Thanks to the Volcano, an Escape from the Jet Age

From the New York Times, a great editorial on the volcanic-ash-cloud-induced flight cancellations in Europe by Seth Stevenson, who recently circumnavigated the globe with his girlfriend – without air travel.

Governments, businesses and most travelers, irritated by disrupted itineraries and worried about lost productivity, are delighted to see planes back in the sky. But I, for one, wish this blessedly jet-free interlude could have continued a little longer. In the eccentric, ground-level adventures of some stranded passengers — 700-mile taxi rides through Scandinavia, for instance, perhaps a horse-drawn stagecoach over the Alps if things got really desperate — I’m reminded of the romance we trade away each time we shuffle aboard an airplane.

In the five decades or so since jets became the dominant means of long-haul travel, the world has benefited immeasurably from the speed and convenience of air travel. But as Orson Welles intoned in “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The faster we’re carried, the less time we have to spare.” Indeed, airplanes’ accelerated pace has infected nearly every corner of our lives. Our truncated vacation days and our crammed work schedules are predicated on the assumption that everyone will fly wherever they’re going, that anyone can go great distances and back in a very short period of time.

So we are condemned to keep riding on airplanes. Which is not really traveling. Airplanes are a means of ignoring the spaces in between your point of origin and your destination. By contrast, a surface journey allows you to look out on those spaces — at eye level and on a human scale, not peering down through breaks in the clouds from 35,000 feet above — from the observation car of a rolling train or the deck of a gently bobbing ship. Surface transport can be contemplative, picturesque and even enchanting in a way that air travel never will be.

Thanks to the Volcano, an Escape from the Jet Age [Seth Stevenson]

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