Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dark Clouds above us

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.


Elisabeth Rose said...

It sure puts our fast paced life into perspective. We assume we can nip around the world in a matter of hours whereas our rapid travel speed is relatively recent. When I was 9 we travelled from Aus to Europe by ship--took 6 weeks and it was the normal way to go. Flying was way too expensive. That's only 50 years ago. Thirty years ago we still travelled by ship to Europe but it was a dying mode of transport by the mid 70's.

I was briefly surprised by the non attendance of Angela Merkel at the sad occasion of the Polish PM's funeral. Of all the countries Germany is closest to Poland but when I thought about it she would have had a lengthy overland trip--maybe 8-12 hours?? whereas by air she would have been there and back in a day.

Zelda Benjamin said...

Weather and climate have a great affect on our everyday routines. I'm actually blogging about the weather on Monday and how it can affect our moods.

Beate Boeker said...

Lis, Angela Merkel could have made it if she had been in Germany, but she was in the US. She couldn't land in Germany due to the ashes, so she had to take a detour via Italy, but then the bus of the delegation broke down on the road, so she got stuck for good. From Florence to the funeral, it would have taken almost twenty hours over land . . . she would have arrived after the funeral. She sent another representative instead because with our history, we are in no position to take anything lightly.

Zelda, how funny that we had the same thoughts! I'm very weather dependent too . . . wished I wasn't because it rains a lot where I live!

Elisabeth Rose said...

Yes the weather is still the dominant force when it chooses!