Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

As a former frequent flyer struggling to keep my statuses, I was intrigued by a book about flights and flying. I didn’t really know what the book was about, and it turned out to be a very random collection of thoughts and short stories – some completely fictional and some historically accurate. Even though there was no real plot, I found it hard to put down this subtly entertaining book.

1) “They weren’t real travelers: they left in order to return. And they were relieved when they got back, with a sense of having fulfilled an obligation.”

The two best parts of any vacation are booking the tickets and coming home.

2) “Am I like that lost day when you fly east, and that regained night that comes from going west?” 

If you’re taking a redeye, it’s a lost night flying and a lost day being out of it.

3) “Soon we may well say that it’s the cities that supplement the airports, as workplaces and places to sleep.”

Airports and hospitals have always been the most amazing places to me.

4) “The apartment doesn’t understand what’s happened. The apartment thinks its owner has died.”

Isn’t it ironic that after a trip of new places and new experiences, we come back to the same room, with the same clothes on the floor and the blanket folded the same way we left it?

5) “Stand aside, get your day’s wages just by staying at a hotel, have some coffee in the morning and a buffet breakfast, take advantage of the smorgasbord’s wide range of different yogurts. Why not?”

New travel rule: always leave enough flex so that you can take that $300 and a later flight.

6) “Such disturbances can be explained by the discrepancy between the pilgrims’ expectations and the reality of Paris, which bears no resemblance to the city described in guidebooks, films, and television.”

Paris remains my top travel letdown. I’m sure I’ll give it another chance that may change my mind, but 7 years on, it’s still the most disappointing destination I’ve ever been to.

7) “When he sees something out of the ordinary, something new and beautiful, he so wants to share it with someone that he becomes deeply unhappy if there’s no one around.”

For me, this is the strongest argument against solo travel, but it doesn’t outweigh the arguments for it.

8) “There are countries out there where people speak English. But not like us – we have our own languages hidden in our carry-on luggage, in our cosmetic bags, only ever using English when we travel, and then only in foreign countries, to foreign people. It’s hard to imagine, but English is their real language!”

Very interesting perspective. It always strikes me as funny when two foreigners (e.g. Chinese and Korean) can only communicate in English.

9) “For anything that has a stable place in this world – every country, church, every human government, everything that has preserved a form in this hell – is at his command.”

When you travel, you hit pause on all your real problems and acquire a new set of more tactical, inconsequential problems that you feel proud solving (e.g. by using Google maps).

10) “Reception areas are better than cafes. You don’t have to order anything, you don’t have to get into any disputes with the waiters, or eat anything.”

Big hotels will always have their lobbies going for them.

All of my quotes here come from the brief “thoughts” chapters that are interweaved between longer short stories. Those short stories were just as interesting if not as quotable. A lot of them were about dissecting bodies and preserving organs, which I found weird topics. In retrospect, I guess the author was juxtaposing the transience of travel with the permanence of organs in jars. Maybe.

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