Thursday, July 03, 2003

Day One: the flight to Zurich

I hate flying. This is no secret. But at the moment the airline is delaying the departure of the plane in order to inspect mechanical difficulties (a part that wasn’t working properly while they were flying into New York.) And they already boarded us. What if they need to put us on a different plane? I am less concerned about arriving late than what a change of plane (or no change) might do to my nerves.

I could complain for pages about checking in at the airport. It is hard to tell whether the check-in process is safer or more bureaucratic. At least I was not selected (again) for the more painful process of detailed security checks (where they go through all the bags.) I only had to remove my shoes, my belt, my laptop from its case (although I was not required to turn it on.) This means that I have been intensively searched three of five times.

So, I started out the day by getting my hair cut. I held off until the very last minute so that my haircut would last as long as possible. Karen started to complain about how bad my hair looked almost two weeks ago. She escorted me to the hair dresser, and she waited for me in our local café (Thirsty Mind) and read while I was well shorn. We returned home. Karen worked on her garden while I finished printing up directions to archives that I will have to visit. I also let the bunnies run around–I won’t see them for a very long time. They were actually well behaved. For the past week we had them in the bedroom, where we had just installed an air conditioner in the window, in order to keep them out of the heat. They were not happy with that arrangement. It was very cold in the room. It was also very noisy (we were still trying to figure out how to use the air conditioner, but it was “freezing”, making lots of noise.) We brought them back into their own room the day before. I gave Ollie a big kiss on her little head.

I showed Karen how to call up pictures on the computer so that she could work on some projects. She had one picture that she wanted to print out. The picture kept coming out with weird colors, and we messed with the settings for an hour. (I eventually figured out that the paper type setting was not correct. I also printed a “test” copy on the back of an already failed picture, and I succeeded in getting ink all over the rollers.)

We left for JFK at 12.30. I thought that we would make it there in plenty of time. We had few problems driving south to New Haven. We got stuck in traffic as we neared Stamford. I wasn’t worried. Karen was–she wanted to leave much earlier than I. The traffic got much worse as we got into New York City. We were driving at a crawl. We arrived at the long term parking lot at 3.45. Karen knew best how to return home from there. She walked me over to the stop for the shuttle. I got on. The shuttle twirled around the parking lot, picking up more passengers. I thought that she would have left right away. However, I saw her car pulling up to the pay booth. Then, as the bus was leaving the lot, I could see Karen’s blue-silver Saturn turning in the opposite direction to go home. I don’t know if she realized that I was right behind her. I will miss her a lot.

JFK is a mess. There is so much confusion, so many unlabelled lines to stand in. When I finished with all the check-in business (including security), the time was 5.30, fifteen minutes before the plane was scheduled to leave. What a day!

Despite my fears, the flight was smooth. Only a few periods of turbulence. The plane itself proved to be unusually uncomfortable. I had been puzzling over the surprising lack of features–like controls for the air flow. Anna commented that she thinks that this plane, a 767, is normally used for domestic flights. One of the more comic aspects of the flights was my meal. Since I bought a ticket for the first time in a long time, I decided to order a vegetarian meal. The meal was there; it was served to me right away, and I was able to begin eating before everyone else. But the meal that I was served was odd. The main dish consisted of several slices of Japanese tofu (neither dressed nor marinated, just cut off the block) on top of rice cooked with vegetables. It had little flavor. There was a salad of iceberg lettuce; the lemon vinaigrette was so lemony and so creamy as to remind me of lemon curd, which I did not want on my salad. Where was the irony? As the attendants circulated with the regular meals, I overheard them offering either steak or vegetarian pasta.

After eating, I asked for a small bottle of wine. I fell asleep rather quickly, getting a few hours of solid sleep before beginning the more typical cycle of sleeping and waking up.

Day Two: Trudging through Zürich, Stüttgart, and arriving in Mannheim

The hypocrisy of the vegetarian meal, part II: the airline had another winner meal for me. A Nutri-Grain bar. Everyone else got a croissant, yogurt, orange juice, and raisins. The flight attendant gave me the regular meal–and the breakfast bar.

The plane landed late in Zurich. I almost missed my connection by ten minutes (the departure time for the connection was delayed as well.) The second flight, a commuter shuttle from Zurich to Stuttgart, was bumpy but uneventful. However, while I arrived in Stuttgart, the bag that I checked in did not. I puzzled as the conveyer belt turned round without revealing my luggage. Luckily, the airline knew exactly where the bag was (still in Zurich), and was willing to deliver it to Mannheim.

So, I bought my train ticket to Mannheim. That trip was uneventful. I arrived in Mannheim by 1:35 pm. Uli was waiting for me. Straightaway, we went to get something to eat. We went to a place called Hellers, a cafeteria-style restaurant that serves vegetarian fare. We sat out on the terrace, ate, drank, and talked. Then we walked over to his apartment, which was just across the River Neckar from the old city. We sat in his apartment for several hours while we waited for the Swiss Air people to call about my bag, which did not happen until 4. And then we waited until it arrived, just after 6. These period of time were unnecessarily long. Luckily, the bag appeared to be intact, with the exception of part of a zipper.

By 6.30 we were back out in Mannheim’s old city. Mannheim was originally designed to be consciously modern. All the streets were laid out in a grid pattern, the block labeled by letters and numbers in order to indicate position within the grid. It is easy to find anyplace in Mannheim, at least in theory. We went to a bar called Flic Flac. We ordered a Banana-Weizen, a combination of the local wheat beer and banana juice. The concoction was very refreshing, subtle and sweet. We went to another bar, Murnau (named after the 1920s film director), which had ample outside seating. I ordered a straight wheat beer, Uli a pils, both from the local brewer. The Hefeweizen was good, with a very clean taste. We talked about academia, comparing out experiences, questioning each other about the consequences of such-and-such. It was really nerdy stuff. Our waitress, on the other hand, was less than present. We wished to order some food from her, but could only get her attention with great difficulty. Uli had a sandwich, and I ate a Flammkuchen (a very thin bread with cream and some toppings, although mine had so much cheese on it that it more resembled a pizza.)

We returned to his place by 10. We were very tired. I could barely keep my eyes open. We made some plans for the next day. We will take a trip to Heidelberg and crawl through the bookstores there. Uli works until 2 or 3, so I will explore Mannheim in the morning (if I wake up early.)

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