News of the Cruise (Part2: 9/11 in Barcelona)

And keep your sunny side up, up,

Hide the side that gets blue.

If you have nine sons in a row,

Baseball teams make money, you know!

(Ray Henderson-Lew Brown-Buddy De Silva)


If you don’t care for that song, how about:

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,

Keep on the sunny side of life.

It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way,

If we keep on the sunny side of life.

(lyrics by June Carter Cash)


Then there’s always:

Grab your coat and get your hat

Leave your worry on the doorstep

Just direct your feet

To the sunny side of the street.

(Dorothy Fields & Jimmy McHugh)


It’s pretty well known that I am an inveterate seeker for the sunny side of the street or of life or whatever. Still, there is little to be cheerful about when you’re leaving for the airport at 4AM – an hour which, in my book, should not exist. The only good thing I can say is that there is almost no traffic on the road at that absurd hour, and you can get to where you’re going lickety-split. Now you might expect – at least I did, foolish person that I am – that if there’s no one on the road, there surely would be no one on line in the airport. Perhaps they had all been camping out all night, but there were LOTS of people – hundreds of people, thousands of people – going through the very tedious procedure: get your boarding pass, go through security, check in your luggage, go through passport control – all the while, standing, standing, standing on one line or another, when all you want to do is curl up in some secluded spot and go back to sleep.

At least, we were at Ben-Gurion airport, where one can rely on the security, all the food and drink at the stands and duty-free is kosher, and there is a shul. Once we got through all the preliminaries, I was able to duck into the beit knesset and do my usual quicky version of the morning prayers. A cup of coffee and a bite to eat, and then we joined the others waiting to board the El Al flight to Barcelona.

Our friend Richard is invariably a fount of information. Without him, I would never have known a) that the plane we were boarding was a Boeing 747, and b) that these planes were being taken out of service, and I would most likely never get a chance to fly on one again. All I knew was that this was one BIG plane with maybe 500 people on board, all of whom had some reason to get to Barcelona. BIG MISTAKE, as this throng of people would find out once we got off the plane.

We should have realized something was amiss when, almost immediately, we came to one of the passenger conveyer belts, the kind they have at most airports; except this one was like an escalator, going up a steep incline. But this moving belt wasn’t moving, not one inch. We had to walk up the steep ramp, schlepping our hand luggage as best we could – into a corridor where also nothing was moving. There we were, the 500 people on our flight, and probably passengers from other flights, all crowded into a corridor that had another passenger conveyor that wasn’t conveying. And we rapidly realized that there was no air-conditioning anywhere in the corridor.

What was going on? If this were Israel, we would automatically assume a shvitah (strike), but we were in Spain, so we had no idea what to expect. Plus, as we soon realized, nobody who worked there spoke English, or French, or Italian, or German, or any form of sign language. Trying to get anybody’s attention was like talking to a wall. Finally there was a break in the (non)action. If you had a Spanish or other E.U. passport, you could go through and get processed. Maybe they would ultimately get to the rest of us. But no. Other flights had arrived, so for over an hour, there was a steady stream of E.U.ers going through, and the rest of us…. we were the proverbial chopped liver. With this enormous throng of people standing in a poorly ventilated corridor, it was no surprise that a few people got sick. We witnessed one woman, apparently pregnant with twins, collapse. We watched in horror at the attempts by airport personnel to provide medical assistance, until a while later, she was finally taken on a stretcher to a hospital.

After a seemingly interminable delay, there was a lull in new arrivals, and then, and only then, did we go through the tedious process of passport control, so we could claim our baggage, and get the hell out of there.

We did find out what was going on. It was Nine-Eleven! Huh? Now, you wonder, we understand how Nine-Eleven has made it more difficult to get on a plane. But getting off? You’ll have to explain.

Very simple. It’s not that Nine-Eleven, it’s the other one, the Catalan National Holiday! They’ve been celebrating their Nine-Eleven before there even was a World Trade Center. What are they celebrating? It turns out that every year they celebrate some major defeat that occurred a long time ago, so that all over Barcelona (the major Catalan city) there are parades and festivities, causing the National Police to be diverted for crowd control. Huh? What do the police have to do with getting people off a plane and out of an airport? It seems that in Spain, the National Police have the responsibility for passport control. That may sound more than a bit odd, but that’s what was going on. There was only a skeleton crew of police available to deal with the hundreds and thousands of tourists landing at the airport. Note to self: Avoid the airport in Barcelona like the plague. And certainly make sure you don’t get sick there. You’d be better off in Mumbai.

There was only one consolation: things had to get better! And they did, as you will find out in the next episode.


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