Once we boarded the flight from Cairo, I zonked out pretty quickly. When I woke up it was time for breakfast.
The meal straddled the divide between Europe and Egypt, serving stewed vegetables with chicken, yoghurt with Arabic on it (see Clowny), along with croissants and jam, a roll, actual cheese, roast beef, and a slice of tomato. For whatever reason, the flight attendant addressed me in German, while the sunburned Danes next to me got English. I was tickled and broke out my scraggly German in response. We landed in Frankfurt just past 6 AM.
Captain Günther thanked us for choosing Lufthansa and I unpeeled myself from my seat. Out on the ramp, it was not as cold as I expected, but the Egyptians from the flight shivered around me. Part of me had hoped for driving blizzards, half knowing how ludicrous that would be and half hoping for a grand wintry European welcome. No matter. I amused myself by practicing dragon breathing in the cold on the shuttle to the central terminal. The first thing that hit me when entering was CHRISTMAS because of the tinseled displays everywhere and Christmas-themed advertisements. The next thing was WEST: a 20-something sleeping on a bench in the middle of the terminal in only sheer stockings and a brown Northface jacket, a man drinking a cup of beer while strolling around the shops, the clean bathrooms with plenty of toilet paper that I didn’t have to throw in a separate trashcan that were without sneaky bidet functions and didn’t require coughing up a tip for the attendant. I was giddy!
After the flight attendant thought I was German, I decided to see if I could pull it off and speak only German for the remaining hour in Frankfurt. I approached the information desk to ask about a simcard, but hadn’t accounted for language gridlock resulting from the switch away from speaking mostly Arabic for so long. I started out alright, “Bitte!” but then caught my tongue and stood there for a dumb second. I stuttered out, “Bitte, wo kann ich ein Simkarte kaufen?” but my pause and my expression gave me away: the attendant said, in English, “Right over there, ma’am.” and pointed to an electronics store. *Sigh*
New European simcard installed and in working order, I headed to my gate. An ad for Colombia flashed on the way: “The only risk is wanting to stay!” “Colombia, experience diversity!” What does that say about the travelers the company expects? No risk? No previous experience with diversity? Hmm… I perused the other ads, many that wouldn’t fly in the Middle East.
I was definitely back in the west! People formed lines without prompting! People drank beer! Nobody shouted “Welcome to Germany!”
A redheaded Spanish man cursed into his cellphone next to me. The family across from me were Italian and the teenage daughter looked like she walked straight out of a Renaissance painting: slightly curly brown hair that fell to her lower back, a porcelain face, a bored stare, and a huge forehead.
A report on the demonstrations in Cairo began on TV: 10 confirmed dead, a top Al-Azhar official killed. It’s clear now why so many people in the west thought I was nuts for coming there since by all available reports it was on fire and covered in rubble. Watching protesters hurl rocks, I got the strangest sense of nostalgia I have ever experienced.
I boarded the flight to Milan.
…which proceeded without incident. I delighted in watching the snow-capped Alps rising out of the horizon, lit up in early-morning fog.
Arriving in Milan Linate, I saw signs in Italian– “Vigili del Fuoco” and laughed because I have no idea what that means. This time, it was clear that I wouldn’t attempt more language crossovers. At baggage claim, a lady tried to ask me something in Italian, but I smiled and said (for the first time in a long long long time) “Sorry, ma’am, I just speak English.”
It’s my first time in Italy and stereotypes abounded to my surprise. While boarding the shuttle from the airport to the train station, I watched a corpulent but stylish lady yak away on a cellphone while her little frilly lapdog ran circles around her, peeing wherever its leash would allow it to go. An adorable Italian guy helped me lift my bag into the bus. There were a great deal of motorcyles, smartcars, and scooters on the streets and every park we passed had at least one soccer game going. “Let it snow” and Bruce Springsteen played on the radio and I sat back to listen to my fellow bus-mates lilt away in musical Italian, including one guy who was speaking tenderly (I think) with his mother.