Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

I blagued my way onto a plane yesterday, and thank god I had no idea at the time.

Monday began like many other days in my recent life: with an early-morning trip to the airport.

(Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. I am still in awe and disbelief and I am A) shooting a film, and B) being flown back and forth to the location, as well as C) being paid to do my job. When high-intensity moments of stress arise -- and they certainly do, especially for an already highly strung person such as myself -- I remind myself that I am MAKING A FUCKING MOVIE. Pardon my French. It is a foreign film after all.)

I was up at half past four to do my morning pages (I'm finishing up The Artist's Way at the moment and highly recommend it), then I was in the shower and downstairs to make my ritual porridge and soya flat white by 5:15. I was tired after only six hours of sleep, but after the 11-hour coma I had slipped into on Saturday night, I was feeling somewhat rebalanced.

As it turns out -- much as I needed it -- sleeping that excessively leaves me with the same symptoms as a mild stroke. I kid you not: Sunday morning, I was suffering from short-term memory loss; when I sat to write, there was absolutely no connection between the words in my brain and the letters my hand was writing on the page; the right half on my face and one arm went dead. Then I had some coffee, porridge and about three litres if watwr before making a full recovery.

Monday morning I was okay. I had panic-packed (packnicked?) on Saturday afternoon when the film production company had called to say I might be needed a day early, which meant when they ultimately said I'd be flying out Monday as planned, I was pretty much good to go. Last minute items had been added to my bag and my taxi booked the night before, leaving me time in the morning to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and even to prepare a vegan sausage sandwich for the airport. I was free and easy, ready to face the day -- six hours of travel and then straight onto set -- when I suddenly had a funny thought: I had never received the confirmation for my taxi booking.

At a quarter to six, 15 minutes before it was due to arrive, I pulled up my emails and saw that sure enough, my taxi was not booked. In my still slightly delirious, over-slept state of the previous day, I had done everything but click 'confirm' on the final page of the booking. I panicked (theme of the day, as I was soon to find out), ordered a taxi for immediate arrival. As it happened, he arrived five minutes early, as I danced around with my toothbrush frantically working in one hand, my hairdryer blowing away in the other.

A bit of a stressful start, but all in all, I was on my way and in good time, too. As I relaxed into my journey across London's quiet, early-morning streets, I arranged my bags on my lap in the back seat, pulling out my wallet to ready my cab fare... which of course was in my other wallet, in and amongst the seeming post-apocalyptic wreckage on the floor of my bedroom, where I had I left it.

"Oh no, I forgot to put my cash in my bag", I apologised, "can we please stop at a cashpoint?"

The cab driver agreed, for what choice did he have if he wanted to get paid? He pulled into a BP station where I jumped out, only to find that the ATM was mysteriously devoid of any currency. Just my luck (and his). At a rather less convenient junction, I jumped out and ran over the road to a Barclays Bank, where the cash machine was (thankfully) willing to part with £30. I dashed back to the car, and we carried on, narrowly making it to Victoria station in time for my 6:45 Gatwick Express train. I thanked and tipped the driver, procured my receipt, and hustled down to the platform.

I pulled out my notebook as soon as I sat down on the train, and I soon drifted off into my own musings. After about ten minutes had passed, I looked up, realising the train was very much still in the station, and it was very much ten to seven. After very little investigation, I found that in my hurry, I had boarded the 7:00 train by mistake.

It was definitely going to be one of those days.

Despite the morning's misfortunes, I made it to the airport and through security with hours to spare. Good, I thought, I'm here, I'm on my way, and the next thing I'll have to worry about is filming. Wishful thinking, indeed.

On my last two trips to Oran, I flew through Paris, but this time I was flying through Algiers, changing for a domestic Air Algérie flight. I was a little nervous about this connection, but I figured, I've traveled alone before, I'll be fine.

The London flight arrived on time in Algiers, and we disembarked to the only hall: passport control. Signs hanging overhead the long line of people indicated 'exit' and 'baggage reclaim'. Wanting to be sure I was in the right place, although there only seemed to be one way out, I asked a guard if this was the right place for catching connecting flights.

"No", he replied, "if you're catching another flight, you don't want to exit the airport, do you? Wait over there", he said, indicating the wall, "and someone will come and collect you."

"Who?" I asked naively.

"Don't worry. Someone will come. Just wait there."

And so I did.  I waited. And I waited. Okay, so it may have only been about 20 minutes, but in flight-catching time, in navigating an airport in a country in which neither official language is your native tongue time, it felt like hours.

I was growing anxious. The thematic panic was creeping in. I spotted another guard and called him over. When I asked him if I was in the right place to catch my flight to Oran, he responded with a definite no. Perfect. He explained I needed to exit this airport (the international one) via passport control (read, the massive queue that in 20 minutes had progressed approximately three inches) and walk 300m down the way to the national airport to catch my domestic flight.

I sputtered and fumed. I tried to argue with this man; tried to make him undo what the first guard had done; tried at least to convince him to let me join the short queue so I wouldn't miss my flight. He capitulated on the final point.

