The sky has already gone black and the air is crystal clear as my plane points its nose up the East River on the approach to LaGuardia.  Above the Battery I can see amid the lights of lower Manhattan a muted pocket where the twin towers once stood.  Chinatown and Little Italy and Greenwich Village are pinned to a catty-corned grid that butts anarchic against Midtown’s stolid blocks.  Empire State and Chrysler Building beacons sit stately between them and the dark patch of Central Park.  Far beyond corporate jets spiral upward and downward around Teterboro and the lights of Yankee Stadium curiously blaze long past season’s end.  I linger not long in LaGuardia’s cramped, familiar spaces before I jump the shuttle to JFK .

It must be close to 10 years since I last strolled through Kennedy, its bright and modern and expansive and polished spaces a sensory-rattling contrast with those of  its older cousin.  (Does anyone still remember when it was once named Idlewild?)  JFK concourseSliding walkways course down medians of broad pedestrian boulevards past duty-free shops as world-wise passengers wait sagely in spacious lounges, well-mannered and well-dressed.  My Spanish-speaking America has until now ended at the Caribbean, where dark eyes and brown skins and flat, broad noses of native ancestors run like a thread through tapestry seas of faces.  The faces of this evening’s Argentine human cargo almost without exception recall instead those from the streets of Milan and Barcelona and Vienna and Alsace; there is in them only the Old World.

As we await departure the Cleveland Browns are – much to the surprise of almost everyone – beating up on the Pittsburgh Steelers and my Ohio childhood flashes back as the camera cuts away to lakeside stadium light exploding into a night sky bordered by the the stack of Terminal Tower windows.

Flying to Europe is like running out to the 7-Eleven compared to the flight from New York to Buenos Aires.  Inside the cocoon of the wide-bodied hull, the dining auditorium has dimmed into a dormitory dotted here and there by bright seatback video screens.  Outbound airplaneThe line on the digital flight map sunk into the seatback facing me creeps for long, dark hours over unseen ocean before we at last slip past Puerto Rico and the Windwards.  Ahead is Venezuela and the faded, flanking memory of Jonestown, Guyana.  Beyond them are only vast hours of rainforest and totally unfamiliar names as we sail like Columbus reborn past the edge of my known earth.

It is totally out of character for me to drink coffee after noon – or to consume much caffeine at all – but just before departure I ingested a generous cup of the real deal at JFK’s Juan Valdez Cafe Juan Valdez cafe JFKin an attempt to shock my biorhythms into synch with those of nocturnal Buenos Aires.  As the caffeine courses through my veins I surf the seatback video menu into the wee hours until I finally doze off into fitfull sleep.

Upon my awakening soft white light leaks through the cracks at the bottom of drawn window shades.  Below us the rain forest cloud canopy rolls from horizon to horizon like densely packed gray cotton.  The Amazon River already lies three hours behind us as the toy plane on the seatback map speeds over verdant forests and the rugged tan wall of the Andes rises a thousand miles to the west.  Buenos Aires lies yet three hours ahead and two time zones east of “Nueva York”, where my errant baggage awaits the next flight out in chase.

The seatback screen says that we are eight miles high and that outside the temperature is minus 60 degres Fahrenheit.  I once read that skydivers with failed chutes die of heart attack long before they hit the ground.  Through my mind now passes the question of whether a man falling from this height would first die of suffocation in the thin air, and if his flash-frozen carcass might shatter on impact.

We pass over Asuncion, Brazil and the dense, rolling clouds have Air mapbecome an opaque haze. The plane on the seatback map makes a turn and in its horizon view Buenos Aires sits on the wide mouth of the Rio Plata estuary across which Juan and Eva Peron once fled Argentina before their triumphant return.    We descend over the dense metropolitan sprawl in a wide arc that carries us out into the countryside and at last down to the tarmac nearly an hour from the heart of the city.

Tomorrow I’ll post my Buenos Aires first impressions