Returning from Vacation … in Circles & Zigzags (Oct. 2002)

When I last traveled three months ago, instead of flying in a straight line the airplane back from Europe zig-zagged all the way down the East Coast of the United States. Now, I asked the flight attendant, why are we circling instead? The on-screen map was showing the plane turning in loops. It’s to slow down as Washington Dulles airport isn’t ready for us yet due to heavy traffic.

“I feel sick,” I complained to anyone who listened. I’m normally never such a wimp, but after 10 ½ hours in the air I’d had enough. Everyone else was complaining too, Italian style. It’s was a rude welcome back “home.”

When I left on 10 September, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had ordered the arming of surface-to-air missiles launchers placed around DC in preparation for any unforeseen events during the 9-11 anniversary. In Europe I visited a number of castles with my family during our vacation in Spain, France and Italy: big, small, restored, ruined, on hill tops, along rivers…all equipped with ramparts, towers, gates & all manner of innovation to deter intruders and attackers. And yet still they fell. Will there be a day when tourists gawk at the ruins that were once DC?

How will the fall of the American Empire be told? On the plane, I read an article on neocolonialism by the US: Invade w. all the latest weapons & firepower, rebuild using American products & services, and depart leaving the country economically, politically, socially dependent on the “big guy.” I’m more familiar with the British Empire, coming from one of the realm’s more successful products of colonial rule. Late last century the UK also cobbled together Iraq, from three distinct sections of the Ottoman Empire: Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’ite. Will Iraq still be intact after a U.S. intervention?

The magazine I’m reading is packed with stories on Iraq: Saddam’s eccentricities, brutalities and atrocities. Just as Afghanistan formed the main media curriculum in late 2001, now Iraq is topic of the day. Coming after a month’s absence from my DC diet of the New York Times and Washington Post, it’s all a bit much to take.

My stomach is also churning from a steady diet of rich, indulgent “slow” foods, like truffles, wild boar, forest mushrooms, and salami made from every animal and animal part imaginable. And I didn’t even touch the alcohol. I’ll remember the bottle labels better having seen them in their local contexts: Corbieres, Chianti, Montepulciano, Brunello, Orvieto…

I wonder about my life in DC. How much has my kitten grown? (A lot it turns out.) Are my plants still alive? (Barely.) Have the leaves in my park changed colour yet? (Not a chance!) What’s the deal with the suburban sniper?

I contemplate my crazy travel schedule for the coming six months and my stomach growls as the plane turns, and turns again like a cat chasing its tail or Bush pursuing Bin Laden. Or is he now steadily zig-zagging toward Iraq?