkwardly as I grabbed my keycard. I had now been travelling for thirty-three hours.
Opening the door to my room, I saw that the bed took up almost the entire floor space. One look at the tiny, dirty, unopenable window, and I dialled Reception. ‘Light! Give me light!’ I shrieked, like Bilbo Baggins trapped under the mountain.
The receptionist sounded nervous; he’d heard it all before. ‘All our rooms are the same,’ he quavered. I tripped over the corner of the bed and fell flat. I was in a broom closet at the bottom of the world. The poet Rudyard Kipling wrote: To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive. I doubt he meant it literally. But if he’d been there at that moment, he certainly would have.