Saturday I left the house around 3:30 and stopped at the Miracle Grill for tea and lemonade with Peter and Vijay. Perhaps tea is a magic potion, for I did not feel nearly as poisoned as I had every right to, and in fact walked slowly and comfortably all the way to the Carey bus with no problems. Traffic was minimal, so I got to the Alitalia check-in counter by six and had my boarding pass minutes later, and thus began the first of many hours to kill, mostly without cigarettes. I stopped at the ticket counter to inquire about extending my stay in Rome from Wednesday at least to the weekend, and was told I would have to pay an extra $150. I didn't like that, and resolved to take it up with the Prestige office in Accra. Then I began to simply wander back and forth through the international terminal, stopping to take a sip from every water fountain, purchasing duty-free cigarettes (outside the boarding area, so you have to give them your money and have faith that your acquisition will be waiting at your gate), occasionally making the long trip outdoors for a smoke. When the boarding gate is posted I go there, and wait and wait and wait, until fifteen minutes before scheduled departure, when they let us on the plane. It's a nice plane, a 767, which is laid out well and with soothing colors so that people don't feel too crammed in. I had the good sense to request the extra leg room of an exit row, which is next to a flight crew station, which makes it feel even more private. There was a bunch of doctors on the plane with name tags identifying them as members of a tour group. Next to me sat a woman whose name tag said "tour manager." She was friendly on the surface, on her own terms, but an underlying obnoxiousness would crop up from time to time. She had lived on 9th and Broadway for many years and claimed that I looked familiar. Now she lives in New Hope and takes groups of tourists to Italy (nice job), but doesn't speak Italian. From trips to Kenya, however, she had learned Swahili. I was pretty sure that if we were going to Kenya and I was studying Swahili, she would have told me she speaks Italian. The flight attendants wore esthetic light brown and green outfits that tastefully matched fair hair in bangs and buns. The prettiest was rather surly, but there was no one on the plane to fall in love with. Dinner featured a blood-red beef fillet, but the best part was a smoked salmon salad, or rather the best part was the two bottles of red wine from Puglia and the beer, yet I still couldn't knock off and sleep. Eight hours toMilan! The Prestige itinerary said non-stop. The movie helped: "Everyone Says I Love You," which was surprisingly good and inventive, the first film I've ever seen on a plane that fell outside the category of common-denominator garbageuntil the director made his entrance and narcissism took over. But it helped pass the time. Afterward they showed a second movie, the kind of Hollywood pulp that I wisely ignore, and I can't even remember what it was. Soon it was daylight outside the window, and instead of seeing the typical amorphous sky we were treated to the breathtaking tops of the Swiss Alps, to which I dedicated my first two pictures. Between the dinner and movie and the approach and pass and departure from the mountains time slowly but inexorably passed, and then we were descending into Milan. Here I was faced with a dilemma: should I get off the plane and have a cigarette, or, having been in this seat for nine hours, just stay for another three until Rome. But we had no choice; everyone had to get off the plane, so it could be "cleaned." So out it was into the bright sunlight and heat of the tarmac to be squeezed into a sweltering bus that took us to a provincial terminal, where we were x-rayed but subjected to no other formalities, and then could have walked off into Italy had we so desired. You can smoke in the terminalyou can smoke anywhere in Italy, particularly in front of signs that read "Vietato Fumare!" But what I really wanted was water, and they don't have fountains in airports here and I was too lazy to get lire to buy some. Kill some more time, then back on the bus and back on the plane, where any garbage left when we debarked was happily remaining. It was only a fifty-minute hop to Rome, picking up the coast, passing a good-sized lake and descending into farmlands with no sight of the city. At Fiumicino Airport we repeated the bus and x-ray drill, and although a man was standing near the metal detectors with a machine gun, no papers were requested, and again we were free to walk into the noonday Italian sun. The terminal was quite busy, with people of all shapes and colors in all manner of attire milling past the elegant duty-free shops. I felt very tired, but also wired into an unproductive stupor, with nothing to do but kill more time. I bought $20 worth of lire, so that on my return, at 5 am the following Saturday, I'd have enough to get into the city, but buying water or a soda seemed too much of a hassle (and would have been a criminal rip-off). Bored with walking back and forth, I settled by gate B16 with all the black people, and chatted some with a priest, who I was surprised to find out didn't know Fr Roger. Again at last it's onto a bus and onto a plane and into the same exact seat as the last flight and we're off, "non-stop"to Lagos, Nigeria. Will this ordeal never end?
At Fiumicino all signs and all public announcements were rendered in both Italian and English, and the Alitalia flight crews were perfectly bilingual, too much so, for whenever I tried to practice Italian they would immediately switch to English. Seated next to me, however, was an Italian gentleman, older than me, short and paunchy, sporting a beautifully patterned African shirt and a short, semi-kempt Lucio Dalla-type beard. He was very quiet in manner and soft spoken, but had a winning smile in his eyes, so that whenever he mumbled something inaudibly to a stewardess, she was forced to lean over to hear it again, but instead of being annoyed was instantly charmed. He spoke not a word of English, but wanted to talk and was very gracious about repeating things slowly so I could follow in Italian. He was on his way to Lagos to open a supermarket. This was a smoking flight, but I curiously never considered making a trip to the back of the plane. Once, however, after a brief exchange with a stewardess that I didn't hear, my neighbor offered me a cigarette, and, assuming that he had just confirmed that it was all right to light up in our row, I accepted. It wasn't, but when the stewardess returned to tell us so, she did it so apologetically and in such a friendly manner that the process was dragged out until we had finished our cigarettes anyway. I managed to sleep for about an hour or more. Once, while stretched and slouched as best I could, I became aware of something on my lap, and opened my eyes to find a cute little African boy of about three or four crawling all over me to look outside my window, and finding me awake, attempting to give me some shit in some unknown language. I just ignore him, let him do what he wants, and try to sleep some more, fading in and out but finding no rejuvenation. Although I have probably the most comfortable seat outside of first class, being particularly in the same seat as the last flight I feel like I've been on this plane forever, I begin to feel like a prisoner, unable to move about freely, my crotch getting all sweaty and nothing to do about it. We land in Lagos, where those of us continuing are not allowed off the plane, which is fine with me: although the country is owned by Shell, I have visions of Americans being dragged off and shot. We sit there inexplicably for two hours, and I am growing increasingly uncomfortable, frustrated and pissed off. At long last we take off for the forty-five-minute jump to Accra. I see lights everywhere, but no real concentration. Another damn bus to the terminal. Obviously third world.