The flight back was not as terrible as we all thought 15 hours in an aeroplane would be. Take note: 15 hours with British Airways is easier than 10 hours with LAN. It helped that we stopped off in Sao Paolo. This not only broke up the time into more humane chunks, it also added a third language to the list of announcements. And nothing beats listening to Portuguese for straight-up entertainment value. I can make absolutely no sense of it whatsoever (Letizia can). To me it's a string of noises ending in sh or aaau, and seems to require that you speak as if you had a runny nose and no paper tissues (Sara should be fluent).
I couldn't sleep much - a condition that continues to the present moment - so I wandered about the aisles regularly, or sat listening to the beautiful voice and enchanting humour of the late Peter Ustinov reading his own autobiography (Dear Me).
15 hours is a long time to think, and an even longer time to feel. I did plenty of both, though I can't vouch for the quality of either. It occurred to me that in my life, despite the handicap of truly awful financial judgement, I have made three investments (in incrementing amounts) of which I can be justly proud and unwaveringly sure:
- A German latex mattress that cost me what I was sure was a fortune at the time, but which I know now to be a fair price for the most comfortable sleeping surface available to man or beast. This same poor creature remained faithful to us over the 8 months away, despite our philanderings with no less that 50 other beds. (We fell into its embrace on our return home full of the same unreliable emotions and untenable promises that a womaniser offers on repenting to his wife.)
- An Alfa Romeo 156. We chose it because it looked amazing, and we should have been punished for our superficiality with a lifetime of mechanics clicking their tongues and making sharp intakes of breath. Instead, it has never given us a cause for complaint after 8 years.
- This trip. Was it worth it? Hand on my heart, a thousand times yes. Why? I have not the faintest idea. Many reasons, most of which remain, for now, completely hidden to me, but I fully expect to be revealed over the next few years. I know in the bottom of my mortal soul that this was a life-changing experience, even if I feel entirely the same person I was when I left. I can see hints of change in my daughters, perhaps, because their characters are still being formed. But they too are very much the same girls who left Cork last December (though their dentists would have a hard time matching them to their records, given how many teeth have been both lost and grown). Time (the bastard) will tell exactly why this trip was the right thing for us to do now. I can tell you now that it was worth every cent.
On one of my extra-seat excursions, after the sky had begun to turn dark but before we had crossed the equator, I glanced out a porthole and fancied I saw the pointer stars that indicate the Southern Cross. I felt a sudden rush of excitement, but also shock, and followed the stars to see if I could make out the Cross itself. But I couldn't. There was still too much light in the sky and in any case, the two stars themselves were probably not even the pointers. I settled back in my seat for a while, dissatisfied for not having seen, for one last time, the stars that had watched over us for almost all of our journey. Worse. I felt angry and maybe even a little guilty, as if I had forgotten to say goodbye to a friend.