Amsterdam airport is a huge and stark place. Lit by sheets of neon lights, it towers into the heavens and winds into places unseen. There are other airports which are warmer, more familiar, less intimidating, but as I sit here at 8.30 in the morning, I feel more comforted than I have for a long time.
Glossy yellow signs display instructions in both English and Dutch, formatted in a round, familiar font. Airport stewards patrol the waiting lounge and listlessly pick up forgotten drinks bottles and empty sandwich cartons. Elderly men sit in circles and discuss the morning's news, which plays on mute on dusty television sets above our heads. I've been waiting for 45 minutes and somehow, the time feels irrelevant.
In the airport, individuals sit on their own and rub their eyes in unison. Lonesome travellers waiting for someone or something, we group together in our collective solitude, looking some place beyond one another or gazing into a middle distance. I sit in my corner and sip on my bottled water which has gone stale from my flight. It's going to be a long wait.
When we travel, we are forced into spaces which exist in another field of time, away from our real lives. We move from room to room, from waiting space to waiting space, removed from time until we finally reach our destination. In the holding space, time ceases to exist and it is only when we swing through the airport's revolving doors and breathe in deeply that it begins to creep forward once again. In the waiting room, we are all alone and in our collective solitude, we become different people.
Despite the bleakness of these holding pots, they enable us to become versions of ourselves which would not otherwise be able to exist. The stark surroundings of an airport, or a motorway cafe are lifeless enough to prevent distraction and comforting enough so that we don't utterly lose hope. The unspoken solitude of these places gives us comfort in being alone together and the freedom to act as we wish.
When we travel, we wait for markers of time to tell us what to do. We check in our bags, we pick up our tickets, we board the flight. Travel is punctuated by certain check points and in between these moments, there is little to do but sit and wait. Our minds wander. We look at our surroundings and see things which aren't there. We process our thoughts and unearth forgotten memories. Our minds take a moment to decompress and in doing so, exist in another world.
Talking on travel ports, Alain de Botton stated that "if we are drawn to the airport or the train carriage, it is perhaps because, in spite of their architectural compromises and discomforts [...] we implicitly feel that these isolated places offer us a material setting for an alternative to the selfish ease, the habits and confinement of the ordinary, rooted world". The ordinary world as we have created it gives us little opportunity to truly be alone. We live according to habit, we visit the same places, we see the same people. The airport strips away any sense of prior identity that we might have and in doing so, enables us to think deeply, for a moment.
The time has come for me to leave the airport. I clutch my bag in front of my chest and sweep my feet along the lino flooring. There are a different set of faceless travellers milling around the waiting area now, each cloaked with the same, benevolent expression. As they sit and wait, I see them slipping into a sort of conscious coma, synching into their thoughts and slipping momentarily out of time. I swing through the large glass doors, spot my friend and step back into time.