During 2018 I took a trip to an enchanted land. Reflections of my visit to Galicia are told in four parts: the land, the camellias, the holy city of pilgrimage. And, finally, my travel back to reality, brightened by portraits of camellias in the gardens we visited. Specific gardens are discussed in Great Gardens under two entries on Galicia.
In which I Become A Smuggler, A Vagrant, A Loiterer, and A Person of Suspicion
Five AM on Saturday came too soon and it was time to leave this enchanted land. I had one last taste of Galician hospitality at Santiago airport. A security agent took it upon himself to help me with my bags and escort me through the small airport.
During the quiet pre-dawn moments we stood chatting I learned that he had some years ago lived in Astoria, New York, only a ten-minute walk from where I grew up. Having exchanged life histories, which we happen to do very well in North Carolina, we said goodby and wished each other well.
From Santiago to Madrid to London to Miami my Carolina home seemed to be calling: seatmate from New Bern, Swiss basketball player visiting his host family from NC college days.
And then there was the Miami airport. Where every plane in the world – and maybe outer space, too — converges at precisely 8 pm. Battalions of travellers emerge to do the maze-creep to Customs.
Time for a reminder of Galicia. . .
I thought I had sailed through Customs . . .
Until the cutest, friskiest, little beagle/terrier mix wagged his tail at me. He was so proud of himself, wiggling his little bottom like he wanted to dance. Such a sweetie I almost leaned down to pet him but I kinda thought, even with that wiggly tail, his capacity might be official.
He likes your fruit, his handler said. Huh? It’s your fruit, she said.
I’d forgotten. The parador had packed a lovely picnic for me, most of which I’d nibbled on during the day. But squirting orange juice on a seat mate, or dribbling pear juice on luggage didn’t seem appropriate, so I was saving them for my overnight layover in Miami.
Reluctantly I gave them up and started to go on my way.
It’s a little more complicated than that, she said. You didn’t declare them. You’ll have to get checked out at the Official Search Me Center. (I can’t remember its proper name, but you get the idea.)
You know, there is a $300 fine, the Search-Me Control Official said, pausing for effect. . . not for possession — but for falsifying your forms.
Three-hundred-dollars! How about jail-time instead? Might be cheaper and I wouldn’t have to hunt for a hotel room.
Mr. Search Me must have noticed my utter shock. Don’t worry, he said, I believe you.
He gingerly searched my bags, careful not to shift much around, while I privately thought he was the nicest, sweetest man I’d ever met.
By the way, he said, you have a very small suitcase but you manage to pack the whole house into it.
I thanked him. I wished I had the nerve to ask for my fruit back — that absolutely perfect, succulent, juicy pear and orange duo I’d forgotten about so completely but now suddenly craved.
Time for a taste of Galicia. . .
At ten pm rooms in Miami, if you can find one, go for $329 a night (with or without tax?) and, sorry, shuttle service ends at 10 pm.
Judging from the clutter of luggage and travelers who had already staked claims to seating in the airport hotel lobby, I was not the only one in this pickle. There is discipline and skill to staking a proper claim, I soon learned. Make the mistake of leaving for a very short minute, or shifting momentarily, and you lose squatters’ rights.
It didn’t matter. Promptly at 11:30 pm the hotel-lobby sentry, who took his job very seriously, told us in no uncertain terms that we could not spend the night in the lobby.
Like true vagrants we did not stir. We were a still and sullen bunch. The sentry, on the other hand, who took his job very seriously, became more strident. We pretended not to hear. Would it be a standoff? We did outnumber him.
Finally, the sentry, did I mention he took his job very seriously, ordered us out in no uncertain terms Would he take action if we did not move? He said if we wanted to camp out, we could find some cots at the far end of the airport on the fourth floor.
This is a very bad joke, I thought, but then again, the sentry took his job very seriously, so he was probably not the kind to make jokes. Reluctantly, dripping with passive aggression, we scattered.
Back to Galicia, if only for a moment. . .
Then I met a couple who had sailed in Galicia waters. Together we searched for cots, but I declined the offer of the gentleman, elderly but wiry, to carry my bags.
He was already hefting not one but two duffle bags half his height. I couldn’t in good conscience ask him to carry a bag that was packed with the whole house.
There truly were camp cots on the fourth floor. (You should know this if you are ever stranded in the Miami airport, God help you.) They gave us sterilized blankets and pillows, water and granola bars and someone was around at all times.
The experience was, maybe, a taste of disaster relief you see on television after hurricanes, but the room was very dark and there were no TV cameras (I assume).
Which was a good thing. I would not want my TV debut to record pictures of me falling/crawling/hauling myself onto or off of a tipping/slipping/flipping camp cot.
Sweet dreams of Galicia. . .
Speaking of flipping, my flip phone was my life line to sanity and home. Now the phone was giving me urgent messages about imminent battery death.
No problem, this over-confident technophobe thought. I am fully prepared with my handy dandy cell phone charger. I’ll just plug this thing in wherever it is that people plug these things in.
