Jet Lag 2013

… [Cayce’s] mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.

– William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

I know how Cayce feels. After crossing thirteen time zones west to east, from Tokyo to Toronto, part of me still wings its way across the Pacific, still out there somewhere, coming in low and slow across the empty water.

According to Wikipedia, it takes one day for each time zone crossed for the body’s circadian rhythms to adjust.

By that standard, I should be back to my usual self two weeks into this three-week trip.

Meantime, I find myself falling asleep in cafes and libraries during the day, then lying wide-awake at awkward hours in a strange room, when only the over-chilled 24 hour Tim Horton’s is still open on the dark, pre-dawn streets.

This city, where I grew up, is an alien landscape, the familiar made strange not just by time and distance but this strange new land where shadowy figures resolve themselves into lamp-posts, and police cars do u-turns in the empty street to cruise by for another look.

I feel just as removed from myself. Like a traveler with lost luggage, I have arrived without the usual baggage.

So I sit in a basement apartment in a foreign part of my hometown, laptop in lap, and catch up on bookmarked articles I didn’t have time to read during the school year. I fret that I can’t reach my wife by phone or Skype. Watch the 24 hours news channel, and wait for the severe thunderstorms that may flood this city as it did just before I arrived: at least it will break the heat wave.

Family, friends, and favourite haunts go unvisited. The list of activities I assembled back in Tokyo – the gallery and museum exhibitions, the sailing adventures from the city’s harbourfront, go unvisited.

I’m just killing time. Waiting for the rain. Waiting for my soul to catch up with my body.


In his 2001 book of travel essays The Global Soul, the 2004 NYTimes essay “In the Realm of Jet Lag”, and most recently in a 2007 NYTimes blog post “The Uninvited Guest“, Iyer considers variously how jet lag is a foreign country, “a Sebaldian night wanderer”, “one of the great unmentionables of long-distance travel,” and the key to the heart of travel.