I’ve passed through Istanbul Ataturk Airport eight times since early February, so was stung even more than usual when learning about yesterday’s bombing attacks that killed at least 42 people and injured more than 230 others.
That those of us who transit through the world’s 11th busiest airport do so on the safer side of security checks is of little consequence or consolation to the families and loved ones of those who perished yesterday.
Yet the fact remains that those in transit through the majority of modern airports these days are almost always very far removed from attacks like this. In Istanbul, that means the majority of the 61.3 million passengers the airport served in 2015, in Europe a number that trails only London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle.
We’re kept in sealed off areas that are more malls and food courts than places of transit. They all bear a striking monotone similarity, with little beyond the signs in local languages –and even those oftentimes secondary after English– to distinguish one from another. Even to frequent travelers passing through for the first time, international transit areas in Dubai, Doha, Bogota, Hong Kong, Moscow, Brussels, or Istanbul all bear a monotonous familiarity.
In Istanbul Ataturk, my favorite haunts are the sports bar-style restaurant and café on the second level, the smaller of the D&R book stores, and a couple of the sprawling duty frees. The first for its fish & chips and free wifi, the second because it’s the only airport bookshop on the planet where I can browse and page through Noam Chomsky books, and the last for the mountains of free Turkish Delight samples available, in a variety of flavors, sizes and colors.
When I last passed through, in mid May, I was mildly accosted in one of the duty frees by a drunk Russian traveler who, refused service by the cashier, asked me to buy him a bottle of cheap Scotch. He was bouncing off of shelves as he tried to follow me, waving a 50-euro bill. It was just as I turned to tell him one last time to stop following me, that he began to sneeze. Large, loud, productive sneezes that launched chunks of whiskey-marinated phlegm towards crystal bottles of cognac, towards a shop employee reaching out to contain him, towards a tray of pistachio Turkish Delight. Towards my back.
The sneezing continued, nearly unabated, staccato-like, as two employees finally managed to pull him from the store, at that point little more than a limp sneezing slab. That’s the scene that first came to mind when I watched a video this morning from one of last night’s airport blasts.
Today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 908th straight, was part of a brief series I snapped during a four-and-a-half transit at Istanbul Atatürk Airport on 13 February 2016.