Volker Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images
A passenger sleeps as he waits for the resumption of air travel at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, as a high-altitude cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland spreads over Europe.
A passenger sleeps as he waits for the resumption of air travel at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, as a high-altitude cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland spreads over Europe. Volker Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images
Susan Jane Gilman's latest book is the memoir Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. She is the author of the best-selling Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and Kiss My Tiara.
So here in Europe right now, everybody thinks it's the apocalypse. The sun may be out, but chaos is spreading across the Continent.
And the culprit, again, is Iceland. It's almost as if the island itself is taking revenge: "You thought those 'Icesave' bank accounts wreaked global havoc? Ha! Wait 'til you see this!"
One little volcano is erupting, and now all of Western Europe is paralyzed. Airports are shutting down domino-style. People everywhere are stuck: Aid workers returning from Nairobi. Business people en route from Singapore. Brits on holiday in Napa. Yanks honeymooning in Paris. Families are separated. And folks can't even go on vacation! (Cue the violins: Here, this is a tragedy. Vacations are sacrosanct.)
Travelers are camped out inside airports, waiting on interminable lines, cramming themselves into high-speed trains, renting cars, hunting down hotels. They're being given conflicting reports: Clear the airports; your flights have been canceled. No, stay put! Otherwise, insurance companies won't reimburse you.
Francois Bourru/Courtesy of Susan Jane Gilman
Author Susan Jane Gilman lives in Geneva.
And though few have elaborated on this publicly yet, one can only imagine what the economic impact will be of having thousands of planes grounded — and commerce at a standstill — for days on end. The effect could be more damaging to the world than Iceland's financial meltdown.
Parallels here are being drawn, however, between the cloud of volcanic ash and Sept. 11. Not since that fateful day has so much global traffic ground to a halt. For the European media, the news has been — dare I say — a windfall. Updates, like the ash plume itself, are changing hourly. Granted, the ash cloud does not yet have its own graphics or musical theme as it undoubtedly would in America. But fabulously Armageddonish footage is being shown over and over of gray-black ash clouds billowing menacingly into the sky.
It's something to see. Or rather, it might be in real life, if it weren't so hazy here in Geneva already. I suppose I should be worried. No one knows when the volcano will stop erupting. Unlike Iceland's bankruptcy, of course, this catastrophe can't be contained by an emergency measure or government overhaul. We're all being humbled here. We're all being reminded of our true helplessness — and of who's really in charge of this planet.
My husband himself is schedule to fly on Monday. Irony of ironies: Guess where he's supposed to be going? Asheville, N.C. You can't make this stuff up.