Showing posts with label Customs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Customs. Show all posts

09 June 2016

It's a Hard Road Home

by Eve Fisher

In case you're wondering, my husband and I went on vacation - a Mediterranean cruise, from Venice to Barcelona.  It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful...

And then we tried to come home.

Carbinieri on parade -
Now, I know security is tight everywhere.  The carbinieri were all over Venice, Naples, etc., and they walk around everywhere with light machine guns.  (Just have another glass of wine and don't think about it...)  And I expect to go through security checks and customs and all the rest.  But this trip... was something else.

We got up in Barcelona at 6:30 a.m., which is the equivalent of 12:30 a.m. in the US.  A last great breakfast on the ship, and then off to the airport.  First we had to find the American Airlines desk, which was tricky, because you're supposed to check the screens to find out what aisle, etc., your check-in desk is at, and the screens go by flights, and our flight wasn't up on any screen yet.  Eventually we found it - on the other side of the airport, of course - and checked in.  Answered questions galore, about our cabin number, our address, who we were, etc.  Checked our bags, got our boarding passes, and headed off for security and then Gate 62A.

Got through security.

Walked about a mile to Gate 62A, where the gate was blocked off and there was an endless equivalent of a cattle chute.  Two carbinieri stood there, blocking any entrance.  30 seats for 200 people; no snacks, no vending machines, no water fountains, and no toilets.  We all creaked down to the floor and waited for an hour until finally someone came and eventually we were put through the lines and questioning again.

A nine hour flight to Philadelphia.  Coach, of course (writers are rarely millionaires...).  I had a happy chuckle over the in-flight magazine that reminded me to "drink plenty of fluids" and "walk around the cabin whenever the seatbelt sign was off."  Sure, in an alternate universe.  First, of course, I'd have to climb over all the bodies to the right and left of me to even get to the aisle.  (The lady next to me, with her mother, had not flown in 20 years, and was practically in tears...)

We landed, and hiked the traditional mile to baggage claim, got our stuff, and then went through customs:  2 hours (endless cattle chutes...), again, no snacks, vending machines, water fountains, toilets, or seats of ANY kind.  Plus a brand new kiosk to manage so that we could take our own photos and get a receipt to match our passport.  After being up for some 24 hours, this was an excruciatingly slow part of the process.  Throughout, various airport employees tried to hurry us up by yelling at us (to be fair, if they hadn't yelled, we'd never have heard them), which only made some people lose track of where they were on the kiosk and start over.

After we got our receipt, we then go through another line to hand all this to a customs agent.
Then we went (because we had a connecting flight), BACK to baggage check, and through security again.
Then we hiked to our next gate.
Another 2 hour flight, and we arrived in Chicago.  Back to baggage claim, and arrived at our hotel looking like zombies on a bad day.

Basically, we were up for over 24 hours, and during this were repeatedly put through situations where we were not allowed to fulfill any of the most basic human needs (water, toilets, food, rest), other than breathing.  Why there are not more outright riots at airports I do not know, other than sheer exhaustion.

And I was exhausted.  I was also severely dehydrated by that 24+ hours.  I didn't realize that at the time, but five days later, I collapsed, sweating profusely, nauseous, dizzy, and Allan took me to the emergency room, where they ran tests, pumped me full of fluids, and sent me home feeling much better and even angrier at the system that had done this to me.

Chicago as seen from a commercial flight 14.JPG
Chicago O'Hare International Airport from the sky -
I know that we need security, I know that the TSA is understaffed, and I know that this is going to continue, because there isn't the money and fixing it is not a priority.  (I am a realist.)  But I also know other things:

(1) Airports are not designed for actual human beings, especially the rapidly aging.  There are (usually) no carts to move you across these huge spaces from one terminal to another, from one gate to another.  And there is an ever-decreasing number of seats where you can actually sit.  The last flight we had, the Chicago gate had perhaps 50 seats for a plane that held 100.

(2) The screening process itself is not designed for actual human beings. The constant lack - for hours - of toilets, water (fountains or vending machines), and seats is crippling.  And dehumanizing.  And wrong.  There has got to be a better way...  but I don't think anyone's looking for it.

Meanwhile, I'm staying home for a while.

