Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Last night as I lay awake before sleep, I thought about the plane that made an emergency landing on the Hudson one year. I wondered whether the pilot had spoken to the passengers about what was going to happen, or whether he was too intent on the difficult task ahead of him. I wondered how they felt, how I would have felt, whether they could find the life vests that are said to be under every seat. I Imagined flight attendants going seat to seat to help. In my head I saw the whole thing through to touchdown and water and escape rafts. I wondered how boats had arrived fast enough to get people off the plane.* Then, this morning, I read that today is the five year anniversary of that remarkable landing. But yesterday I had not read about it, or heard about it. It was very strange.

I think about the sea when we take off from Cape Town International. The planes often take off towards the southeast, and False Bay (home of the great white), make a broad turn to the right and fly this way (above), up north, past the Atlantic coast of Cape Town, and towards the rest of the huge continent of Africa. It is one of the most beautiful views in the world, but I rarely see it, as I am too frightened, and thinking, with closed eyes and even breathing, calming thoughts, which involve the purring of the cat, the hands and faces of the people I love. The melodrama of the phobic. Sometime into flight, after those first early, climbing minutes, I open my eyes, and think about my book, or a movie.

We parked here, Vincent and I, sometime in December. We had taken a long drive around Cape Town, followed everywhere by the summer wind. We stopped at last, pointing towards Lion's Head and Camps Bay. The wind was so strong that the whole vehicle shook. Vince filmed the two glasses we had filled with gin and tonic and ice. On the armrest between us the ice clinked as each new wind gust hit us, broadside.   It was our planned sundowner, sipped around 6pm (and hours before the sun would set in high summer). When he opened the downwind door to drop the ice from his empty glass the cubes were caught by the wind and flew parallel to the ground for a few metres before smashing on a low rock wall. The wind was racing down the steep slopes of the Twelve Apostles, the name for the outcrops in Table Mountain's back table. The Cape Doctor, the bane of paragliders and sensitive souls who must endure it summer-long in some parts of town.

It even reached my parents' house this year, located in a small, freak, wind-free pocket in a shallow valley on the other side of the mountain. The poplars lining the stream in the greenbelt would roar and bend in succession as it came, and then the awning over the patio would begin to flap. Candles would snuff out.

*The answer to the boats was in this morning's Times:

"The commuter ferries were just about 45 minutes from starting the evening rush, and all of them had gone full speed for the plane, including one with a 20-year-old woman in her first week as a captain."


  1. I guess I'm somewhat of a fatalist about flying. I enjoy watching take offs and landings and all the sights along the way. It's not like there's anything I can do about it. C'est la vie as the Frenchman might say.....

  2. It's not so much the concept of death that I mind, as it is the idea that one might be subjected to a great deal of fear beforehand. I know it's a phobia - flying is the safest way to travel. And I have experienced great beauty, flying.

  3. The pilot (Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger),was on WNYC. GH

  4. I am not a fan of flying but have become better at it. For me, it's the sensation of being enclosed and trapped for so long so far above, with the ground so far below, that gives me panic. I try to read but can't. Sometimes, but rarely, I can sleep. I am better at it now, though, after flying to Egypt and back a few times. (Your description reminds me of an old Cary Grant film or Rebecca. I agree with an earlier poster. You should story tell.)

  5. The only time I've been truly frightened while flying was when there was lightening near the Pan Am jet my family was on.

  6. Marie, your literary skills recalls Henry James' expectation that "writers are those on whom nothing is lost."

  7. Interesting!
    Ann-sofie Kassberg

  8. I love to fly (altho air travel ain't so much fun anymore!) but i sure do hate having to wipe away tears when i read your posts. It happens way too often ... like today.


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