How to eat in flight. (after Eco).
(most of the below was written on Continental flight 366 from Seattle to Houston, Wednesday, June 11th).
Air travel, as I wrote last fall, has become a series of nuisances, beginning with the exorbitant ticket prices, the decanting of shampoos and cleansers and creams into little bottles and pots that slip out of your hand as you try to open them in the shower, the long lines to check in, and the even longer lines at security, with the new indignity of having to take off your shoes. And you haven't even gotten on the plane yet. Once on the plane, there is the struggle with a stubborn suitcase that refuses to fit into the overhead compartment until turned sideways (and I give a mental thanks to my Pilates instructor for all the upper-body torture she puts me through) and the narrow seat that, if you are short, just about lets you extend your legs until your knees are jammed against the seat in front of you. (Think of the unfortunate tall people, who find their knees jammed under their chins). Then comes meal time.
If you were able to sprint through check-in and security at a reasonable speed (allowing for a few minutes to put away your laptop computer and retie your shoelaces, putting your jacket back on and your ticket in a safe pocket), then you have time for a bite to eat. A bounty of choices awaits you, from something called Dish D'Lish (a local catering company), to the usual fast-food burgers, a chowder stall, a pizza place, a pub, and some place serving Southwestern cuisine. I want a smoked-salmon-cream-cheese bagel, but instead find myself settling for a sad, prepackaged sandwich of limp turkey, wan lettuce, soggy bread, and bland cheese, all tasting sadly of the plastic in which it was wrapped. I take a drink of cranberry juice, until I notice, with horror, the words "Juice Drink" and "27% fruit juice" on the label. I console myself with a mint chocolate chip shake from Starbucks, the only sort of thing I ever order there. It will have to do, until we arrive in Houston in time for a late dinner.
Things get worse once we are in the air, much worse. I think, as I always do while eating in flight, of Umberto Eco, who lamented petit pois flying through the air, friable rolls that mysteriously disappeared and then reappeared as a powdery mess on the backside of your trousers. Food in flight should be compact, he said, such as a simple breaded veal cutlet. (I do not recommend eating veal on an airplane. Even in first-class it is tough and indigestible, awash in some sauce that tastes less like veal and more like instant gravy). I do not think that the plastic-wrapped microwaved pizza that we were served is quite what Professor Eco had in mind. I have, on short flights, eaten respectable ham-and-cheese sandwich pockets that were hot and reasonably tasty. But this was not pizza. This was a thick, round, spongy piece of bread dough haphazardly smeared with a little tomato sauce and sprinkled with what might have been cheese but really tasted more like plastic.
I always tell myself that I will follow Amanda Hesser's example, that I will go buy some good bread, some prosciutto, perhaps a little cheese, some cookies and pretty chocolates, and pack my own lunch for the plane. But there is never any time, and I always wind up with a sad little sandwich on ground and a sadder bit of microwaved something-or-other in the air. The tiny fun-size Twix that accompanies our "snack" is only a small consolation.
I suppose it is all part of the experience of traveling, meant to make us treasure our life on the ground that much more. And so it does.