Thursday, July 9, 2015

Two hours in Frankfurt

I arrived in Minsk yesterday, by way of Frankfurt. Flying from Boston to Frankfurt, I met an interesting Muslim woman named Rawda. She was on her way to Cairo to attend her sister’s wedding, and shared with me her perspectives on a number of things. We ended up talking much of the flight, and I enjoyed her blend of sincerity and buoyant enthusiasm. She promised to take me into the mosque in Cambridge when I return and teach me about how Muslims pray, something I’ve wanted to understand for a long time.

Rawda had a plan. She had a four-hour layover in Frankfurt and thought she should go downtown and see something of Europe. I had a slightly longer layover and knew something about getting around Frankfurt, so I suggested that we go together and look for an interesting place to have breakfast. She worried that she’d be singled out for super-scrutiny because she wore a hijab, but I was the one who got grilled at passport control. The agent wanted to know where I was going and I told him that we were just going for breakfast and returning for flights just after ten a.m. He looked alarmed and I asked him if this were crazy. He said yes, but then admitted that downtown is close and the trains run every fifteen minutes. We proceeded.

I don’t have any pictures to show you of what we encountered when we emerged from the Frankfurt train station just after six a.m. As we climbed the staircase from the underground station-plaza to street level, we passed three derelicts struggling to stand up. One was kneeling on the stairs, facing a bloody needle a few steps up. I hustled Rawda past them and out onto the street without stopping to get out my phone. Shortly after I explained why I’d hustled her up the staircase, she pointed over her shoulder to another group and commented that the guy on the ground was at that moment giving himself an injection into his ankle.

We found a hotel and begged a map, and then set out to take our walk. We started out in Taunusanlage Park, which wasn’t completely empty but most of the people there didn’t appear to have any place to go. Things got a lot better when we walked down to the riverside parkway along the bank of the River Main. Joggers jogged, cyclists cycled, and we walked; particularly enjoying an alley of lush plane trees. Near where we intended to turn away from this riverside walkway, we found an excellent climbing structure. I’ve always been a sucker for such things, so I had to climb on it. This looked like so much fun to Rawda that she climbed a little way up as well.

After breakfast at the train station, we returned to the airport where, once again, Rawda sailed right through security and I had a hard time. I was wearing an anti-heat shirt with some Velcro vent closures, and the Velcro tabs always show up on those new x-ray body scanners. Usually this just means that somebody pats me on the tabs and sends me on my way. The German guy found it necessary to give me a full-body rubdown, twice on the front and twice on the back. Then he made me take off my shoes and he took out my shoe inserts. I had rent money stashed under the inserts, and I think it almost disappeared when I glanced up to see what was going on with my computer, sitting unattended in a bin on the conveyor belt after passing through the luggage scanner. When I looked back at his disappearing hand, he made a point of wrinkling the money and then put it back into my shoe. I can’t guess why I received such a thorough examination at all, unless it was so I’d have something to talk about in my blog.

Anyway, I enjoyed the walk and the conversation but Frankfurt didn’t endear itself to me this time.

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