Yes, I've been away. Physically far away, and also silent for some time in order to process recent events, because I didn't want to add unhelpful words to the torrent. But now, we're back, and I'll gradually add some photographs and entries from the journal I kept during the first two weeks of November, when we were in Rome - as it turns out, an entirely appropriate place from which to witness history, and try to record one's own impressions.
November 3, 2016 7:15 am
Jonathan adjusts the electronic window shade in the Boeing 787 and the sun comes up. We're just about to cross Ireland and head out over St. George's Channel en route to London. I've slept at least two hours and feel fairly good as the cabin crew comes around with coffee, tea, muffins. But for the last hour I've been listening to Simon Rattle and the Weiner Philharmoniker play Beethoven's 5th. Earlier in the flight I'd listened to the 1st and 3rd symphonies, but now, after some sleep, and closer to Europe, I feel like hearing the 5th again.
It is, in a word, perfect: the storms of war, the foreboding beginning, the turmoil of the incredible third movement, and finally the resolution and hopefulness of the 4th. I pull off the headphones, shaking my head. This is a touchstone for me, this overplayed work of absolute genius. I rarely listen to it on purpose - of course we all encounter it on the radio, in the background - but when I actually do, each time there is something revelatory. Ten years ago, when Kent Nagano had first come to direct the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, he did the full Beethoven cycle, and I heard the 5th one night from a seat on the side of the balcony: the live performance, very beautifully played, made me feel I had never really heard it before. And now, Rattle's early recording makes me listen hard again to Beethoven's commentary on the anxiety of his own times, during this week of our anxiety, and reminds me that the human spirit survives in spite of everything.
London, 11:30 am
The flight arrives late at Heathrow, and we have only an hour to change terminals, go through security yet again, and get to our gate. We're waiting for the train that ferries passengers between terminals when I realize that I've left my jacket, the only outerwear I've brought on the trip, under the airplane seat. I decide to head back, agreeing to meet J. at the departure gate. He leaves on the train, and I discover that it's impossible to go back: the doors only open one way, but I remember that there are customer service stations for arriving passengers with connections, so I head up the escalator, berating myself for my stupidity. The British Airways agent calls the arrival gate and explains the problem. "Go on through security," she tells me, "or you'll miss your flight. When you arrive at the gate, have them call again, and we'll hope that someone can meet you there."
I calm down, and go through the required process, find the gate for the afternoon flight to Rome, and ask the boarding attendant to make the call. She does, and suggests that I sit near the desk to wait: "They have the jacket," she says, "and they'll send someone over, but we're going to be boarding soon, so sit close to the desk so we can find you if they get here in time..."
Then I look in the crowded waiting area for J., who should have arrived well ahead of me. But he isn't anywhere to be seen. There's no message on my phone. I send a text; I call but his voicemail picks up; I walk around a little, getting worried. They're calling the flight, but he's nowhere to be seen. Just then a young man arrives at the desk with a black parcel under his arm - it's my jacket! I greet him gratefully and sign a form, and then begin scanning the thinning crowd again. When almost everyone has boarded I see J. hurrying toward the gate, looking disheveled. "My prescription skin medication triggered the scanner, and they totally disassembled me," he said. "My phone and computer had been shunted off along with the carry-on, so I couldn't call you." So much for our decision to take only carry-on luggage! But we pull ourselves together, show our boarding passes, and get on the plane, hoping that all the glitches are now behind us. In a few minutes we're airborne, and soon over the mountains: when we cross them, it will be Italy, for the first time in my life.