Friday, November 17, 2006

GETTING THERE

Flying from Frankfurt to Cairo takes longer than expected, even with the airline itinerary and the times spelled out.

In other centuries our rapid global transits would have been unthinkable. “Keep a sense of perspective,” I mutter. “It’s plain ungrateful to complain, even if it’s just to myself, about a few hours.” Once, getting there was both the challenge and the reward. “Once” there was no choice in modes of travel. “Once” is the governing word.

What if … what if I had to make the trip on transport available in the fourteenth century, the tenth, or even the nineteenth? Just imagine setting out to see the world on horseback or in a wagon without springs or bailing a leaky boat.

For a moment the pleasures of two or three hours on a well-trained horse and a comfortable saddle come to mind. Horseback travel provides plenty of time to look around, to enjoy the scenery and see the detail. There’s the smell of sun-warmed grass, of hoof-bruised herbs, of dried pine needles … none of this recycled plane air. It could be heaven. Until the rain pours down or the snow flies, until the horse bucks or a wheel comes off the wagon. Thinking of the negatives brings on avoidance syndrome and an instinct to stay home. No wonder in previous centuries the average person never moved more than five miles from home.

So, I’m out to see the world, squeezed into a seat measuring one foot by one foot. Visualizing the six hundred miles between Billings and Denver as equivalent to the Frankfurt-Cairo leg of my travel and wishing it would go as fast. To each generation, each culture its own rewards and complaints.

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