domingo, 6 de enero de 2013

A bizarre return to Nijmegen

I have flown on Ryanair a few times and I can appreciate how insanely cheap it can be to travel with them. In fact, sometimes it's more expensive to come and go to the airport than to fly to a destination more than 1000km away.

However, other than that, there isn't much more to love about the Ryanair experience. Not the exercise of fitting your bag in their hand luggage box. Not the humiliation of having to wrestle the box to get your bag out. Not the instant decivilization of Ryanair passengers, pushing children and old women out of the way, to try to get a good seat or some space for their suitcase. Not even the neverending parade of random gadgets that you are persuaded to buy during the entire duration of the flight. In fact, each time I fly with them, I generate a little more dislike for Ryanair that I've started piling up into little heaps of hate for them. However, I am currently on the most unforgettable of all my flights with Ryanair and it's not even Ryanair's fault.

I arrived to the Venice airport well ahead of time and went through check in, security and Ryanair's game of checking-hand-luggage-size without any problems. I made it to the boarding gate quite early (and pushed a few children out of my way), so I was one of the first to board the aircraft. I had a nice window seat in the airplane to look outside and make sure that at least one of he two wings is still attached to the aircraft throughout the flight. Everything was peaceful, I was reading a book, minding my own business and waiting for the rest of the passengers to board the plane and put all their bags away. After 15 minutes of the usual battle for luggage space in the overhead, everyone was more or less content and seated. The aircraft doors were closed, the stewardesses were getting ready for the safety demonstrations and the captain was joking about the weather in the Netherlands.

All of a sudden, a guy two rows in front of me casually mentions to his neighbour sitting across the corridor that he couldn't help notice that he is bleeding profusely. There is blood all over his hand, dripping on his lap and onto the seat.
"Oh" replies the bleeding man. "A guy just cut me right before we boarded the airplane. I hadn't noticed it was bleeding." he mumbles as an excuse.

The neighbour sits in awkward silence, uncertain of what he should do, while blood starts staining the rug. He looks again, sees that the man is still bleeding indifferently and decides to inform one of the stewardesses. She listens, pondering about the unusual request of taking a look at the injured man seated across the corridor, and then takes a look indeed. Enter panic, as she screams in horror, alerting her colleagues of the incident.

Despite their daring fashion choices and their distict bright blue uniforms, I have to give Ryanair's crew some credit for this one because they were all quite professional. They all run to their positions: one alerts the captain, one puts gloves on and starts fumbling around the emergency kit, pulling out gauzes and an external automatic defibrillator while another one moves the even more horrified neighbouring passengers away from the blood and the wounded man (the ones across the corridor, the rest are left behind, trapped between the window and the bleeding pariah).

The rest of the passengers, unaware until this moment of what was happening, are quickly informed by the sight of bloodied tissues flying around the front of the plane of two things. First that whatever is happening in the first few rows of seats, it involves blood and panic. Second, that the flight will probably be delayed a few minutes until the blood and the panic are cleared.

Visibly upset because of whatever is delaying the take off, the captain walks out of the cabin. He stares, just like everyone else on the plane, and isn't sure of what to do next. As the bleeding man starts looking a bit sickly and stumbles while trying to get out of his seat, someone has the good sense to call for an ambulance. The captain stares. A little girl seated across the corridors starts crying. Conveniently seated next to the window, I see the ambulance arrive and a fat man in a red suit jump out of the driver's seat. Another man with a white coat gets out from the other side, a doctor. Thank God.

They run onto the airplane and take a quick look at the man and the pool of blood in the corridor that has been partially absorbed by the carpet. They have to get him off the plane, he informs the man with a very strong italian accent. The fat man in a red suit helps the injured man stand up and we finally see his face. He looks quite ghastly and all his movements to gather his belongings are hesitant. While reaching with his good arm for his suitcase in the overhead compartment, he drops his phone. It falls in the half dry pool of blood and he drunkenly tries to pick it up, but loses his balance and falls on one of the seated passengers. The doctor hurries him out of the craft, while the fat man with the red suit takes the suitcase and picks up the phone with an air of disgust. They run out of the plane, down the stairs and into the ambulance. We wait. The ambulance leaves and a cleaning crew steps into the craft. They stare and it takes them well over a second to start cleaning up with disbelief. We watch them wipe the seats, the door of the overhead compartment and soak up the blood from the carpet. We wait while the passengers who were trapped between the window and the bleeding man squeal, stepping out of the row so they can change seats. The captain, who is now back in the cabin, apologizes for the delay but assures us he will do his best to get us to our destination as fast as possible. In the meantime, enjoy the beautiful sunset in Venice from the airplane window...

jueves, 3 de enero de 2013

Km 27,471: Vienna, the land of cemeteries

I like visiting cemeteries. Not because of my mexican love for death and celebrating everything that surrounds it with sugar skulls, flowers and cigarettes (for Grandma who loved to smoke, God rest her soul). I like visiting cemeteries for the same reason I like reading graffiti and looking at altars of St. Jude: because I'm a voyeur. May it be the death of a loved one, someone's thoughts sprayed on a wall or a person's faith in the solution of a lost cause, all of these represent public but anonymous displays of something very intimate. However cemeteries, in addition to satisfying my craving for intruding in the private life of strangers, also function as a cruel reminder that time is ticking mercilessly. When I walk past the grave of children and people for whom life ended rather sooner than later, the thought that, one day, death will catch up with us too sinks in.

I am not alone in my love for cemeteries. According to a free map picked up in a store, Viennese people have a morbid fascination with death and cemeteries, not because they are voyeurs, but just because they're grim. Viennese citizens are taught to embrace death throughout their existence. They sing to death, they build monuments to it, they take their families for a stroll through the city's cemeteries to remind their children that your own funeral is the ultimate chance for a memorable party. The Viennese take the idea of "ein schöne Leiche" (a beautiful corpse) very seriously and save money their entire life to afford the best of the best for their funeral. I would think this is messed up if it weren't because I already have my own funerary urn (courtesy of my father) to rest my ashes for eternity.

Either way, the more than 50 cementeries in Vienna are a big attraction both for its gloomy inhabitants and for the flashy troupes of tourists. The tourist guides will suggest to visit the Zentralfriedhof and bask in the glory of visiting Beethoven's, Brahms' and Falco's graves. But if the corpses of talented musicians aren't enough for you, bear in mind that there are more people buried in this cemetery than actually living in Vienna at the moment and you are likely to run into other underground celebrities. 

But no, I wanted to mention a less well-known but equally beautiful graveyard, the Cementery of the Nameless. Close to 500 persons whose body was washed ashore along the Danube have been buried here. The last burial took place in 1940, a woman who presumably committed suicide by jumping into the ice cold water of the river. Josef Fuchs, the current caretaker of the cemetery, inherited this task from his father and his grandfather who, as a police gendarme at the time the cemetery opened to receive the first bodies, had to pay frequent visits to the suicide, murder and accidental drowning victims that were layed here to rest forever. He ended up taking over the maintenance of the cemetery and caring for the graves of these lost people, who could not be taken care of by their loved ones (if there were, in fact, any). 

All the graves in the cementery are marked with a black metal plaque that says "Namenlos" or "Unbekannt" in silver ink. They are all meticulously decorated with flowers and statues, but you can easily recognize the children's graves. They are the ones decorated with toys.