You might have heard that the vulcano Eyjafjallajökull on Iceland erupted on Wednesday, April 14th, 2010. I have to admit that at first, I wasn't much interested in the vulcano with the unspeakable name, but that changed two days later due to my day job. I work for a global company that produces (amongst others) fountain pens. Twice a year, we have a meeting where all the general managers of the European subsidiaries come together to discuss new products, new strategies, etc. On Thursday, after the first day of our meeting, my boss went to the front and said "Dark clouds are building up above our heads." At first, we thought he had an unexpected poetic moment, but it soon showed that he meant it literally.
The vulcano ash proved to be dangerous for aircrafts and so, one airport after the other shut down in Europe. We reacted swiftly (not thanks to me - I still had my head in the clouds and couldn't image the impact the ash would have - really have to work on my visionary powers). On Friday 16th, we cut the meeting short and everybody dashed off to the train station in the hope of squeezing into one of the overflowing trains. My colleague from Sweden had to stand for six hours on a packed train from Hamburg to Copenhagen. My colleague from Britain tried to get a place on the ferry, but they were all booked out - they didn't even answer the phone anymore, just left a recorded message. He could have swum, but he decided to stay another night. Most of my colleagues from the Southern countries (Greece, Italy, Spain) managed to catch a flight from Munich, which was the last airport to close on Friday night. However, my colleague from Turkey was stuck for days . . . and due to the missing planes in the international exchange, another colleague got stuck in New York for a full week - lucky guy - his vacation lasted longer than planned!
As a writer, I have a sneaking preference for "small catastrophes" - say, catastrophes that don't hurt or kill people. I know that the vulcano-problem can prove to be dramatic for airlines and farmers in Iceland, but if I just look at the "travel chaos", I feel that in times like these, things happen. You meet people you would never have met otherwise, and you talk to them. You get to know them much quicker, share problems, help each other. You discover new sides inside yourself - talents for organization, improvisation. Your focus shifts dramatically. Suddenly, the world is much larger. When before, Turkey was a few hours away, it's now a trip that will keep a German on the road for days on end. Try to imagine what happened at the largest German airport in Frankfurt. Thousands were stranded there without a visa. They can't leave the airport (do you remember that movie with Tom Hanks?). What friendships are forged under these circumstances? Yes, I know it's not funny if you're stuck, and I wouldn't volunteer for that sort of thing. But IF you are stuck anyway . . . you can make the most of it . . . you just need a notebook and a pen - and you're writing history - literally.