Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Takeoffs and Landings

Any Takeoff

What makes a thing worth doing? An unpleasant thing; a thing of minimal import, a thing hardly guaranteed of success?

I start this, my third trip to Baghdad, with profoundly mixed feelings as always. Trepidation. Excitement. Ennui. Here at Marka Airport, Air Serv's operations are approaching the routine. Approaching. There is still a funny little pre-check stand out side, with a young clerk and clipboard verifying names—she then locked in long and serious negotiation with a missionary manager in sweat-stained suit, his Dutch sibilants excoriating poor communications between the back office and this operations shed. He has paid. No, he has not. Yes he has, and he can prove it. Sir, that is no receipt. It is a receipt, or what should pass for one. No. Yes. On and on this drones, a bizarre riff on a muzak background hum. I sip tea and contemplate the meager selection of snack foods: they are a crossroads mix of stale imports from around the world. I pass on Chinese salted fish and plums; contemplate Middle Eastern—are they cheese?—puffs; settle for baked Pringles in the mini-can: a reliable bit of anti-nausea salt and savory for the corkscrew landing to come.

Any Landing
The Beechcraft Air King wheels left, in a deft spiral anchored along its left wing tip. Like a gull, a large cheeky seagull, eyeing a tourist sandwich and oblivious to its own acrobatic feats, it flashes over ruined palaces; water gardens turned turquoise by a bloom of blue-green algae; oblong fields stretching from Tigris to Euphrates; heliports; tent cities; graveled lots shimmering white in the summer heat; green slashes of reed cane choking disused canals; bomb craters; tank traps; rows of military aircraft, ranks of armored vehicles; passing cross-wise to the runway in a blur of screaming propellers, to drop deftly onto the taxiway.

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