I’ve probably spent more time than is healthy thinking about airports, or one airport in particular, in the last few months.  The opening chapter of my novel about Rose Fleming and her adventures in Moscow takes place in the arrivals hall at Sheremetyevo airport.

I’ve been very attached to it as a setting for the opening as it stands in as a metaphor for beginnings, a first impression of the country, and it presents Rose with a litany of challenges for which she is not well prepared.  But it has also been like a rod for my own back.

It was the first section of the novel I wrote, it was discussed in workshops while I did my Masters, I rewrote it for submission for marking, for an application for a mentor, based on her feedback and a couple of times since.  There are whole sections that I know off by heart, word for word.  Simply looking at it has, once or twice, reduced me to tears of frustration, as I know that it wasn’t working as well as it should.  When people who were trying to be helpful asked me ‘does the novel have to begin at the airport?’ I would barely manage to swallow a screaming ‘YES.’

All of the struggles Rose experiences happened to me  at Sheremetyevo, not all on the same occasion, as she has to endure.  I say that with the smug assurance of a person who passed through the hell-hole that it was in the 1990s probably a score of times; and then I start to wonder.  I have spent so many hours conjuring up the place in my memory that I am now wondering if I can tell the difference between what I remember really happening and what I have made up for the purposes of the novel.  Either way, in my pretentious moments I think it will reflect the truth of the experience(!).

Refuelling at Kathmandu airport

Airports are hideously fascinating places however you approach them; especially as the first experience of a country.  The things they have in common may out weigh their differences, but there are individual characteristics about each, and I always arrive with a mixture of dread and excited anticipation.

For a number of years I travelled a fair amount for work.  I made one trip to Brazil.  Before I went, the colleague who asked me to go said ‘I know you’ve travelled a lot, but be very careful in Sao Paulo.  Don’t walk anywhere by yourself.’

I like to think I’m pretty careful wherever I go, but, with the extra warning ringing in my ears, I had a disturbing dream on the flight.  It was commonplace for me to be met at the airport by a car sent by the office I was visiting; I would get into a car with a complete stranger, solely on the basis that he was at the airport with my name written on a piece of card.  In my in-flight dream the ‘real’ driver was lying unconscious by the rubbish bins, while the man who had left home there drove me off into the pre dawn chaos of Sao Paulo.

Cursing my over active imagination, I have never been so relieved to arrive unscathed at a hotel.

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