09 July 2013

Suddenly, A Museum

At Charles de Gaulle Airport // My picture.

Airports are temples of consumption. Between vast duty free shops that sell fine whisky by the liter, cigarettes by the 200 and beauty products by the "airport exclusives", it feels like they are trying very hard to make you spend your waiting time buying stuff. And the little minimalist in me, tired of consumerism, started being fed up with this atmosphere after the fourth airport in a month.

I was told that the Singapore airport was great, so I had a bit of a hope, for something different maybe. And don't get me wrong, the Singapore airport is great, clean, the staff is nice and smiling, there are 40 open counters for 2 travelers at customs... But it is still a temple of consumption.

I think sometimes I have these little phases, of getting fed up with all the shopping and the money spending and the void of society, and I stop believing in human societies or something. After having gone to LA, which is its own little consumption center, seeing that many airports, I think I saturated.

And I thought, why are there only shops and restaurants in airports? People wait for hours in here, in a proper human society, there would be more interesting things to do than just leading people to consumption. Why not culture? An exhibit of sorts, some panels with explanations, or some QR codes to scan with our phones and tablets to get interesting stuff to read on the country we are in. Something that promotes knowledge and human growth.

By the time these thoughts had bloomed in my head, I was in Paris, waiting for my transfer to Montreal. At the Charles de Gaulle airport, everybody does their best to promote French elegance, so most shops were about perfume, high end make-up, luxury clothes and fine food. By that time, with two more hours to wait, I was getting depressed. And suddenly, a museum appeared.

My picture

There is an "Espace Musée" in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. At the terminal 2E, gate M.  Hidden in a corner, free, waiting to be visited. It is these little signs that restore my faith in everything. In the end, we humans can do the worst, but also the best.

Of course, a tiny little empty musem in a big temple of comsumption isn't ideal, but that's something. Just like blogs on minimalism, TED talks, and many other initiatives that make me believe that anything is possible.


  1. Ah, wonderful!

    I have used the "quiet room" at Heathrow before to meditate. I felt a little uncomfortable because it was mostly being used by people to pray, and I felt intrusive. But, the sign said "non-denominational" so I tried to just enjoy it.

    In the international terminal at Toronto Pearson airport, there is a huge Richard Serra sculpture that I once spent a couple of hours in and around with my family - sitting, touching, taking photos. It was a truly memorable experience, even more so because it was in an airport!

    A few years later, I saw Richard Serra speak, and he said that part of why he became a sculptor was because he wanted to create art that people experienced and could interface with. I kept thinking about that time that we spent with his sculpture in the airport, and how he had truly succeeded in that goal.

    On the consumption side - we are very store "starved" here in Switzerland thanks to trade barriers, etc. So I notice that when we go to airports, we get really excited about the shops. Eventually I get really sick of it, and almost queasy because it all starts to feel too consumption oriented and a little too luxury/rich.

    The best is really when you have a good book at the airport! Or a light load so that you can go on a walk.

    This post is timely for me as I have a lot of travel coming up this month.

    1. There was a prayer room in Singapore now that you mention it, but I think it was reserved to muslims. I'm glad to hear there are after all some art initiatives in some airports, this sculpture seems to have given you a nice memory!

      It is true that this airport atmosphere is quite exciting the first time, getting duty free items, finding exclusives (I remember in Japan at the airport's Starbucks there were some airport exclusive custom thermos haha) etc. But after the excitement of the discovery, it shows another side of society, very consumerist and very luxuous.

      I agree that reading books is a great moment to spend time in an airport. I usually use the opportunity is foreign airports to buy books in English, always pack a bit too many of them, because I know I will sit either in a café or find a quiet secluded place somewhere in the terminal and read until boarding is called. I like this kind of time bubble when you have nothing else to do than wait. It would be even better with a bit less shop and a bit more international culture though.

      Enjoy your upcoming travels, let me know if you find anything int he airports you will visit ;)

  2. what a gem of a find. travel in the best of circumstances is still grueling in so many ways, and the spiritual void of airports is something i hope one never 'gets used to'.

    1. I wonder how people who travel a lot each month feel about the airport's atmoshpere. Do they get used to it? Reminds me of this film with Georges Clooney, was it "In the air" or something? I loved this film.

  3. If you think Singapore is bad, the HKG is the absolute worst. Hedonistic capitalism at its finest. At least it's very comfortable, great options for food unlike most US airports :( I will check out JFK's newest terminal for you hehe.

    1. Ah I heard a lot about the Hong Kong airport. My partner told me they were unbeatable in terms of prices though, his 80€ perfume only cost 30€ in there. But it would make sense that it drives you to even more consumption!
      And don't get me started on food in airports, I think that's another topic that turns me into a grumpy face haha. I'd be curious to hear how the JFK new terminal looks like, travel safely :)

  4. It is nice to read thoughtful blog posts that reflect on life, consumerism, etc. I can't remember how I stumbled upon this corner of the internet, but I do enjoy posts like the one above.

    As someone who travels quite a lot (I was on 13 different flights in a two week time last month), I can honestly say I never really thought of airports as a hub of consumerism before...but it is very, very true. Often, I might look around the duty-free shops for any tax-free deals (it is a good place to buy the very few luxury items I treasure and keep for the various memories of different places - much like my habit of picking up artwork or interior trinkets from places I visit) but I would love more museums in airports or places just to sit and reflect without all the bustle. It can be very tiring, simply because of everyone is rushing about, disappointed over delays, or in some cases, screaming at the customer service reps (there always seems to be that one person!).

    My favorite things, which is also a part of the consumerism culture but a relief to find nonetheless, is spas in airports. When you have long flights and delays, sometimes that is just what you may need but I don't see them as often as I like. I think you just get used to the atmosphere, I can say when I go to the airport I have a routine I go through which is to pack a lot of healthy foods I can take on my flight, a bottle of water and a good book (or a magazine, if I need more light reading).

    I actually like walking through airports, because it means I am going on a new adventure and I try to always think of it in that manner. There are so many people you can meet and chat with and discover instead of paying attention to the shops, and I find that to be more worthwhile than shopping.

    1. I actually like airports a lot, like train stations. You see all these people from all over the world, stopping by for a few hours, each with their own origin and destination, I find it quite fascinating.

      Also, it's a sort of time bubble: while you are waiting for your flight, you have nothing to do, nobody is expecting anything from you. I use this time a lot to reflect upon things (as you can notice from this post...), and I read more books in airports than almost anywhere else since I moved and live 2 stops from work.

      It is true that enjoying a bit of spa time could be a good idea, it never really occured to me to get a little massage or something, especially in between flights. Of course that's a part of this little temple of consumption, but there is always a bright side to look at, as you say, meeting all these people, reading and all these magical things about airports that the "temple of consumption" part hasn't quite ruined so far ...