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Orientation might not be my strong point, but I've never had trouble finding an airport, particularly the one in my home town. Successive signs bearing the aircraft symbol guarantee you can't go wrong. They point your way all along the route, when the motorway has cut off all contact with the surrounding countryside. From one aspect, these signs are a comfort; they are there to prepare you for departure.

The sight of aircraft on the horizon, readying for takeoff or already lifting off, their noses pointing skywards, are the unmistakable sign I am approaching. The sight of the Sofitel Airport Hotel means I'm nearly there. Now the signs are in close succession. Departures, an arrow pointing up to the right, Arrivals down to the right, Long-term parking, up to the left, Short-term parking, down to the left, Taxi rank - arrows pointing to the heavens.

Having chosen the right arrow, I am confronted with the entrance mechanism A metallic, female voice announces bilingual instructions; a ticket is produced from the machine's entrails and the bar is lifted.  I become part of the huge open parking lot. I just manage to find place in the sun, lock the car and move off. Seconds later I look back but my blue Peugeot is already lost amid the mass of cars.

Now it's time for the seemingly endless journey on the escalators that take me and my luggage to one of the entrances. The door, operated by a light sensor, welcomes me into the brightly lit space that has no nationality, no color. The only consolation within that bland environment is the collection of untidily abandoned luggage carts. I approach a sign that tells me which direction to take.

Check-in desk. My suitcase goes onto the conveyor belt and is weighed. An airline clerk, faultlessly groomed, wearing the company uniform and name tag, looks disapprovingly at her computer screen. "Your suitcase is five kilos overweight. You'll have to either pay extra or take out some things," she says. She examines my passport and the printout that has long replaced the old airline tickets. Without wanting to, I feel almost embarrassed and start to take things out of my suitcase and put them into my - fortunately! - almost empty shoulder-bag.

Lugging the extra weight on my shoulder, I walk past a row of dozens of identical telephones along a wall. I approach a customs clerk sitting inside a plastic booth; his searching gaze questions my innocence. I put on a "nothing to hide" expression and am finally inside. To the left and right are shops bearing international brand names for clothing, accessories, cosmetics. Further on, the Tower of Babel in print - magazines with brightly coloured covers in all the tongues of the world. I glance over them and head towards my final destination, following the overhead signs showing the way to Gates A8-A15.

Inspection time. Under the suspicious gaze of several private security guards I follow the other passengers expressionlessly. I put my things in a basket, ready to pass through the metal detector, but a harsh voice stops me: "Your shoes, too, Madam!" I obey. I have to check an instinct that tells me to walk through the detector with my hands in the air. I feel the ray passing through my body and the warning bell sounds. I don't believe it, I forgot my belt. Now comes the body check. A woman searches me suspiciously. Now I've passed the text, but not my bag. In trying to reduce the weight in my suitcase, I had forgotten the new rules: nothing liquid is allowed in hand luggage. Very quickly, expensive cosmetics and more necessary items are thrown into a huge transparent box. Perhaps for other passengers to see and learn from my mistake.

Devastated and without raising a single sympathetic look from my fellow-passengers, I walk on to the embarkation point.  The waiting room is full of blue plastic seats; I drop wearily into one of them. All the huge televisions screens in the corners are off. Strange! As soon as I have sat down an airline clerk comes up and asks me to push down my anorak hood that I had just pulled over my head a few seconds earlier for no particular reason. "For goodness sake, who cares about my hood?" I asked her. "You're frightening people," she declared.

Again, I obey, and focus on the announcement board. Red letters click continually across the screen, flight numbers, boarding gate numbers and departure times. The boarding procedure finally begins. With my passport and boarding card in hand, I move off for the final inspection. The huge tunnel that always reminds me of science fiction movies takes me straight into the plane. Finally, I am in my seat. I look up, but the signs that smoking is prohibited and seat belts must be fastened make me lower my eyes again. I look at my neighbour, in a mood for conversation, but he is already deep in his newspaper.

Created: Jan 25, 2011

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