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Travel: Scenes from an Airport

    After I’ve run the security gauntlet, after I’ve shown my ID, after I’ve exposed the contents of my bag to whoever is manning the scanner, after I’ve emptied my pockets and made my way through, the world shrinks to the faces and voices I hear in the airport. 

 

    An airport is a collection of every kind of human and there is no better place for watching people. The strangers in the crowd are rich, poor, kind, crude, happy and unhappy. They are young. They are old. They sprint down the concourse or they ride in chairs pushed by others. We all hurry and we all wait. We move forward and stand in line. Some speak languages I don’t understand, but at that moment we all have one thing in common: We are all trying to get from here to there.

 

    I stop to buy some fruit for breakfast and beside me a man sits hunched over the bar, his overnight bag at his feet. His face is strained and his mind is far away and I wonder if more than his drink is on the rocks.

 

    As I walk past the “spa” another man stares off into the distance as he massages the neck of one more anonymous passenger who’s bought a little time in the chair. He is a robot with strong, warm, hands.

 

    I find an empty gate and stop to charge my phone before I depart. A few rows away a pilot, his luggage piled beside him, is talking on the phone and after a few minutes I realize he’s talking to his wife and they are discussing the terms of their upcoming divorce. His voice is thick with anger and pain and, embarrassed to have stumbled into the scene, I unplug my phone and move on.

    When my flight is called, people immediately crowd the gate, jockeying for position too early, dragging heavy bags behind them, anxious to get on the plane as quickly as possible before all the overhead bin space is filled. One couple works as a team. She edges forward, slipping between people who are distracted by last-minute emails or texts, their attention on their iPhones instead of what is going on around them. Once she’s in place she motions for him and he slides in beside her. Another mans silently gauges the diligence of the gate agent and I see him decide to slip into the priority line, hoping the harried agent won’t notice. She doesn’t.

 

    On the plane two elderly women, their white hair permed, pink scalp showing between the tight curls, settle into their seats and, delighted to have an empty seat between them, forget we haven’t even taken off. They drop the middle seat-back tray and set up the picnic they’ve brought along, just like they’re on a train. They pull out sandwiches brought from home, wrapped in aluminum foil and tucked into folded paper plates, then settle back into their seats. Moments later the flight attendant comes by, sees what they’ve done, and gently—like she’s speaking to her own grandmother—tells them the tray must be up for takeoff. They’re embarrassed and hurriedly put everything away but something in me responds to their sweetness, their homemade picnic and the gentle way they do as their told.  

 

    Once all passengers are on board, just before they close the doors, a woman tries to switch to an empty seat a few rows up but it’s in an upgrade section and the flight attendants won’t let her. “It wouldn’t be fair to those who paid extra to sit there,” they tell her. The woman goes back to her assigned seat, with a few less inches of legroom, and turns away to look out the window.

 

    Sometime during the flight we pass over the Rockies and the air becomes rough. The man across the aisle smooths his palms over his knees again and again in a soothing motion. His face shows nothing but his hands keep moving until the worst is over. I wonder what he would do if I reached out and covered his hand with mine, the way I would do with one of my children.

    

    The women eat their picnic.

    

    When we land everyone jumps up and starts dragging bags out of the bins, piling them into the aisles and around their feet, anxious to get away, to be part of the prisoner exchange that happens each time a plane rolls up to a gate. 

    

    It’s like a movie. All hours of the day, in airports around the world, the scenes are repeated as passengers file in and passengers file out. Each of us carries more than a bag, more than a boarding pass. We all bear the invisible weight of a story. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Leipzig: Back to Bach

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

 

The day before I left Spokane and caught an early flight to Germany, the weather was wet and cold. More like late winter than late spring. Everywhere I went people were grumbling about the rain.

“Sorry you have to be out in this,” the usually-cheerful student at the coffee-shop told me. I just shrugged. I’ve given up trying to convince people I don’t mind the rain. There are times, in fact, like when I travel, that I prefer it.

Rain changes the landscape. Especially in a beautiful old city. Colors fade and stone buildings settle into shades of gray like an old black and white photograph. Cobblestones are more pronounced, glossed by the moisture.

When the sun shines we lose our focus. We squint and turn our faces up to the sky. We are tourists, even in our own cities; driven to get out and play. We wilt in the heat and fret about the crowd and the irritations of too many people in tight quarters.

