This picture dates from July 1997.
It was the first time in 14 years that I was on a plane. I was a child the previous time. It had been a wonderful trip to Greece that I still have fond memories of.
It was the first time I left Europe. I was heading to Pittsburgh from Toulouse, via London Gatwick. I was going to spend a month in the United States and I was accompanying a friend who was going to spend a year there.
It also was also my longest flight at the time. It “only” was eight hours. That record was to be broken several times since.
I took this picture when I finally saw the land, after what seemed like an eternity – the plane had only been flying for five hours. What I felt must have been somewhat similar to what the lookout guy, in the crow’s nest of the Santa Maria, felt.
My first reaction was to snap this picture. I wasn’t really sure where we were. The picture itself isn’t that good. I was just excited to see the New World for the first time in my life.
A few minutes later, we flew above the coastline and I could see all of these little white dots in the fjords. I thought it was Canada, near some coastal town. I thought I was witnessing a gathering of sailboats like they must often do in the summer. Something like that.
It’s only when we reached the sea again, and then we actually arrived above Canada that I realized that we had just flown over Greenland. Those weren’t sailboats at all but icebergs. For the first time in my life, I had flown over and saw an uninhabited region.
I remember it being a very strange feeling. As a European, those were the kinds of places I would only see in documentaries, not for real, not even from a plane.
In retrospect, I think that this moment is more or less my “threshold moment.” The moment when I realized that the physical boundaries of my life didn’t have to be my home area – where until then I imagined I would spend most of my life – or not just France, not even Europe. The physical boundaries of where my life could take place and would take place are simply the boundaries of the whole planet.
Interestingly, while I’ve been to seven new countries since that day, while I have spent almost 17 years abroad on three continents, I have yet to go to either Canada or Greenland.