1. Westward to Europe

There is a special kind of optimism associated with the beginning of a long trip, or rather, a special kind of over-optimism. It seems there are always about four hundred things that need to be done in the last few days before departure, but the prospect of such an exciting event leads even the seasoned traveler to inanely believe that this will be no problem. Of course, it always is a problem, and in my case at least, the forty-eight hours or so before the trip begins are always spent running around as though my shorts were on fire and I had misplaced the fire extinguisher.

This time was no exception. Or, more accurately, it was exceptional in how little time we had to prepare for our trip. Ten days before our seven-week trip around Europe was to begin, I flew to California for totally unrelated reasons. My week in Palo Alto was spent trying to be a clever enough linguist to make the people who had invited me fail to regret their decision. That, plus trying to figure out how in the hell to get around in California without a car, pretty much took up all my time.

Meanwhile, Annelie was at home, entertaining the guests from abroad I was not there to entertain, and trifling with things like finishing the first full draft of her dissertation. So when I got home three days before (a) our trip was to begin and (b) her dissertation was due, we both started running around as though our shorts were on fire and we were trying to remember where we had seen that fire extinguisher.

Annelie, packing away

Eventually, everything that really had to get done did get done, and everything that could safely be put off was put off; there's nothing like pressing circumstances for helping one achieve clarity on one's priorities. "Okay, so I will pay my taxes, but I won't oil the door hinges." The day of departure was spent in the usual way, doing the last few things Tasmanian-Devil-style while the clock ticked down to departure time, and beyond. My method is (apparently) to decide what time I absolutely have to leave for the airport, then tell myself to leave a half-hour before, because I know I'll leave a half-hour late. And then I proceed to leave a half-hour after the time I absolutely have to leave. This is followed by sweating profusely in the back seat of a taxi for thirty minutes. Of course, Annelie is implicated in all this, but I take full responsibility for the scheduling, at least until we get to Montreal.

This time, our taxi driver was obviously sent by Mercury, the god of being in such a hurry you forget to put your clothes on. Not that the taxi driver had done so, luckily. Rather, as he drove along, watching my sweat seep into his suede in his rear-view mirror, he said, "You in a hurry to get to the airport? You want me to take you my special way?"

Looking around the taxi to see whether it might be outfitted to be watertight, we warily assented. He cackled and "banged" a left onto Beacon, going directly away from the airport. Thinking that this was indeed special, I asked him what his way might be. "New tunnel!" he responded, as though he had dug it himself. As we continued, he revealed that he himself had only just learned about the new airport tunnel, the latest phase of the Big Dig (not to be confused with the Big Bang, except in the size of the numbers associated with it, and in the degree of disagreement among scientists as to its beginning and end), which connects the Mass Pike directly with Logan Airport. This means, folks, that you can now drive straight from downtown Seattle to Logan Airport, without leaving Route 90. What a country!

Thanks to the new tunnel, we arrived at Logan early enough to be leisurely strip-searched in Terminal C. Actually, it was only Annelie who was strip-searched, since for once, they seemed not to think I looked like a terrorist. I guess that Tom Ridge has finally set them straight on the difference between a graduate student and a terrorist. Actually, Annelie wasn't even really strip-searched, but was only sent to a special line where Swedes and other swarthy individuals are meticulously X-rayed and have their bags dug through by trained badgers. This took, oh, twenty minutes or so, while I sat idly by, thinking about pizza, and chatting with the Iranian and French people putting their clothes back on and announcing their estimates of how many more times they would visit the U.S.

It felt rather strange to be flying to Canada to visit Europe, but it just happened that Air Canada had given us an amazing deal--so much so that the clerk at check in sighed in disbelief at the price we had paid for our tickets. That made us feel good. We felt slightly less good when we found ourselves in a little puddle-jumper airplane with about fourteen other people crammed into it like parents in desks at the kindergarten open house. We practically had to check our shoes as oversized luggage.

The plane took off and admirably carried us up, up, and away from Europe. But we were fine with that--we knew we were taking the new Air Canada financial tunnel. Whatever gets you where you want to go in one piece and with enough money for pizza is okay with me, I say.

A view of Castle Island, South Boston, from above

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