One of my favorite writers, the humorist David Sedaris, related a story about the exhilarating joy he experienced when he finally scraped together the courage to ask for a second ice cream sundae on his first-class flight, the ticket for which cost several thousand dollars.
I was reminded of this when I missed a connecting flight in Iceland on my way from Chicago to Munich. Well, not quite the same scenario, but it was a funny story and I was trying my best to be positive. I had flown Icelandair since they offer inexpensive flights, although it takes slightly longer. Also, you have to stop over in Reykjavik.
Did I say “have to”? I meant “get to” stop in Reykjavik, where you can get off the plane, have a snack, and stretch your legs.
The missed connection was no fault of Icelandair, which is a small airline staffed by flight attendants who are invariably courteous and blond, making me question if blond hair really is a recessive gene. I didn’t see the pilot, but I would have bet anything he was blond, too. He was also not allowed to take off from Chicago’s O’Hare airport on time, resulting in our late arrival at Keflavik airport.
But I’m not going to complain, because I got a voucher for a free sandwich. I had been counting on the short layover to buy a snack, a layover which turned into a panicked rush to the counter to consult a friendly (blonde) woman at the service desk. When I asked whether there was food on my rebooked flight, she immediately gave me a food voucher for a sandwich.
Another nice side effect was getting to gawk at the barren, volcanic Icelandic landscape from the plane window during landing and takeoff, all the while imagining the early settlers chopping down all the trees, thinking they’d regrow quickly just like they did back home in Scandinavia.
What, they don’t? What do you mean the trees take decades to grow back?
I don’t know how to swear in Old Norse, but I bet they let out a string of expletives so colorful they were enough to turn a Viking’s beard red. Or blonde later on from worrying about not having any wood, I suppose. Hey wait, maybe that’s the answer to the mystery.
My rebooked flight was to Rome, which is not exactly a short train ride from Munich. It’s two countries away and in the south of that second country, too.
I grabbed my sandwich and ate it in line while waiting to board, trying to calculate despite my gathering brain fog how many hours I would be on the road by the time I arrived. After very careful and prolonged consideration, I came up with the exact figure of umpteen hours.
Then in Rome, I missed my connection to Munich.
The brain fog thickened. I checked the roots of my hair for some signs of signature Scandinavian lightness in accordance with my current theory that stress causes blondness.
But then I remembered my decision to see things in a positive light.
This was Rome, a delightful city. Palm trees were visible on the airport grounds. This was the capital of the ancient world which spawned the Colosseum, engineering marvels, wearing bedsheets to work (I wonder what their casual Fridays looked like?) and the bane of German schoolchildren’s existence, the Latin language.
On my third pass between the Lufthansa service desk and the official rebooking counter, I spotted what modern Italy is famous for: the coffee bar. Behind it, a swarm of people banged espresso machines around and slid sandwiches onto a grill.
I hadn’t eaten since my Icelandic baguette. What if I had to spend the night here in Rome – maybe even right here in the airport?
These Italian sandwiches were not what Americans call by the same name and were a far cry from the peanut butter and jelly concoctions I slapped together for my kids to take to school. No, these were focaccia, flatbread sandwiches, in an entirely different league. Italian mammas would take one look at what I passed off as lunch for my kids and throw up their hands with a horrified cry of “Madonna!”
Tell the truth: Do you want the foccaccia on the left or the PB&J on the right?
Triumphant at successfully ordering a focaccia, which I held carefully wrapped in a napkin,I considered the logistics of carrying it around the airport while rebooking my ticket. It took my by now very under-rested brain about five minutes to weigh the options of either eating it fast (no, I had to rebook quickly) or putting it in my backpack (remembering the mushy banana that had become a little too friendly with the USB port of my laptop, I decided against that).
Inspiration struck. I had seen paper bags behind the counter of the coffee bar. I could go back and get one.
“Un sachetto, per favore?” I said to a man arranging the sugar bowls. I desperately hoped I hadn’t accidentally asked for a saddlebag, or a testicle, or something else that is etymologically vaguely bag-related but very much NOT available at an airport coffee bar.
In hindsight, I’m almost disappointed it actually was the right word, because that would’ve made for a funny story. At the time though, I felt very grateful indeed.
I finally arrived in Munich at 10:30 p.m. By then the brain fog had spread to my entire body, but I somehow dragged myself home. It was a long trip, but I got a free sandwich in Iceland, a genuine focaccia sandwich in Rome – and on top of that, the chance to practice my Italian. What more could you ask for?
Well, to be honest, maybe a shorter flight.