Elif Şafak - Writer
The Loneliness of The Long Distance Flyer
I was traveling from Istanbul to Arizona. It was a long journey. First Istanbul-New York, then New York-Phoenix, and finally Phoenix-Tucson. I had a bag full of newspapers, magazines, novels and pretzels with me, and notebook, paper and pencil in hand.
With plenty of reading material for a flight that would take twenty-five hours with layovers, I was the most contented person in the world. I finished two novels between Istanbul and New York; between New York and Phoenix I read through my newspapers, magazines and brochures from beginning to end. When I was left with nothing to read between Phoenix and Tucson, I tried to ‘read’ the life stories of the hostesses and the other passengers from the tired expressions on their faces. I read everything I could get my hands on on that flight. No phone rang, no doorbell. There was no ppointment to keep, no meeting to get to. There was nothing but leaning back and reading, reading and reading to my heart’s content. I’ve loved to read since I was a child. And to travel by air. And I was thinking that the novels I’ve liked best are the ones I read on airplanes. I have books that I’ve kept just to read on flights. Books I’ve put aside thinking I’ll take them with me on my next trip. Because, books are best read on long-haul intercontinental flights. It’s easier to concentrate on a long trip. Because it is only on long plane trips that a person is truly alone with himself, that he experiences solitude genuine and concrete.
Whenever I have to travel, I leave the house in a tizzy. One by one I check every detail - my passport, my itinerary, my telephone, my handbag, my suitcase - to make sure I have everything. I panic, nothing goes right. When I arrive at the airport, I scurry around with ticket and passport. Dozens of thoughts flit through my head, ideas by the ton weigh me down. But the minute I board the plane and take my seat, I suddenly calm down when I lean back and open my book. Neither past nor future are of any consequence at that moment; only ‘present time’ remains. Miraculously I become tranquil, as if touched by a magic wand. I open the novel in my hand. The novel, which is the most solitary of all genres of art. Written in solitude and consumed always in solitude. You can follow a film, a concert, a documentary or a poetry reading with your friends, with other people. But the reader of a novel is always alone. And he understands well the language of loneliness on airplane trips. Every passenger on every flight leaves himself behind. And when we reach the airport and the place we are going, the “Old Me” meets us at the gate with a welcome sign in his hand. We embrace. The Old Me smiles and says, “Welcome back, I missed you. Take me with you next time.” But inside we know that on our next long plane trip we are again going to leave the Old Me behind and take along only our thoughts, and our books...