Neither here nor there

In honor of a boy who’s flying back to Buenos Aires today, and in honor of the crazy facebook contest sponsored by LAN in which I won two roundtrip, business class ticket from the U.S. to Argentina (!!!), I want to share some thoughts I jotted down in the margins of the boarding pass of my last flight from BA (literally!) and have been holding onto for too long now.

It begins at the gate. The in-between state of international flights is a funny thing. For a brief amount of time, you find yourself between worlds, which means that in a way you can choose to “be” from whichever you want. Whenever I fly to and from Argentina, I secretly hope I’ll be mistaken for an argentina, and do my best to impersonate that boho-meets-rockstar look, long hair effortlessly windswept and I’m-too-cool-to-care-or-even-look-at-you attitude. Everyone, all the passengers, participate in this game of who’s from where. There are little markers that give it away. Some are more obvious, like the family that argues loudly in their porteño dialect or the old men who guffaw that “this is sure third-world security, har har” (hate them). Clothes, hair, language, and face can be hints — but many times I’ve thought I guessed only to  be surprised and proven wrong. But it’s not so much about the nationality of all the passengers, as the appearance of belonging. The best for me is when the flight attendant asks me what drink I’d like in Spanish. I guess it’s less that I want to be Argentine and more that I just don’t want to fit into anyone’s categories. On the plane, thousands of miles above borders and checkpoints, you’re in-between the two places that make half the passengers into foreigners at one end of the trip and the other half strangers at the other. Identity becomes slightly more fluid. It’s a no-man’s land of transition, where you can pretend if you wish to be whatever you like. It’s an exciting challenge, heading into a foreign country full of untold adventures. But it can also be a welcome relief, after months of feeling like a defensive outsider on the streets of BA, to suddenly feel like you’re in your element again, exactly where you’re supposed to be, an insider once again. As the flight goes on longer and the tiny plane icon inches closer to your destination on the map on the screen, people get tired and a sort of airplane camaraderie develops, rendering those initial “who’s who” distinctions irrelevant for a a little while. You’re all stuck together in this unreal space. But when you land, borders and nationalities matter again, and it’s impossible to forget who belongs and who doesn’t — the lines at customs are just the first link in an infinite chain of foreignness and nativeness and privilege. I think I’m rambling here. I just think those transitions are interesting, because they show how totally constructed and imagined (rather than material and essential) the differences between us all are.

And on an unrelated note, a friend shared this with me today and I thought it was pretty true about the difficulties of long-distance relationships.


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