Is there some trick to this? Nothing is happening.
Oh, a shop girl said dismissively, most of the charging stations don’t work.
I got bold. I found some official who was chatting in the ticketing area and asked him to show me an outlet that actually worked and could he plug it in and check it for me. How could he say no?
Then I waited. In an airport I believe that is known as loitering unless you are an official.
Loitering is not boring. Every official who passed me chatted me up, casually, politely trying to find out why I was doing absolutely nothing but observing the passing parade instead if joining it. Add “person of suspicion” to smuggler, vagrant and loiterer.
What fun it would be to loiter in Galicia. . .
In addition to knowing about camp cots on the fourth floor, you should know that the Miami airport stretches from Florida to Maine in a straight line. Packing track shoes is a good idea. On the bright side, you don’t have to worry about taking a wrong turn.
I did, however, wonder when my gate number would be posted. I can never understand why major airports that handle a million flights a day seem to have a problem posting gates for planes.
I used to think the numbers came from some hush-hush game of craps played on the fourth floor. Now I know (having spent time on the fourth floor) that there is no game.
Anyway, I hadn’t yet figured out that the airport was a straight line from Florida to Maine, so I asked for directions. Just get in the closest security line to my gate, I was told. Otherwise you’ll be walking forever. That my gate was not listed seemed to be a mere detail, eventually rectified by walking from Florida to Georgia, where I could hover over the departures board like a race-track junkie until odds are posted.
Bring back those memories of Galicia. . .
I was there! The gatekeeper to security checked my IDs and stopped the line. We have to wait for the dog to get here, she said. And wait we did. Let me tell you, this was not the cute beagle/terrier that had nailed me last night.
This one was bigger, lankier, not cute, and he took his job very seriously. This dog knew his sniff – he could sniff people out without even sniffing. He was obviously a high-level sniffer. But he didn’t sniff me. No, he didn’t sniff me, and he was gone by the time my bags went into x-ray.
Well, the x-ray got me. The X-ray Official rooted around my bags swabbed everything except my underwear. Unfortunately, in her zeal, she did not realize I was carrying the whole house in one little bag, so there was a moment of suspense before she succeeded in rezipping my bags.
Back to the walking, even though I got in the right line, I swear I did, because you are absolutely forbidden to get in the wrong line, I wound up walking from Gate 1 to Gate 60, from Florida to Maine, and me toting the whole house, kind of like backpacking the Appalachian Trail without rocks to trip over.
Or maybe following camellias in Galicia. . .
A keen sense of observation is required of travelers flying out of Miami’s Gate Number 60. That is because there are five (5) Gates Number 60. Each of the five has three flights listed on its board. Aha, a new kind of vision test? Or maybe they were testing number-recognition in old people.
And here I thought I wouldn’t have enough reading material to last me till my flight left.
Well, everyone seemed content in that waiting area, like they all knew where they were going. But I didn’t believe it. Every time I ask a direction of a traveller who is going my way, just to get a little confirmation, mind you, before I get on an elevator that will take me to Venus when I’m really looking to go to Mars, no one can seem to give me a direct answer. So I think most people are putting on a big show to cover up their insecurities.
One thing about being old and maybe not so sprightly, people think you are either half-blind, half-deaf, or half-brain dead, or half-all-of-the-above, and they are quite willing to help you out.
A kind attendant came up to me and asked my destination. My all-night maze-running, cot-wrestling and airport marathons must have been catching up to me because it took me a moment to lose my vacant stare and focus on remembering where I was going on this particular flight. Which no doubt reinforced the stereotypes described above.
She promised to help me board. This process, incidentally, required another quarter mile of walking outdoors to choose a plane, any plane, from among several waiting on the tarmac. How do people know these things? But I didn’t see her again.
And while I am about it, did you know that they are making seat numbers harder and harder to read? Or maybe that’s the half-blind stereotype. This can be a particular problem when a flight attendant apparently misdirects you on a jumbo jet and you have to swim upstream to find your seat, saying Excuse me, Excuse me, Excuse me, Excuse me at every pass. On the other hand, maybe that is a result of the half-deaf stereotype.
I fell asleep as soon as I got on the plane. All memories of destinations, flight times, flight numbers, gate numbers, seat numbers, and buses, trains, escalators and elevators whisking me to parts unknown vanished into oblivion. (That is the half-brain-dead stereotype.)
One last farewell to Galicia. . .
The best part was yet to come. Though I’d been gone for twelve days, I didn’t miss springtime, which sometimes comes and goes in a minute here. All blooms waited especially for me. (Snow and cold weather had nothing to do with the delay, I assure you.)
I felt doubly treated — memories of camellias from across an ocean, and a springtime tour of my own garden. I know I can get lost here for hours and be neither smuggler nor vagrant nor loiterer nor person of suspicion. (Some who know my gardening style might question those assertions, but that is grist for another story.)
Here is the picture that started it all. . .
For more about camellias and Galicia, visit the links below.