When I arrived at the passport window, I was greeted with the usual 'What is a nice white girl like you doing in a country like this all by her lonesome?' kind of question. You know, the kind of question they're supposed to ask, only with a dash of surprise and a pinch of sexist condescension. What they actually say is, 'Are you here visiting or working?' But there's a definite accompanying double take and raising of the eyebrows that says the rest.

The funny thing about arriving on an international flight in Oran is that as soon as I say I'm there shooting a film, they say, "Ah oui! El Wahrani!" It's lovely that even border control gets excited about a film being made in their town; that they know exactly which film I mean. (I realise this is because it's the only one, but it still kind if makes me feel like a bug deal.)

When I arrived in Algiers, the men at the window didn't know about the film, but their looks of surprise at my initial appearance turned to glee when I responded that I was there to shoot a film. One of them told me I had the real face of an actress. I can't pretend this didn't improve my mood, even as the perils of potentially missing my flight ran through my head.

We made some jokes about Steven Spielberg (at my expense, not his), they directed me to the national airport whilst making a remark along the lines of "Someday I'll say I knew her when she passed by my window and I stamped her passport", and I was on my way.

I followed and chatted with a lovely Algerian woman who was also on her way to the national side, ensuring at least that I wouldn't get lost. Her conversation, the gentle heat of the sun and the fresh air all had a calming effect. By the time I walked through the doors, passed my bags through the first set of scanners and lifted my arms for the customary pat-down-on-entry, I was practically serene. The fact that there was no queue at the check-in counter seemed like nothing but a much needed good omen.

I approached, handed over my passport, and waited while the woman looked up my reservation.

"Sorry," she said coolly, "there are no more places on this flight".

"What?" At this point I was just as confused as surprised. "What do you mean?" I double-checked the clock. Despite all of my hold-ups, there was still over an hour until take-off. They couldn't have possibly given my seat away. "I have a reservation", I explained.

She shook her head and called to her colleague in Arabic. My brain was having enough of a time wrestling through all of these conversations in French. It panicked (motif!) me slightly not to know what she was saying to him.

He came and took her place at the computer and also began shaking his head. "You don't have a reservation", he said.

"But I do!" I remembered something else. "The company spelled my name wrong when they made the booking. It's Z-A-N but they wrote Z-E-N. Do you see Z-E-N?" 

He continued tapping away at keys and shaking his head.

"I don't understand! It has to be there!"

"How is it spelled?"

"Well really it's Z-A-N, but they put Z-E-N."

Tappity tap tap tap. A pause. A withering look.

"Do you have any baggage to check?"


Without another word, he printed my boarding pass (Zen...), tucked it into my passport, and handed them both back to me. I thanked him, still unsure of what the problem had been, and scurried through security, practically rejoicing at my second pat-down as it meant I had finally arrived at my gate.

Just as I sat down with a much-needed bottle of water and still an hour to spare, my phone began to ring off the hook. Three of four separate calls to find out where I was: at the airport; no, where exactly I was: at the gate waiting for my second flight; because there was a man there waiting for me, searching for me everywhere in the international arrivals hall, waiting to help me make my flight connection.

"I already did it", I almost laughed. I couldn't help it. It was all so ridiculous. "I already did it all by myself".

"So you're at the gate?" the third production assistant asked me, "you went to the check-in, got your ticket, went through security, and you're there?"


"Well... great. Good. I'll let him know not to look for you".

So there had been someone to collect me after all, but where? At passport control where I had been waiting by the waiting wall? In the throngs of people waiting to greet loved ones? Inside the entrance of the national airport? It didn't matter anymore. All I had left to do was board the plane.

I was at the front if the queue when they announced that boarding had commenced. I was that bloody ready to be on the plane. This, of course, caused a bit of hold up and fuss when I was told again that I didn't have a book.

"Do you have your ticket?" the gate agent asked me.

"That is my ticket", I nearly shouted, flapping at my boarding pass in his hand.

"No, not this. Your booking".

"Yes." I breathed deeply as I pulled up the confirmation on my phone, barely containing my mounting rage. "Here."

He looked it over. "Hmm", and something in Arabic to his colleague. He ripped my ticket. "Okay, I guess. Bon voyage".

Bon voyage, indeed.

It wasn't until I arrived on set in Oran that I found out I really didn't have a booking. In the frenzy of Saturday night, as they attempted to change my flight to Sunday, the production company had cancelled my Monday flight and immediately lost the spot on the small plane. After realising their error, they spent all of Monday morning on the phone with airline officials in Algiers, begging them to let me on the flight.

I was blissfully unaware of these behind-the-scenes machinations. I see this morcel of ignorance as the last in a day-long series of exceptional strokes of luck. Although I felt unjustly wronged by the universe at every juncture of yesterday's journey in real time, I actually did nothing but arrive places ahead of time and catch flights to my intended destination. I even arrived (straight from the airport) ahead of time on set.

My audacity towards the gate agents was rooted in self-righteousness (and perhaps catalysed by exhausted indignation). Had I had any inkling that there was a problem with my booking, I'd probably still be stuck in some part of the (godforsaken) Algiers airport. 

I may be here for the sole purpose of playing someone else in a feature film, but I remain a terrible liar.

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