I narrowly missed being one of the unlucky travelers delayed by the security breach at Newark’s Terminal C last week. (If you were one of them, you may want to stop reading.) I don’t envy the stranded travelers, but the “airport kiss,” with all its attendant delays and incalculable public expense, may be the single most beautiful event of the year. Rutgers graduate student Haisong Jiang, 28, made his (still anonymous) lover our modern Helen: the face that grounded a thousand planes.
The Times’ City Room blog compared the two lovers to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. The comparison that springs to my mind is Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift in Terminal Station. In that film, two lovers are forced to say goodbye in Rome’s Stazioni Termini. The station itself is the main character, its Fascist-designed spaces alternately confining their love or exposing it to the elements. The film’s director, Vittoria di Sica, interrupts the love story by showing people from all levels of Italian society–peasants, tourists, paparazzi, the president. The station becomes the Italian state, a state that makes no room for the two lovers.
So what does the airport kiss tell us about our state? I’m not quite sure. While I think Jiang should be punished harshly, there is a real value to his careless caresses. They puncture a climate of paranoia and remind us that despite the graphic shock of body scans, not all public displays are permitted. I don’t like our security bureaucracy. It strikes me as nasty but necessary. Which may be why I’m encouraged to know that it is as vulnerable to love’s folly as it is to calculated malice.