26 June 2012

Funeral March

In my last post, which was about weddings, I mentioned that I had just returned from one.  I also said that as I had grown older, sadly, I attended more funerals than weddings.  What I didn't say was that I had attended a funeral on that same day.  To be accurate, I had attended a sea burial--the funeral Masses for my wife's parents having been celebrated long before.  It had been their wish to be cremated and then to have their ashes scattered together at sea.  And that is what we did on a beautiful morning off the coast of Cape May.  My wife led her siblings and our collective children in a prayer known as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  This had been an especial devotion of both Bob and Jackie whose day it was, and so we honored them in this way. 
It's a fairly recent development that Catholics are allowed to be cremated.  It was not always thus.  For many, many centuries this practice was forbidden by the Church as a heathen rite.  In the very early days of Christianity many pagans practiced cremation; sometimes in spectacular fashion, e.g. the Viking's long-boat funeral pyres!  Quite the send-off!  Of course, a different view might have been taken by valued servants of the deceased as they were sometimes left on-board for the proceedings.  But, as the Christians believed in the resurrection of both soul and body on the final day, it was deemed inadvisable to burn the remains.  Since those dark times a consensus has been arrived at; that as we believe in a God that created life and promises resurrection, perhaps he can do so with whatever material we leave behind.  Oddly, there is still some controversy over the scattering of ashes.

Unlike weddings, funerals crop up quite frequently in mystery stories.  Not usually as the setting for the crime itself, but often as the end result thereof.  Often there is graveside plotting while the minister/priest/rabbi/imam drones on about the deceased.  Not infrequently we are introduced to the players at graveside.  Sometimes the attendees are carefully scrutinized for signs of guilt.  It was once a custom to expose the accused to the corpse of the murder victim to see if his wounds bled afresh at their presence--a sure sign of guilt!  It is not recorded how efficacious this method was.  As I understand it, at a certain point during decomposition wounds may seep once more. I  suspect timing was of the essence with this method--bad timing in the case of the innocent.  There was also a theory that the victim's retina retained an image of the last thing it witnessed...quite possibly his slayer!  Again, this practice appears to have fallen by the wayside for unexplained reasons.  

Like weddings, funerals are part of every culture and faith.  Even if one has no faith in the hereafter, the dead must be dealt with and that generally entails a funeral of some sort.  I've attended funerals that celebrated the life of the deceased--most often when the person has lived a long, productive life.  On these occasions, there tends to be a good deal of joking and laughter along the sidelines as people share good memories with one another.  But I've also been present at the opposite: funerals that result from accidents and murder, suicides and death at too young an age.  It's hard to celebrate a life that's been cut short, however many good memories they have left behind.  There's always that, "What if...?" left hanging in the air; never to be answered.

Different customs apply, as well, not to mention the last wishes of the deceased.  It was my Grandmother Dean's wish that her six sons dig her grave with shovels and lower her coffin into it themselves.  She did not want a backhoe, or other machinery involved, and her wishes were complied with to the letter.  It seemed very appropriate, that as she had labored to bring each of them into the world, that they should labor to carry her out of it.  There were no complaints amongst them.

We don't do wakes much any more.  It was once a widespread custom that has fallen into disuse.  I think we've grown too fastidious for such things as sitting up all night with the dead.  In Ireland, the local pub sometimes offered their services for such occasions.  The deceased was laid out in a room off the public area and there friends and relatives would come to pay their last respects.  Those waiting could refresh themselves as needed in the saloon.  The term "wake" derives from just what it sounds like...staying awake.  It used to be believed amongst many peoples, that during the short period between death and burial, the soul continued to reside within the corpse.  During this brief span it was vulnerable to dark spirits who might attempt to snare it and carry it away to hell.  Thus the family's duty was to keep watch the night before the burial Mass in order to protect their loved one's soul.  It was important to stay awake or the forces of hell might succeed.  Staying awake was certainly aided by visiting friends and neighbors telling stories and gossiping.  How the whiskey and ale helped remains unclear other than to attract said friends and neighbors.  Perhaps I could enjoy funerals more if, like wedding receptions, there was an open bar.

Ah well, believe it or not, I have another funeral to attend this week--a dear woman who was our court clerk for my entire police career.  She actually worked into her nineties (this after an earlier career in Jersey City) and was only recently considering retirement.  Hers will be one of the 'good' funerals--a celebration of a life well-lived and a woman most loved.  My former department will offer an honor guard and I expect to hear (and tell) some good stories… and even laugh a little.