Frederic Chopin airport, Warsaw, October 11-12
I know everyone in the crowd at the Polish Airlines service desk at Warsaw's Chopin airport: the tub-shaped, jowly man in the orange T-shirt with a Coca-Cola label, just in from Kiev; the shaven-headed Russian with pale bad eyes; the busty Ukrainian woman who got too much attention from the Polish guards at the security check, the petite Ottawa lawyer with her Romanian mother who lends me her cell phone, the friendly Canadians hoping to get home to Toronto tonight. I have been with all these people before. We are all in the same jam, waiting to find out how we will get to our destinations since our flight to Toronto was cancelled without explanation.
Wait a minute. If I know all these people, that means I must have dreamed this scene even if I forgot the dream before waking events caught up with it. Can I pull something back from the forgotten dream that could help me navigate this situation? Help is needed, because the clerks at the LOT service counter are moving at geological speed. The sun will be down very soon, and it looks like no one is getting out of Warsaw today.
The long wait and lack of announcements are making a tall man in a red-and-white Canadian football jacket quite agitated. "I am Polish!" he exclaims. "Though I have lived in Canada for over twenty years. I apologize to everyone for how Polish Airlines is handling this!" He demands to see a supervisor. His color is dangerously high, a real hypertensive sunburn. He declares that he doesn't want to have a heart attack so he'll take a break from the line to have a smoke and a Stolichnaya.
I know him too. And now it dawns on me that I have retained something of the dream in which he (and perhaps all the others) appeared. I told this dream to my Romanian friend, Ana Maria, over breakfast in Bucharest early that same day, before boarding my flight to Warsaw. In my dream, I met "Zbigniew Brzezinski", dressed in what I thought was a red-and-white "folkloric" outfit. He talked about taking low-dose aspirin for heart health. He urged me to go on an assignment to Washington, D.C. I could not understand, on waking, why I had dreamed of Brzezinski, a Polish-American in the Carter Administration and an expert on foreign policy, or why he was giving me a D.C. assignment. Now it seems that "Brzezinski" was a tag applied by my inner editor to a figure who is not Polish-American but Polish-Canadian, and whose "folkloric" garb is a football jacket.
I am still mulling this when I finally get to the counter and am handed a new itinerary. I have been re-booked on a LOT flight to Frankfurt at 6:30 a.m., in order to catch an Air Canada flight to Toronto, where I will pick up the same final flight to my little home airport that was in my original itinerary. Traveling home to Albany, N.Y. via Toronto looks crazier than it did when I made my original arrangements. Going from Bucharest to Warsaw to Toronto on Polish Airlines was a relatively cheap option; there was a long overnight layover before I could catch my final flight to Albany, but I had planned to rest up at a nice Toronto airport hotel and get home fresh. There is something troubling about the new plan, but I decide to go with it.
One by one, the metal grilles come down at the duty-free stores and the restaurant chairs are stacked on the tables. I run into a store just before it is sealed for the night and buy myself water and toothpaste.
And Chopin airport becomes limbo. People who are stuck in transit because they don’t have documents that allow them to enter Poland are stretched out on seats, on display stands, or looping round and round in front of the deserted departure gates.
By 2:00 a.m., I have the crawling sensation that I am in a dark and fantastic tale, like the one I just read on the plane. Before I left Romania, my friend took me on a quick tour of used bookstores in downtown Bucharest, in search of English language editions of the fiction of Mircea Eliade, the great scholar of religion and shamanism who also wrote superior novels and tales of fantasy. I found an old collection of Romanian Fantastic Tales published in Bucharest in 1981 that includes Eliade's wondrously creepy story "Gypsies". It's about a man who strays from his regular travel schedule, is lured into a house of witches, and finds himself lost in a nest of separate realities from which he is unable to return to the time or the people he previously knew; he may or may not be dead in his regular world.
By 4:00 a.m, the airport restaurants have reopened, and I breakfast on strong coffee, and warm rolls. I get on the 6:30 a.m. flight without incident, climb over an immensely fat man to my window seat, and watch the drifting fog as we taxi out onto the runway. Where everything stops. In cracked English, over a crackling intercom, the pilot announces that the authorities have closed the airport due to the fog. Forty-five minutes later, Toronto-bound passengers are asked to leave the plane; they'll be given another flight option since they will miss their connection. I am about to join the rush to the door when I remember that I'm not actually going to Toronto. I'm going to Albany. I check with the crew that my bag will stay on the plane. "Everything fine. Your bag stay in Warsaw." "No, my bag goes with me to Frankfurt."
We get to Frankfurt three hours late, and my heart sinks at the idea of having to stand in line at another LOT desk. I look out at a sea of people and vast banks of airline desks, without a ticket, boarding pass or a working itinerary, just a baggage claim check. Where is the dream guidance I need?
I hear a dog barking. A familiar bark. He sounds just like my little schnauzer. I track the bark to a crate where a schnauzer is challenging the outside world while his owner is doing the paperwork required to have him approved for air transport. The sign at the desk reads "Additional Services" and it is a United desk.
I suddenly understand what "Brzezinski" was telling me in my dream. I need to go home via Washington D.C., not Toronto. Dulles is a United hub, and I often change planes there traveling to and from my home airport.
When I get my turn at the Additional Services desk, the German clerk is quite helpful. Yes, United has a flight to Washington D.C., leaving at 5:00 p.m. that will allow me to make a connection that will get me home tonight. But my ticket has been written to LOT and I will need to persuade them to let me switch airlines. It takes a real scout to find the obscure LOT desk at that immense airport. I don't have immediate confidence in the Polish Airlines clerk because she types like me, with two fingers, and is still bent on sending me to Toronto. But when I give her details of the 5:00 p.m. flight to Washington D.C., she arranges the change, and gives me a voucher that buys me a pretty good wiener schnitzel as I wait at an airport bistro.
Oh yes, when Ana Maria and I swapped dreams in Bucharest, the previous morning, she told me she had dreamed that I was delayed for six hours at airports. That proved to be a significant under-estimate, but was certainly an example of how we dream the future for others as well as ourselves.