I’ve had a terrible cold all week that might even be flu. Although I’m in Portugal in January, giving an invited a paper at a conference and paying for none of my travel, accommodation or food, I’ve spent three of my four days in Lisbon in bed, sleeping and sweating and feverishly hallucinating and filling myself full of European grippe remedies that it took me more than 24 hours in the country to summon the energy to walk the 400 yards to a pharmacy to buy. I managed the conference dinner last night – it seemed like the most visible bit of networking I could do, and appealed far more than sitting through several hours of social work papers presented in academic Portuguese. Also, there was free alcohol. At American conferences, they refer to a conference dinner as a banquet, which is always misleadingly grandiose and so never lives up to my expectations – although few fail quite so spectacularly to meet them as the one at the sociology symposium in New Orleans, where a mediocre lukewarm buffet and a handful of bottles of red wine proved wholly inadequate to cater for all the guests (a close colleague and I had brought 20-ounce take-out drive-thru daiquiris to that meal as hors-d’oeuvres, which helped). I spent yesterday’s conference dinner being told confidently about a great many things by an English former military pilot and his wife, a Polish sociologist, and was interrogated for my views on the British monarchy, Brexit and Americans’ perceptions of British-English speakers, by a local nutritionist whose eldest son is in Krakow studying for a master’s degree in computer science; she does not like to discuss food while out eating. I ended up closing down the hotel bar with a punk scholar colleague from Norwich, and we spent the last 15 minutes of the evening together talking in total darkness as the bar tender after serving us our drinks, promptly turned off the lights.

I wake up with a steaming hangover / influenza fever cocktail that only deepens when I force down some mass-produced, protein-heavy breakfast. I go immediately back to bed, imploring time to slow down as checkout approaches, and find myself freestyle rapping about the character flaws of leading protagonists in an imagined biopic of my life set in Midtown Manhattan in the 1980s. I take a medicinal shower, make checkout at 12.01 and sit in the lobby researching sleeping on the floor in German airports, till the stuffy mid-price hotel air becomes all but too much to handle. I stroll as briskly as my funky stupour will allow in search of a castle that Google Maps says is about a 45-minute walk away. I find it, am suitably underwhelmed, quite like the scenery on the way there, and somehow end up walking back mostly along major highways and abandoned lots, feeling there is a strong chance I’ll get mugged. Avoiding assault, I take a cab to the airport, check in without event, buy a cold cappuccino and a bottle of room-temperature water, and make plans to work on the flight. I buy duty-free gin for a senior colleague, who I’ve managed to piss off tremendously by putting the wrong week in my calendar for a long-planned five-day visit to his college on the east coast, when I’ll instead be on the west coast the whole week doing something entirely different. On the plane I write a 100-word abstract for a summer conference presentation and have the epiphany that this can double as the topic for a book chapter I’m six months late finishing (starting). This will also get me off the hook for the planned proceedings journal special issue, since my chapter by then will be halfway to the printers.

Arriving at Munich airport, realization of my vague plan to sleep inconspicuously on a bench in the terminal is unexpectedly challenged by the absence of anyone else doing the same (I’d assumed the floor would be strewn with backpackers all too frugal and bohemian to pay for hotels). We landed in G gates, and my flight in nine hours leaves from H, so I figure I’ll head there in order to wake up in the right place, resting my head on the gin, laptop bag strap wrapped around an arm or two and the carry-on between my legs so no one nicks it. Turns out, though, you can’t get to H gates without going through passport control, which is closed. I return to G and at the bottom of some stairs see a sign advertising “napcab” sleeping cabins at gate G6, which sound more efficient at this point than taking a taxi, a hotel and another taxi just to get a few hundred feet across the terminal. G6 houses a cluster of four pristine white napcab cubicles. Each costs 10 Euros an hour, comes with fast, free wifi, air conditioning, charge points for laptop and phone, and a bed. I choose a PIN code for entry and realize I haven’t brushed my teeth. Forty minutes, another round of emails and two trips to the gents’ later, I dip my debit card and head in. The exotic blue light disappears when I enter and I instantly pull down the door blind for privacy. It all feels just a bit weird – spending the night in a little white box in the middle of a major airport – and there’s someone in the one adjacent cube too. I sort of want to test the sound insulation, but I’m less keen to wake up a fellow traveler by discovering at precisely what volume they can hear me doing inverted paradiddles on the adjoining cell wall. I have entertainment options: there is white light or yellow or off; I can set an alarm, check flight information or change the temperature in the room. I stick on some Vivaldi and get naked. I change to Mendelssohn, don’t like it, switch to a Wagner overture, put in my ear plugs (to avoid being woken too easily by shouty tourists milling around in the morning with children) and set four alarms for between 6am and 6.30. I scroll through social media for ages, turn off the lights and sleep occasionally for four or five hours, waking up sticky and stuffy with my phone blaring Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades”. It seems no one has broken in during the night or taken advantage of me while I slept. I gather my belongings and purchase some breakfast. The security people surprise me by allowing me to take my Portuguese duty-free through to H gates. I go for a quick wee and return to find my group is now boarding.

 

 

 

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