Monday, June 14, 2010


T minus one day till launch and the Thurmonds are scurrying. One of us more than the other, you understand. Please refer to blog on packing. We sent sweet Amy back to Richmond and a former student is holding down the fort here, all our financial ducks are in a row, school work is as done as it’s going to be for a while, and now all there is to do is pack and wait for the flight and hope for the best.

We’ve had about the best and worst of flying, I suspect. Probably the worst experience was compliments of Air France. We were flying out of Hartsfield in Atlanta. Many of you have been there and know that it’s right on the edge of the piedmont and flatlands and you can see forever looking west. We had all the kiddies checked through, all were waiting at the gate, the departure time came and went, there was no announcement and all the AF staff seemed happily oblivious. Meanwhile we were looking out the plate glass windows and watching an angry front approaching from the west. No problem, it’s at least thirty miles away and we’ll be heading northeast. More delay, more smug insouciance from Air France, and the storm is ever closer. Finally, one hour and ten minutes late with a huge thunderboomer bearing down on us, we board . We queue, move to our position at the front of the line, prepare to taxi...and all hell breaks loose.

For thirty minutes things were hot! Finally the storm seemed to abate, and we taxied and took off... right back into the heart of the storm. Child, we were rockin’ and rollin’, and I mean that literally. Even the seasoned travelers were showing signs of concern. And, since we had given the storm a head start, and were flying through it, it just seemed to go on forever. I should explain, Sandy’s seat was separated from mine by two rows and an aisle, and Sandy is, shall we say, not an enthusiastic flier. Suddenly the plane was hit by a bolt of lightning, an event, I am assured, that happens not uncommonly on flights, but it sounded like a nuclear explosion. Lots of screams, and when I looked back poor Sandy was ashen, holding the hand of the woman next to her with her right hand, and fingering a tiny slip of paper with the other. The woman and her husband next to her were both praying assiduously and fingering their rosaries. After things settled down a bit I went back to check on Sandy and discovered that the kindhearted couple with her, she a Pole and he an Italian, had given her a tiny image of St. Theresa (which she treasures to this day) and assured her that since they both went to Mass every day, they were guaranteed not to die a violent death. Folks, at that moment and for some time after, my hard-core Southern Baptist wife joined the Catholic church!

The rest of the transatlantic leg was uneventful, although we arrived in Paris three hours late, had missed our connection to Venice, endured a six-hour layover, and had to sit on the tarmac again for two hours at Orly because the pilot (good old Air France again) thought he detected a weird vibration in one engine. Happily, the trip across the Alps was calm, the skies crystal clear so that the view below was spectacular, and when we arrived in Venice, for the first time we were treated to transport via water taxi from the airport to our hotel on the Lido. It was late dusk, almost fully dark, and the lights of the city greeted us on the west while a huge, amber gibbous moon floated over the lagoon and led us toward safe haven. Not a bad end to a pretty horrendous trip.

But there have been some wonderful flights as well. Look, I’m a hick, one with perhaps a veneer of sophistication thanks to education and travel, but the veneer is thin indeed and there’s lots of hick showing through in places. I still am awed by the whole experience of flying—the rush of taxiing, that feel of g-force at liftoff, the kick of that bank and roll, soaring up above the cloud deck, seeing the terrain below like some petty god. I still just love it and always request a window seat and end the trip with a crick in my neck from rubbernecking. On our last flight we took off from Newark around six pm in clear blue skies and followed the coastline northeastward along the New England shore, past Nova Scotia and P.E.I. I was in heaven. I saw the St. Lawrence Seaway for the first (and probably last) time, those thousands of watery islands that make up northern Quebec, saw a bit of western Newfoundland just below and the coast of Labrador off to the west. About two hours later appeared the southern coast of Greenland, with those towering cliffs overtopped with a solid sheet of ice. I may be kidding myself but I think I even saw an iceberg calving. And all the time a beautiful golden sun skirted the western horizon, smiling at me. By this time it was 11:30 pm, and the sun finally disappeared on my left. I snoozed fitfully for a couple of hours, still thrilled by what I’d seen. About an hour and a half later I was awaked by the warmth and light of, what? I roused from my grogginess to behold, Old Mr. Sol, looking at me again from the same window! Now, folks I know I’m a nerd, but you’ll have to admit it’s a pretty cool thing to see the sun set and rise on the same side of the earth! Mr. Sun had been playing peekaboo, he skirting the western side of the arctic circle, our plane the eastern side.

I was able to see a bit of the Outer Hebrides and northern Scotland before the earth disappeared beneath a solid bank of clouds. But I will always remember that flight as the one where the sun was kind enough to work overtime to show me a huge swath of the Atlantic Rim and then amused himself (and me) by playing hide and seek.

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