Will I ever feel normal again? My back aches and the desire for sleep, even after a full fourteen hours of sleep overnight seems so close. I feel as if I could sleep forever. States of mind like this make me wonder whether all this traveling is worthwhile. Not only do you lose time in travel, you also lose time in recovery. It would not be so bad if we had a week or so to get over the disorientation but we do not.
Bill lost his glasses in Singapore, in Changi airport, terminal two, somewhere near the E gate exit where we came off the plane from Munich. By then we had only been traveling for some fourteen hours and waiting around for the next plane to fly us to Melbourne. The time difference between France and Singapore is nine hours, between France and Australia it is ten hours, hence the disorientation.
We came back from our trip overseas on Friday, arriving in Melbourne at 4.45 am. Although I had aimed to stay awake all day that day in order to overcome the jetlag, I could not. I had to sleep for a few hours in the morning. Finally we went to bed that night at ten in the evening and I did not get out of bed until eleven am. I could have slept longer. I scarcely struggled with jet lag at all when I had arrived in Italy over two weeks ago now, after one very long night’s sleep from 10 pm to 11 am the next day I was fine, but it is worse arriving home.
I find the business of travelling so stressful. From the moment I set foot in the airport I go into a sort of trance like state in readiness for all the waiting that goes on. You wait in queues to book in your luggage and get your seat allocation. You wait in queues to get onto the plane. Throughout the flight itself you wait for the trolley to arrive at your seat with a serving of the most awful food, only because it’s a way of killing time, and the business of eating aeroplane food is a way of distracting yourself from the inability to get comfortable. I can never sleep on a plane. I only ever doze at best.
We left Paris proper at 4pm to catch a flight that was due to leave at 7.10pm. The flight was delayed until after eight, which caused us to panic. We feared we would miss our connecting flight to Singapore. As it was we two and another woman traveling to Singapore were rushed off the plane as soon as it landed in Munich and led across the airport at breakneck speed by an assistant in order to catch our plane from Munich to Singapore on time. This plane then left Munich around 9.40 pm and arrived in Singapore at 3.20 pm the next day, Thursday. We sat on the plane for twelve and a half hours but somehow during that flight we lost all the time that exists as we crossed the International Date Line.
I do not understand these things, nor does my body. It’s like being stretched brain wise and body wise. You no longer feel hungry. You eat out of some sense that you should be hungry. During the long trip the aeroplane attendants offer two meals, of sorts, breakfast and dinner, then while waiting in the airports we might eat something else, mostly a bread roll or some such thing that generally costs as much as a three course meal in a normal restaurant. I exaggerate, but it’s true, for some reason food in the airports tastes terrible by and large and costs a huge amount relative to what you would normally pay elsewhere. A dried out chicken wrap that has been sitting in a bain Marie all day can cost as much as eight dollars when it’s not worth much more than two. A cup of coffee costs around five dollars, a bottle of water the same. I think it has to do with the hours the airport cafes keep. They need to stay open for flying public, I imagine, so staff costs must be high and also they have a captive market. Once you are in the airport there’s nowhere else you can eat. It is like the cost of buying sweets and popcorn at picture theatres.
My brain is not working properly, hence all the boring details from the business of traveling. It hardly seems worth it, when you are in transit and in the days recovering from jet lag. Of course it does have its advantages but most of them get lost on me. I do enjoy seeing the places I have read about in books, French architecture, the green shutters on the windows in Italy, these are just a couple of things that come to mind, but for me nothing compares with the familiarity of home, even in the freezing cold of winter. I am such a creature of habit. Often I felt disappointed in things like the taste coffee, like the absence of vegetables with my meals in Paris and the general dirtiness of the streets. Dog shit everywhere.
I am ashamed of my difficulties with travel, with my wish to stay at home. I should be more like others, more like Bill who longs to see other lands, who longs to savour other tastes, to experience all things foreign. While I was away I read Maria Tumarkin’s book called Courage. Like Tumarkin, I know something of the foreignness of my upbringing, what it felt like at school to be a stranger in a strange land, not so much the oddity of the contents of my lunch box – I never had a lunch box – but the messy clothes, the unkempt hair, the feeling of not belonging at school, of not fitting in with the other children in the classroom, my memories of primary school, my longing to be at home with my sisters and brothers, with all things familiar, where we could play uninterrupted for hours. Though by secondary school it had all turned around – Vaucluse became the place I longed to be and home, the enemy territory.
Here in Italy, in the town centre, they have a necropoli, a notice board where they include names and details of the local recently dead. I wanted to take a photo of someone by the name of Giuseppe who died at 37 years, and of Fulvio who died at 77. Forty years between them, one a young man, the other old. What stories could they tell?
We stayed in Italy in a place called Teolo. On my first morning there I slept late till 11.15 am, overwhelmed with jet lag but thereafter every morning I was the first to wake. This proved a small problem for me. Every morning when I woke up I left the room that Bill and I shared in a separate section of the complex and walked around to the main house where the others slept only to find it locked, green shutters drawn. I could not get inside the main house even to get a cup of tea. The frustration of being locked out was all part of the group experience, I reasoned. It was hard to have a holiday with a group of eight and sometimes nine people, if you include little Leo, ten, when only one of the group, our daughter Tessa, we knew well enough to be ourselves. It must have been hard on Tim’s family too, his parents, his brother Jorn and Jorn’s girlfriend, Olga. Jorn liked to practise his English with us. He had spent a year in Canada, but the others had to work hard to communicate with us, and we with them, despite all ur goodwill towards one another.
Leo at twenty months, his second trip to Europe, the first when he was three months old, was unwell too, with Tonsillitis that he first seemed to get over on antibiotics. But he hated to take his medication. He hated to share his parents it seemed with all the extra people. He carried the stress for all of us. All of us in this foreign land where not too many people spoke English or German. So it was an intellectual exercise much of the time, having to think hard about what words to use.
The landscape had its compensations. The green of the fruit trees, already bearing fruit, mulberry, plums and apples, conventional fruits, the grey green leaves of the olive trees, the chestnuts and walnuts that surrounded the country villa and the green grass everywhere. The days were hot, around 30 degrees at the height of the day with a light breeze that seemed to be with us constantly, and humidity was high. Again European heat is different from Australian heat.
On these mornings as I sat outside at the table and longed for a cup of tea, I read and wrote. The locked shutters seemed a very Italian concept – to block out the noise, the light, the mosquitoes. It was effective but once sealed the villa was like a fortress and all those on the outside, thieves and honest people, were locked out.
I am trying so hard to resist the desire to go back to sleep. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and I want nothing more than sleep, but I must resist. This jet lag is dreadful. I resent the way I feel, the tiredness, the inability to concentrate, the boring quality of this writing. It’s like a long mantra of regrets. Why can’t I sleep when I want to sleep and be awake when I want wakefulness? This is jet lag. I resent it; I resent the whole business of traveling overseas when it takes so long to recover. I feel as if some part of my life has been stolen from me.
Even now as I write the tiredness engulfs me but I force myself on. I want my brain back. I feel so ill tempered, ready to snap at any minute.
The dog is chewing at a cardboard box underneath my desk. I could kick him.
‘Ralph. Stop. Stop.’ He ignores me and keeps on chewing. It’s an old cardboard shoebox and holds the contents of last years tax details. At least he doesn’t chew on them, but the edge of the cardboard box itself is already chewed to shreds.
“Ralph. Get away.’ Still he ignores me. Enough of my complaining.