Airline Seats and Astronauts

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TUESDAY MAY 24, approaching the European Continent en route to Warsaw from New York.

FIVE HOURS into our seven-hour flight, I’ve thrown in the towel and given up on sleep. It must be that I’ve gotten some, but I can’t prove it. With earplugs, the plane is quiet, even though we’re now far back in the cabin, having snatched the chance to change to previously unavailable adjacent seats at the semiautomatic check-in.

I’ve got the inflatable neck pillow to fill the space between the seat and my neck, and the slim, inflatable back pillow to fill the space between the seat back and my lumbar region, and the padded eyeshades from the travel section at EMS to black out the early evening sun and the glowing mega-terapixels from all the overhead and setback monitors. The cabin looks like a mobile call center or a sedated Las Vegas video casino!

But the hopeful comfort gimmicks never work. The oh-so-advanced, sturdy, reclining seats on this Continental 767 are still just hard enough to do their work as a nonchemical meat tenderizer, and their root-mean-square contours, with a just the right standard deviation from the contours of the flying public means I’ve still never found an airline seat that fits me, even with all the gerryrigging I do.

Those Astronauts have it better! Their take-off, it’s true, presses their jowls into their seats and rattles their guts more than our barely perceptible take-off at Newark. But they have that temper-pedic stuff to cushion them. And when they’ve gotten past all those Gs, they have–weightlessness! No neck pillows and cushions, because (I imagine) there’s no seat, no bed. It’s my sore rump that woke me up–if I slept at all. It would suit me well right now to find it weightless. I could sleep in any position at all, couldn’t I? Could do the fetal position for a while, or stretch out full-length, as I like to do in a pool, and just float. As long as I had a leash, or some kind of webbed hammock around me, and no coffee-table corners nearby. Ahh!

But alas, not on this flight. Here, I can’t even recline as far as I’d like, as the young woman behind me, in the row with its recline-resistant seatbacks set against the galley bulkhead, has femurs long enough that she’d rather be waterboarded.

David, my son, if you’re listening, tell those Biomedical Engineer roommates of yours that if they find the Med school track too grueling, or the prospect of working in such a thanklessly regulated field too daunting, they could march over to Boeing, turn on their entrepreneurial charm, and lobby for jobs as airline seat optimizers! Millions of pounds of sore human flesh would bow to them–so to speak.

Oh, did I mention that SOMEONE nearby (is it the guy to my left, who completes our row?) has halotosis that could stun a fish, obsoleting the fishhook industry in a breath? I guess the astronauts potentially have that problem too, but surely their rigorous selection and training program is designed to weed that out, along with other bad behavior and hygiene…

Time to join all those fellow travelers slowly marching around the aisles to get relief from their iron maidens! The next runway awaits.

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Winterthur

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Winterthur Azelea Mansion

The Museum from the Reflecting Pool

WINTERTHUR (“WIN-ter-tour”), a former DuPont family estate nestled in the Brandywine Valley of Delaware, is a marvel of an indoor/outdoor museum. It is called, credibly, the “premier museum of American decorative arts.” Its 60 acres of “naturalistic” gardens are nourishingly gorgeous. Nowhere have you seen such a volume and variety of azaleas. Unspeakable decorative treasures await your discovery on the small-group guided tours inside the vast mansion museum. Sorry, no photos may be taken there, but there are no such restrictions in the galleries and the opulent Cambell’s Soup Tureen collection! Find more information and reserve tours at: http://www.winterthur.org/.

Pool Vista

From a Museum Balcony.