Oggebbio, Italy. Last week I was sitting at my usual lakeside perch reading Susan Sontag's historical novel The Volcano Lover when I learned that a real, live, ash-spewing volcano had just erupted near Eyjafjallajökull, an Icelandic glacier named after a typing error (ha, kidding). What timing, I thought, for I had just read the following when I heard the news:
"Watch out. Cover your mouth with a cloth. Duck! A night-time ascent of a moderately, punctually active volcano is one of the great excursions. After the trudge up the side of the cone, we stand on the crater's lip (yes, lip) and peer down, waiting for the burning innermost core to disport itself. As it does, every twelve minutes. Not too close! It's starting. We hear a basso-profundo gurgling, the crust of grey slag begins to grow. The giant is about to exhale. And the suffocating sulphur stench is unbearable, almost. Lava pools but does not overflow. Fiery rocks and cinders soar, not very high. The danger, when not too dangerous, fascinates."
Since I'm not in a hurry to be anywhere this week, and removed from the immediate effects, the Icelandic volcano fiasco has been kind of fascinating. Of course, my perspective is quite different from that of the frantic millions stranded across Europe and the airlines who are losing about 200 million dollars a day. My attitude is more akin to that of a tornado chasers or thrill seekers, the photographers, makers of documentaries, and persons fascinated by the strange and incredible things nature can do. Volcano lovers like Sontag's Cavaliere can look from a distance, watching "the ultimate spectacle." Sontag describes a grand volcanic eruption in her novel:
"The plume of white smoke, the rumbling often compared to a distant roll of timpani: overture. Then the colossal show begins, the plume reddens, bloats, soars, a tree of ash that climbs higher, higher, until it flattens out under the weight of the stratosphere... -hours, days of this. Then, calando, it subsides. But up close, fear churns the guts. This noise, this gagging noise, it's something you could never imagine, cannot take in. A steady pour of grainy, titanically thunderous sound that seems always to be mounting in volume yet cannot possibly be any louder than it already is; a sky-wide ear-inundating vomitous roar that flushes the marrow out of your bones and topples your soul."
I hope all flights will resume soon and another cloud of ash will not disrupt further travel. It will likely be very bad news if it does. For now let's be hopeful, and if you're stuck somewhere or taking a little ship ride, give Sontag's The Volcano Lover a try. It's witty, well-written, and very entertaining, not to mention, topical. Also, if you're interested, there are some photos of the volcano here.