Saturday, April 17, 2010

In the air

I love to travel. It doesn't matter how, but the process of being on the way somewhere is in itself desirable. When on a plane, train, bus or boat I relax in ways I otherwise never do. All my time is dedicated to one thing: getting there.

There's a saying in Norwegian "du har bare tida og veien," which means: All you have is the time and the road. What it means is that you can't delay, the time you have now is what you need to get where you are going. You'll also notice this in the response you'll get if you ask for a distance. "How far is it from Ørsta to Volda?" "It's about 15 minuts by car." We won't say how many kilometers, distance is measured in time. This has to do with an intimate understanding about how imprecise a measure distance is, when you want to indicate the effort it takes to travel somewhere. After all, if the distance you drive is 60 kilometers, but you spend half an hour being transported on a ferry, your travelling time isn't 1 hour at 60 kilometers pr hour, but 90 minutes - if you are lucky and get directly on the ferry.

And so the recent events which closed off the Norwegian airspace suddenly changed everything about travel. Rather than Brüssel being 5 hours away, as it was when I started planning and bought the tickets for the upcoming trip with students, it's now 36 hours away. I could have left Volda last night by bus. From there I could get onwards to Copenhagen by train, where I might have caught another train to Brüssel. It would get me there some time tomorrow evening. I should have already been on the way to Oslo to make it.

But while I was travelling, the winds might turn and the cloud of ashes might move. Also, while I could do this, as the college would cover it, my students can't afford it. And why should I sit in Belgium with no students? I have been there before, and while I would love to meet some of the people I have been communicating with this get the trip organised, for instance the wonderfully friendly Consul Géneral Baudouin Lagrange in Antwerp, me going to rub shoulders with people I'd like to see is really not what this trip is about.

Hence, no matter what happens, I'll sit tight here until tomorrow and see if we can get on some planes and out of here, preferably with all my students coming along. And suddenly travel is something other than relaxation, it has become oddly insecure, a responsibility and fraught with tension. While we may not be, our travel plans are - up in the air.

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