Friday, 20 January 2012

The Eyjafjallajokull Blues: Stuck in Stockholm, Journal, April 22, 2010

The day the article below appeared on the front page of the Chronicle Journal, friends emailed me to sarcastically express sympathy. "Oh, poor you. Stuck in horrible Stockholm." Yes, Venice of the North. Although I did see a few of the 75 museums and more than a couple movies, I was worried. 

2010 article     The British Navy is sending ships to France to rescue the stranded. John Cleese of Monty Python spent five thousand dollars on a cab ride. People are still sleeping at airports. Tens of thousands of people can’t afford to stay in hotels any longer. The Aviation Industry is losing 200 million dollars a day. Leaders of countries can’t travel and neither can athletes, musicians, business executives, girl guides and touring school children. Trains and ferries are booked solid. Students need to get to school. Kids need to be with their parents. People have jobs to start and return to, and a number of people couldn’t get married. Food will soon rot in warehouses. Farmers, and businesses up the food chain all over the world could soon be bankrupt. Mail can’t be delivered.
     Last Thursday, an email from my friend in Finland, Anna, warned that airports in Northern Sweden were closing. Anna is a reporter I met in Thunder Bay when she worked for the Finish newspaper, the Canadan Sanomat. Immediately after my interview with a publisher at 13:00, I booked a flight to Dusseldorf on Air Baltic’s website and quickly got to the airport. An hour later, while at the head of the line at the gate, our flight was cancelled. On Saturday, my flight with Delta Airlines from Amsterdam to Minneapolis was cancelled.
      I Google stories about the effects of the ash clouds spewing from the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland, because the stories remind me of how lucky I am. I’m single, so I don’t have to worry about anyone except my cat. I’m self-employed, so I can work on my laptop. I’m in Stockholm in a nice B&B that is cheaper than a hotel, but twice as expensive as a hostel, (I cut a deal with the hotel manager). Earlier in my travels, I made a couple friends who are now offering me their spare room in Holland. And I have some money in the bank. I’m thinking positively.
      However, I don’t want to dig into savings that were hard to get. Staying in a hotel is expensive. There’s a possibility that I may not get refunded by two airlines. If the volcano keeps spewing ash, or truly explodes, it may be along time before a flight. I will have to consider the option of a boat ride back to Canada and a flight to Thunder Bay from wherever the boat berths.
Or, because I am also a European citizen, I can rent an apartment, and look for a job. All the while, I’m still paying for rent on my apartment in Thunder Bay, so I may have to get friends to put all my stuff into storage. To make matters worse, I’m an artist. I have no way of telling what my income will be from month to month. Grant money that I received from the Ontario Arts Council is supposed to be used for writing and illustrating my next children’s book, The Girl from the Moon. This volcano could set me back months.
      So what am I doing here? I have been in Europe a month now after attending the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy to find a new publisher. I’ve dumped my current publisher, and I hope I never have to work with another corrupt Canadian publisher. (But this is another story.) My plan was to meet publishers at the fair, and then have time to visit the publishers on their home turf. This took me to Leipzig and Stockholm for the actual interviews. Along the way I stopped in Vienna, Berlin, and Helsinki.
     In Stockholm, my Swedish, French and Italian roommates at the B&B also had their flights cancelled. After three days of expectation, they lost faith in the airline’s daily offerings of hopeful updates. They thought my situation worse because I have an ocean to cross. I told them I was now pretending to be on vacation, and joked that I might start a novel. They joked that Iceland misunderstood the message, “We want cash, not ash!”
     My roommates had little interest in the actual volcano. They focused on reports from the airlines, the industry’s troubles and passenger woes. I related what I’d learned about the abrasiveness of ash, NASA flight tests, and the history of volcanoes on Iceland, specifically the one causing problems and the potential for an even bigger volcano eruption with Katla. This would truly be devastating. To them I was a naysayer and doom-monger. I thought I was being realistic. Even if Eyjafjallajokull sputters out tonight, the ash cloud has to dissipate and the airlines have to reorganize themselves. It might be a week or two before I get another flight home. If however – and this seems more likely – the volcano continues to spew ash into the sky, me and a whole lot of other people, many in very dire situations, will have to make a few big decisions.
     Friday and Saturday the trains were booked. My roommates opted to join others on crowded buses and trains. They left this morning.

     I decided to wait a couple days after the weekend in an attempt to avoid long lines and crowds at the train station. I may leave tomorrow for Holland, but the manager here just offered me an even better deal on the hotel bill, if I pay in kronor. That’s cash, not ash.

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