I looked up and smiled as the lights started to swim. It was a few hours after landing, and I appeared to be at a small round table on the street outside a busy brasserie somewhere in Montparnasse. My movements leading up to that point completely escape me– I think there was a cab ride, I must have checked into a hotel because I had no bags with me, and I’d apparently successfully ordered dinner. The closely corralled crowd around me was babbling cheerfully, and a waitress with a lovely, bare, and extravagantly tattooed back was taking orders, snakes and vines writhing as she twisted between tables. At this point a dignified lady of a certain age glided to a nearby seat, fitted a cigarette into its holder and sat and smoked luxuriously. The smoke mingled with her perfume, the snakes and the wine and the jet lag started to conspire, and the night caught fire.
In a post long ago, I gave jet lag a fairly hard time, and after weeks of no sleep, it absolutely deserved it. But freshly infected, it brings on a gentle languid dream state that’s impossible to reproduce without travel. Time is a number on a dial, it has no bearing now; who knows how long it’s been dark, minutes or hours, it doesn’t matter, there are still happy smiling people all around me, eating, drinking, laughing; there’s nothing to do but get amongst it. An ethereal sommelier whispered in my ear, recommending I pair my fresh jet lag with a bottle of something red and muscular.
I’ve always liked Science Fiction writer William Gibson’s theory that our souls haven’t evolved with modern technology, and simply can’t travel as fast as an aeroplane; jet lag is my soul catching up with me, “being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought me…” Somewhere miles above my table, my baffled soul looked down and watched me watching my neighbours and frantically collected itself. My choice of a plate-sized steak and too much red wine was a way to coax it down, to welcome it back to the corporeal world.
After dinner I walked aimlessly, following the action. I found a street of open-air tiki bars, flaming torches flaring in my dazed eyes; I stopped for a Calvados at a busy, slightly down-at-heel bar, tried a few words of the language, listened to the voices, smelled the smells– immersion the only cure for the soul-shock of reentry. Somehow I found my way back to my hotel, my notoriously bad sense of direction picking up its game in this unfamiliar and dazzling night. Unconsciousness– for the last few hours tiptoeing around the periphery, biding its time– took its cue and wiped me out, perfume and tiki drinks and tattooed backs visiting me in the depths.
The first night’s always the best– this feeling won’t last. The ‘lag has let me have my fun, and will slowly turn the knife in the coming nights. You can’t beat it; you can only ride the ride.