We awoke to a wonderfully dreary London morning and were greeted by an English breakfast of fried eggs, fatty bacon, and cold toast. I absorbed the toast and several cups of coffee, while Susanne nursed herself over a bowl of cornflakes and some juice. After eating, we packed up our bags, checked out, and caught the tube to Victoria Station. It was just before 9am and we barely caught the top-of-the-hour train to Gatwick, which was good news because workers on the train tracks had cut trips to only one an hour and extended the usually 30-minute trip to over 45 minutes.
At Gatwick we had a brief scare when the British Air rep said Susanne's name wasn't in the computer. After a few seconds of Susanne's evil eye, the man promptly produced a boarding pass and apologized to her. Inside the terminal, we grabbed our first fountain sodas in over two weeks and split a blackcurrant scone. We had a few minutes in duty free shop before Susanne's flight was called for boarding. I walked with her as far as I could until a security man tried to shuffle her into the closed off gate area. We looked at him and said we'd like to say goodbye to each other first, and he just stood there, looking like we'd just shake hands and that'd be that. After a moment or so he got the hint when other passengers started to laugh, so he handed back Susanne's ticket.
We walked a bit off to the side and made our goodbyes as quick as possible, for in the five years we've known each other, whether we were dating at the time or not, we have never been quite good at saying goodbye in relative haste. And knowing that we'd probably see each other in January or February, that made it a lot easier, so we hugged, kissed, and Susanne headed back to the man who wanted to shuffle her into the gate. I went back to the main terminal to buy Drambuie and a case of ale at the duty free shop. After marking two minutes of silence with the rest of the UK for Remembrance Day, I entered the gate and awaited my flight.
It's now past 4pm UK time and I've been on the flight for about four hours. If all goes well, I should be in Baltimore in another three hours, and if I'm lucky, my roommates will remember to pick me up, or I'll have to catch the 45-minute Amtrak ride into DC.
When we started this journey over two weeks ago, Susanne said, 'We'll be traveling together for 17 days. That's more than half a month! How did we pull off over half a month of vacation?' At the time I thought 17 days would seem like an eternity away from home, away from work, away from the day-to-day goings-on of world events, away from responsibility. But as all vacations do, this trip went by all too quickly, for part of me feels like Susanne said her 17 days ago comment to me only yesterday.
Yet at the same time, we accomplished so much in this trip that it almost feels like we would have needed months just to cover the ground and events we've encountered. Cairo, for example, seems as a distant memory, though I was there a scant two weeks ago today. So much has transpired within these 17 days, I fear that I may be unable to remember all of the sights, smells and sounds that made up this journey. Fortunately, this journal, as well as the several hundred pictures we took collectively, will perpetually revive those sensations I experienced whenever I choose to see or read them.
This trip was also full of surprises, some good and some dreadful. We never planned to visit Amman, for instance, yet the insistence of our shy, but kind hotel manager in Wadi Musa made us reexamine our itinerary for the better and to go there before Jerusalem. And we were also stunned by the news of Yitzhak Rabin's death, news that if we hadn't stopped in Amman, we would have heard either in Jerusalem or at the Allenby Bridge border crossing. In a sense, our trip can be divided into two distinct halves - Before the Assassination and After the Assassination. For the first week, our trip was a true holiday full of aimless wandering and adventures, completely devoid of any sense that trouble was brewing. And though I consider myself to be quite aware of the nuances and history of Mideast politics, I could have never dreamed that such a cruel and unprecedented turn of events would occur while we were visiting there.
Part of me wishes that we had visited Israel first, so that we could have experienced the country and it peoples as it exists day-to-day, without the spectre of tragedy looming over our every move. Yet at the same time, I feel we experienced a nation at its finest, congregating at Kikar Yitzhak Rabin, where they lit candles, sang songs of hope, wrote messages of grief, and came together as one in the hopes of finding a way to move on as best as possible.
Admittedly, I expected this trip to involve periods of introspection - as an American Jew traveling in the Mideast, it would be next to impossible for me to not ponder the significance of it all. But having experienced the death of Rabin, standing at the Western Wall, as the sirens sounded the moment of silence in honor of him, I see that my expectations paled in comparison to the thoughts, emotions, and images provoked by this event.
I don't want to start rambling here, but as tragic as this time was for the state of Israel, I am proud to have experienced it firsthand. It has also furthered my belief and resolve that peace must be achieved in the Middle East, no matter what the price, and that Palestinian sovereignty and legitimate concessions to the Syrians are the only way of attaining that peace. We American Jews have spent too much of the last generation blaming Yassir Arafat and his supporters for Israel's woes, while we have ignored the Ariel Sharons and the Meir Kahanes that have lead Jewish identity in the Mideast on a destructive, often racist path. I fear that in the near future there may be civil war in Israel, or at least, an all-out war of attrition of Jew against Jew. I truly hope for all of our sakes that this never comes to pass, but as I hear the hateful rhetoric and sea the actions of the Jewish far-right, I fear their absolutist doctrine might make this path impossible to avoid.
And now, here I am, 30,000 feet over Greenland, listening to Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks and Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horns and Strings, as Sandra Bullock races around silently in front of me in the airplane screening of The Net. Tomorrow at this time, I'll be at work, catching up on hundreds of email messages, wondering when I'll get the chance to take off more time for another round of travel treks.
All journeys must come to an end, as must all journals. It's hard to believe that the trip is over and I've reached my 100th handwritten page, but I have. At least I can find solace in the fact that I know there will always be other adventures to be had, other stories to flesh out, and other memories to be made. The trick is getting the guts to go out and make them happen.
And as soon as we've paid off our bills and rack up more vacation time, I'm sure we will again do just that.
End of Journal
12 November 1995