The skies over northwestern Europe are largely free of airplanes these days, thanks to the volcano. I remember how strange it was in New York City on the days immediately following 9/11, when you neither saw nor heard aircraft, except for the occasional military plane. Alain de Botton, recently writer-in-residence at London Heathrow, imagines what life would be like if we no longer had airplanes. Excerpt:
In a future world without aeroplanes, children would gather at the feet of old men, and hear extraordinary tales of a mythic time when vast and complicated machines the size of several houses used to take to the skies and fly high over the Himalayas and the Tasman Sea.
The wise elders would explain that inside the aircraft, passengers, who had only paid the price of a few books for the privilege, would impatiently and ungratefully shut their window blinds to the views, would sit in silence next to strangers while watching films about love and friendship – and would complain that the food in miniature plastic beakers before them was not quite as tasty as the sort they could prepare in their own kitchens.
The elders would add that the skies, now undisturbed except by the meandering progress of bees and sparrows, had once thundered to the sound of airborne leviathans, that entire swathes of Britain’s cities had been disturbed by their progress.
The whole thing is a delightful and kind of eerie read — eerie, because to follow this line of thought is to confront how air travel has profoundly changed the way we think about ourselves and our place in the world — and not always for the better. Over to you, Front Porchers.