Rainy days set a mood. In the right light, the scene could be set in any time. Old and new blend and blur. It’s easy to imagine things that would, in the bright light of sunshine, be implausible.


I arrived in Leipzig, Germany,  the city of Bach and Schumann and Wagner and Mendelssohn, just as an unseasonable rainy spell set in. Skies would pour, then clear, then pour again. Rain fell off and on as I wandered around the city.  As they went about their day, people huddled under umbrellas, heads down, until the sun came out again.

Leipzig is the place where Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 25 years of his life. Where he raised a family and lived his life as both busy academic and musician.
The sun was out when I toured the Bach museum and in a darkened “treasure room” looked down on a cantata written in his own hand. I saw the house where his family’s closest friends lived, the place where the only remaining organ played by Bach is housed. Where a chest decorated with his family crest is on display.
I looked down on his grave - or, what scholars are reasonably certain is his grave - in St. Thomas Church. I studied the statue and all the artifacts, but it wasn’t until the skies clouded again that I felt like had found the man.

In the spell cast by the rain, I could imagine him, worried, distracted, his mind on everyday irritations and ordinary concerns, barreling down the same narrow streets or striding across the square. It wasn’t hard to picture him dodging puddles as he walked, turning over in his mind all the worry and aggravation of work and home, lost in thought, focusing on numbers, budgets, a choir of rowdy  boys; juggling the burden of a large family or the purchase of instruments for the orchestra or consumed by the composition of a cantata.

I ducked into one of the small shops looking for chocolates to bring home.  The clerk, realizing I was an American, apologized for the weather.
“Yesterday was so much more beautiful,” she told me. “Perhaps tomorrow will be better.”

 “Oh, no, today was perfect” I said, taking the shopping bag full of sweet souvenirs for my family back home. “I saw exactly what I was hoping to see.”



Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

A circle of friends and writers

(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

    Most Monday nights we gather together
    We open the door of the small building that houses the studio of an artist friend and walk into the warmth of a room filled with the all the tools and spirit of creativity.
    There is a kind of homecoming each time we meet. Someone might bring a loaf of fresh bread. Someone else puts cheese and crackers on a plate. On a good night a bottle of wine is opened and shared.
    For the first half-hour we talk. We talk about what has happened since we last met. Catching up with marriages, work and all the other portions of our lives, we strengthen the ties that bind us together. And then, when it’s time, we get to work.
    One by one, safe in the company of kindred spirits, we read the words put down on paper since we last met.
    We are a circle of writers.  Some of us do it professionally, others are more casual. But the one thing in common is that each one of us writes because something inside us won’t rest until we do. Each of us has a story to tell and we want tell it in our own way.
    There is, deep in the center of most people, a strong desire to leave something behind. We want to leave our story. A map to who we were. A chronicle of the things we dreamed and worked for; of the loves we shared and the heartaches we survived.
    In the Monday writing studio we are in turn, survivors, lovers, mothers, wives and sisters. And what we share - besides the bread and wine - is the determination to overcome the barriers of shyness, insecurity, fractured schedules and even, occasionally, the interference of others. We want to write and we’re willing to go to great lengths to find a way to do it.
    Most Monday nights there is a reason not to go to the studio. There is  work to finish before deadline. There is housework. There are family responsibilities that pull at us. But usually, unless we’re out of town, we make it. We open the door to the writer within us. One word, one Monday, at a time.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Fog

So, I had this little thing I wanted to write. I tried all day to get it right, but the words played a game of chase and stayed just out of reach. Finally, out of patience, I walked away.

“I don’t care,” I called over my shoulder. “I didn’t want you anyway.” And, just like that, there they were.

Typical Monday.

It’s good to be back!

I started the original Home Planet blog in 2004 when I was still a freelancer, and kept it going after joining the staff of the Spokesman-Review. But, by Sept 2006, I’d gotten a little blog-weary. I was also blogging about antiques and collectibles at Treasure Hunting at the time. A lot of things have changed since then. I left the Spokesman to take the position of editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Now, I’m back. And so is Home Planet. This go around, the column appears in the weekly Pinch supplement. But it’s still my voice. I’m looking forward to blogging again and keeping in touch with readers. So, welcome home. Welcome back to my Home Planet