I have worked in twenty countries, visited more than forty. In some I have lived weeks or months, in others years. This does not happen without travel, in fact an enormous amount of travel. In car and bus, in plane and train, I have gone round the globe, consulting and lecturing, shaking hands and cocktails, bowing to customs and tripping on traditions, dispensing unsolicited advice and much-solicited visas, making friends and trying to influence all kinds: congressmen and crooks, statesmen and sharks, businessmen and bigmouths, windbags and wallflowers.
True I have traveled a lot. I have traveled for work or to visit friends and family. Or traveled with friends who loved travel. Given half a chance I would rather meet them in my living room or on the back-yard deck. I am glad to drive ten minutes to the French café or the Italian restaurant in the neighborhood. That is the limit of my preferred zone. I can blissfully think of a fragrant bakery in Cairo or jaunty teashop in Kolkata, but the idea of actually making the physical move to those sites fills me with foreboding.
Imagine the reality of travel today. Gone are the friendly travel agents who booked you to Port au Prince or any other port by the best route at the best price and insulated you from the misery of searching six travel sites to find a decent trip at a moderate cost. Then you drive, in murderous traffic, to the airport and locate the less-gouging parking lot. Walk up, usually some distance, to join a dispiritingly long line, to check in and deliver your suitcase. Now you graduate to a longer line for security check. You take off your shoes, unfasten your belt and hold on to your trousers, and, in that precarious state, offload the content of your pockets in a bin. To avoid the wrath of the edgy, irate woman behind you, you better load your handbag – remembering to separate your computer – promptly on the rail, and walk into a humiliating ballet in a kiosk and an invidious body search.
Of course, there are hardier souls who take these travails in their stride and ply a trade in which travel is a regular occurrence. I admire their rocky constitution and granite heart, but have no vaulting ambition to emulate their hardihood.