HOW wonderful, how astonishing, were those first flights over the oceans! And, so soon afterward, how amazed we were to find that we would all do this -- that flying would be a way of life. Alas, that earlier vision has dimmed in our struggles with tickets, our long waits at airports, and the discomfort and tedium of our flights, where we see almost nothing -- less than from a bus. These journeys are disappointing but a sine qua non -- there is no other way to travel, much of the time. Hardly a liner has survived. Sometimes, though, this dull shell cracks, and we are afforded a glimpse of what is actually happening. This was borne in upon me lately when I chanced to leave New York on the night of a full moon. I did not know it was full -- it is no companion to New Yorkers who cannot wander in the parks by night nor walk by the rivers, and it usually conceals itself behind the high buildings. Packing, getting out to the airport, achieving the right lines, precluded any thought of the heavens. The plane, moreover, was absolutely full, as it cost only half the usual fare, so that to get aboard at all seemed a sufficient triumph.
Jumbo jets (horrible words) are just the same, whatever one pays, in their essential features, the importance of safety and organization. On cheap flights there are no frills -- another ghastly term -- which on this occasion meant that no meals were served, though one could buy a picnic basket. That was a bagatelle -- my friend and I had brought sandwiches, and the flight was only to last a few hours. The rub (and this word is correct) lay with the extreme economy with which the seats were crowded together, leaving so little legroom, and allowing one little leverage in tipping a chair back. One had to sit almost upright all night. After all, that saved $300.
A cheerful and expansive quartet who had come aboard with a gourmet meal found that this had been bedecked with red roses, two of which they passed to us. We put them in a cup of cracked ice and stationed this carefully in the porthole before resigning ourselves to the Spartan hours ahead. It was then that a wonder took place. In all the decades I have flown, nothing like this had ever come to me before: The full moon arose and stationed itself directly outside that window, its reflection gleaming on the wing. Hours passed, and there it remained, keeping pace, or so it seemed, pouring moonlight over the roses. Nothing could have been more romantic, more sentimental on that May night, nothing more strangely evocative of that light which once sweetly slept on a bank in Shakespeare.
A few days later I was with a friend in London, telling her of this and hearing from her of the journey she had lately made to Petra. There she had spent four nights, and, she said, even under the moon she found that the city remained always rose red. ``The same moon! Those very hours!'' we exclaimed together. One's admiration for the moon never ceases in spite of human footsteps, rocks, people in robots' gear -- it is still the Moon of Everyone's Delight, enchanted, enchanting, mysterious, lovely, engilding.
It was of course not only the moon and the roses that had conveyed so sharp a sense of pleasure but the triumph of the romantic over the technical, and the sheer unexpectedness of it, which added piquancy to the whole. The surprise, in fact.
We are surprised when an accepted pattern of thought is suddenly interrupted, and something new interposed. A door opens, a mist dissipates, something is revealed, in an unsought interval outside time.
Here the effect was the more startling because the moon and the roses were the chief personages in this miracle play, bringing with them a wealth of associations. Now it was easy to wear one's rue with a difference, to be less influenced by discomfort.
Poetry did it. The red, red rose that's newly sprung in June . . . the dark rose . . . the roses of Lancaster and of York . . . Look to the rose that blows about us . . . the Rose of Yesterday . . . Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, And sweeter than blown roses on the grass. Garlands, wreaths, musk roses, rose trees, rose gardens, love songs, lullabies. I remembered a wreath of tea roses my mother set on my eight-year-old head when I was to dance round a maypole, and a huge bouquet of pink-tipped Neapolitan roses given me by a young officer in Italy just before World War II. I thought of the rosebushes my husband and I had gone up to Poona to buy, to set out in our desert garden in the plains, and of those brave roses that would still bloom in a damp, chill English winter.