In Anthony Burgess’ short story The Endless Voyager, a businessman throws away his passport and wallet mid-transit and, unable to enter any country, spends the rest of his life shuttling from airport to airport. He eventually goes mad. Today, of course, such a traveller might stave off purgatorial insanity by dabbling on his iPhone or netbook.
In this post, The Dabbler's own Brit selects six cultural links that might sustain him in an interminable succession of departure lounges.
1. The Beatles, Sie Leibt Dich
"If it wasn’t for Churchill/the Americans/D-Day/the Spirit of the Blitz/your Grandad, we’d all be speaking German by now." Hearing John and Paul sing the British pop song par excellence in Deutsch is like a glimpse at an alternative universe. Of course that universe could not have existed. Sie Leibt Dich makes the familiar strange.
2. Picasso, Still Life with Bust, Bowl and Palette
While at school I cut some tokens out of the newspaper and sent off for a free Picasso print, primarily because I thought that having it on my bedroom wall would make me look offbeat and cool. I didn’t really appreciate it as a piece of art; if anything it was a bit of a joke. When I went to university I put it in a wooden frame from a charity shop and displayed it on my wall for much the same reasons as before but gradually I came to appreciate that there was something inexpressibly pleasing about the way the shapes were put together. Then as I became more aware of Picasso I realised that, in fact, Bust Bowl and Palette one of the least interesting and pleasing of his works, but nonetheless it was the only one I had and I felt an obscure loyalty to it. When I became a bit more solvent I invested in a proper frame and transferred the print to that.
While other artworks have come and gone, Bust Bowl and Palette has adorned the walls of all of my abodes. Now, I realise when looking at the picture, any aesthetic appreciation I might once have felt for it has retreated to irrelevance; its appeal is almost entirely based on comfort and familiarity. Never, ever, until the day I die, shall I willingly get rid of Picasso’s Still Life with Bust, Bowl and Palette. And where is the picture now, you ask? It’s in the attic, waiting until we have a bigger house, because my wife doesn’t like it.
3. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
All the follies of human existence are laid bare in this book's wicked definitions, now available online. Worth it just for: Predicament (n): The wage of consistency. Anyone who has ever entered into a lengthy blog argument will know the truth of that one.
4. Atherton v Donald, Trent Bridge 1998
Cricket was never about vicars and teas and the village green for me. I grew up watching the West Indies: cricket was about surviving violent assault. I was a keen, reasonably talented opening batsman at schoolboy level, but the first time my body took a battering from a proper fast bowler I became painfully aware, in all senses, that I didn’t have what it takes.
In the second Test between England and South Africa at Trent Bridge in 1998, Allan Donald was, more or less, trying to kill Mike Atherton by bowling 90mph at throat-height from round the wicket. Atherton, a Charlie Brown-like geek – gangly, toothy, vaguely bookish – stood there and took the worst Donald could chuck at him and survived it. Really, Mike Atherton had none of the attributes of a great sportsman except the rarest and most important one.
5. Sagrada Familia image gallery
Some excellent judges of taste have informed me that Gaudi’s still-unfinished cathedral Sagrada Familia is quite uniquely ugly. “For people who like cacti”, as one blogger memorably put it. Perhaps so, but Barcelona was the first holiday I took with my wife and we were broke and 21 years old so everything about that city is wonderful. But even if Sagrada Familia is ugly and possibly even a bit naff in the student-poster way that Salvador Dali is naff, the mere fact of its existence is remarkable enough. A vast wasps nest still under construction, in Europe, in 2010, for the glory of God. God was supposed to be dead by now.
6. Handel, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth
Sacred music is about humans, God is the justification. In the Godless eternal airport lounge, in Richard Dawkins’ post-religious world, where middle distance-gazing professionals gather in conference centres to discuss painless suicide techniques, where the Sagrada Familia construction work has been cancelled and where reclining in First Class on the Eurostar we eat Asian Fusion food from recyclable boxes and tap secret, bleak poems into our iPads, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth will still make perfect sense. More sense, if anything – the poignancy will verge on unbearable.