Paradise, Purgatory, and Hell: A Dantesque Journey through Northern Italy, Part 5

Airport Insecurity…

“Music” and the “i” Generation…

It took a full half-hour for us to clear passport control in Brussels (about the time it takes illegals to slip across Western borders never to be heard from again). That left forty-five minutes for another one-kilometer dash across the terminal to the security checkpoint followed by a final push to the gate. What they don’t tell you when you purchase those cut-rate connecting flights to Europe is that for a reduced fare you get to enjoy being stripped and molested twice. One oughtn’t to complain about the security regime at airports, knowing that the alternative is being blown out of the air by a terrorist bomb (even if airline passengers face a greater risk of being blown out of the air by the Russian military). And then the fact that a terrorist can secrete (pun unintended) a bomb in his underwear merely demonstrates how futile our vigilance is against anyone determined and masochistic enough to commit suicide by so exquisitely painful a method. (One supposes that Muslims believe in the regeneration of the body in the afterworld, else all those comely virgins would be a waste on the underwear bomber.)

Besides the sheer annoyance of airport security, one should never underestimate the challenge of divesting oneself into those little plastic bins when, after seven hours in the air over the Atlantic, one is sleepless and in orthopedic distress. Extricating one’s shoulders from camera, passport, and computer bags (without getting their straps twisted together); removing coat, sports jacket, belt, and shoes; emptying pockets of bills, change, credit cards, keys, and lighter (oops!); liberating the laptop from its case; and doing it all while a hundred passengers are watching and waiting impatiently in the line behind, takes a degree of coordination and composure that would have taxed Houdini in his prime. Doing it all in reverse on the other side of the metal detector, with the same travelers glaring at you again as you try not to leave anything behind and fumble to get your clothes back on, is likewise no mean test. Over the years of traveling, Mrs. P. and I have left enough items of clothing (hats, scarves, gloves, ties) in the security bins to start a small haberdashery shop. For reasons of soi-disant security (compounded by senility), the guards at Heathrow already have a lifetime supply of my Zippos.


One final sprint brought us from security to our departure gate, where we arrived five minutes before take-off, and as the last passengers to board, were subjected to the scowls of another angry mob.

The connecting flight from Brussels to Milan was tolerable enough, save for a passenger across the aisle whose earphones overflowed with an incessant, high-pitched ch-chka-ch-chka-ch-chka. Polluting the atmosphere with the “music” from one’s earphones or car radio is now a form of self-assertion, scarcely more refined than the ritual in which animals lay claim to new territory by urinating around its perimeter. (But then animals don’t urinate into your ears.) In the age of My Computer, My Pictures, and My Music, my music is your music, whether you like it or not. And so one’s ears are inundated by these aural effluents everywhere in our technological age, when the ubiquity of i-Pods, i-Pads, i-Phones—the “i” being the subjective form of the possessive “my”–, and other mobile disturbers of the peace bespeaks our culture’s primordial fear of being alone with its thoughts (if it has any thoughts), and its consequently hopeless addiction to auditory and visual stimulation. If Islamists really wanted to terrorize the population of the West, their most effective tactic would be to disrupt the supply of these adult pacifiers.

Music that is offensive to captive listeners—and how could anything downloadable from i-Tunes not be offensive?–is a form of torture. It was most recently recognized as such in Guantanemo Bay, when President Obama ended it and other cruel interrogation practices on the high moral principle that anything that was instituted by the Bush Administration must be ipso facto wrong. So, Mr. President. You believe in regulation, don’t you? How about it?