Editor’s note: This column continues Dr. Pisetsky’s saga to travel home to the U.S. from a rheumatology meeting in Europe after the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupted. We continue here with the van ride from Nice, France, to Madrid, Spain.
At 9 p.m. on the Saturday night after the volcano erupted, we took our dinner break at a truck stop in Spain. The sandwiches were remarkably tasty. The Spanish are wizards with jamon and, for Americans used to washing down a roadside dinner with a Big Gulp, San Miquel on tap or a small bottle of Sangre De Toro was a great treat. There was even an espresso machine that our truck stop barrista used to make cappuccinos. All was not well, however, since the restaurant was filled with a thick cloud of cigarette smoke that looked a lot nastier than the ash cloud that was supposedly jeopardizing Nice.
After dinner, I went next door to a convenience store to restock our supplies. When I entered the store, I was greeted by the shrill blast of a radio as the play-by-play announcer narrated a soccer match in a furious and overcharged way. Soccer broadcasts in Spanish—you know, GOOOOLLLLL!!!!—are a revelation to Americans used to the languid pace of baseball where a spit, windup, and pitch can consume an hour or two. Soccer broadcasting is hot stuff. Even a simple pass is described with the passion of a close play at the plate. I was amused to see that a major cookie company in Spain is called Bimbo.
The next part of the trip was quiet as another game of Geography fizzled after a promising start with Barcelona. The more technologically connected among us kept us informed of our location and the meanderings of the ash. Someone joked about a Mayan prediction for the end of the world in 2012. With knowledge that a dark cloud could block out the sun for serious global cooling, I was not sure that this was a matter of levity, even if one of our jokesters said it would be tough on any remaining dinosaurs.
We then entered a mountainous region and, as the terrain became rugged, our driver Salvatore eased off the pedal. In the ascent over the mountains, we hit a dense fog that slowed us down to 10 kilometers an hour. I must confess I felt a certain anxiety about the visibility and probably would have felt much more if I knew that, next to the road, a precipice dropped sharply.