Al hamdulillah. Thank God. Thanks also to Royal Air Maroc, which got us back to Brussels yesterday from Tangier, just as Belgian air space was opening to allow a few flights to land. Our flight from Morocco was on schedule, and the scene at Tangier's shiny new airport was a picture of calm. We didn't realize how lucky we were - TV cameras were on hand at Brussels to record horror stories from travelers who had been stranded for days. Whereas we were just returning on our planned day and flight. Lucky us.
House guests in the medina of Tangier (of which more in a coming post), looking out onto the Strait of Gibraltar and across to Spain, we knew that we at least had options - ferry, train, bus - that the poor travelers stuck in airports did not. But the feeling that the entire continent to the north, and the incessant flow of planes across the Atlantic, had come to an almost complete halt was eerie, a bit like the oppressive atmosphere of On The Beach, Nevil Shute's post apocalyptic novel turned into a classic film in 1959.
In On The Beach, the cloud of course is invisible nuclear fallout, and the refuge - only temporary, which gives book and especially film a sense of "après nous, le Déluge" - is Australia. The rest of the Southern hemisphere has already succumbed to the radiation.
The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano may be a natural phenomenon, but its effect on the airline industry and the rest of the world economy that is linked to this vital means of moving people and things has brought images of apocalypse to TV screens worldwide. Whether it's your airmail letter delayed or misrouted, your rose farm in Kenya wilting in the sun, or your vacation plans ruined, the effect of this spewing spoiler is universal. The AP has a good economic roundup.
Questions are already being raised - in a way that no amount of lecturing on air travel's effect on climate has done - over the viability of an economic model that can be grounded by almost invisible dust. Great Britain's launching of Royal Navy ships to help repatriate its citizens has heroic echoes of Dunkirk, but the real long term solution to this vulnerability will be less photogenic. More telecommuting, better rail/air regional hubs, and better coordination than a five day delay by European transport ministers in dialing up a conference call.
We're not yet "On the Beach," helplessly waiting for the cloud to descend upon us. It is not, as the French title of the film goes, "Le Dernier Rivage."