Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jet Lag

Ireland, 1998. It had been three years since my previous visit to the Emerald Isle. Having crossed the Atlantic, and having endured an additional five hours of northbound transport courtesy of Bus Eireann, the fatigue of travel caught up with me at last in Sligo, drugging me to sleep in my hotel on Douglas Hyde Bridge at 6:00 PM. When I awoke, the light was partial, a hint of sun in an overcast sky—a typical morning; it fit with my memories of Irish weather. I looked at my watch: 8:00. When was the last time I'd slept for fourteen hours? It suited my exhaustion. I still felt groggy, but I got up, showered, changed my clothes. I took my morning medication (daily dose of Synthroid, plus a multivitamin) and headed to the lobby, asking at the reception desk what time breakfast was served. They told me from 8:00 to 10:00. As I rounded a turn that led to the restaurant, I glanced out the glass front doors. The streetlights were still on, and the sidewalks quite populated. The streetlights made sense, given the weak light outdoors, but I remembered the Irish as being slower to start in the mornings, thinking of a time I'd done my best to find a newsstand open at 8:00 AM, to no avail. Plus, it was the weekend. When I got to the hostess station of the restaurant, there were some breakfast menus in a stack. I was seated at a small table, and I began to anticipate Corn Flakes, eggs, and toast, with a cup of tea and maybe some juice. I looked out the window and noticed that it had gotten even darker rather than lighter. An approaching storm, maybe? And then the first knowledge that something was horribly wrong: a few tables away from me, a couple shared a bottle of red wine. Next, the menu that was presented to me was not one of the breakfast menus from the hostess station, but a dinner menu featuring steak, fish, poultry. So thorough was my disorientation, so stubborn my mind in trying to make the world conform to my (mis)understanding, I remember wondering for a moment if I hadn't been handed the prior evening's menu by mistake. That didn't explain the wine. (Sure, Irish are maligned for their drinking, but this was ridiculous.) But in the end, it became clear that, in fact, I had not slept fourteen hours; I'd slept only two. I wasn't sure whether to be more disturbed, embarrassed, or amused, but decided quickly I ought to choose the last option. Never had I experienced a stranger case of jet lag. And now the slightly strange look given me by the front desk staff made sense—I hoped somehow they might think that I was just asking so that I'd know for the following day. When the server came to take my order, I chose grilled salmon with vegetables. I confess that I'd been looking forward to breakfast food, and also that I was a bit dismayed to be paying for a more elaborate meal than I'd otherwise have found for myself if I'd known it was dinner time (breakfast came included in the cost of the room); but the salmon was wonderful, and after all it made sense to treat myself well for the first meal of the trip. Jet lag be damned, I had come back to Ireland, and I was glad of it. I ate, paid the check, and went back up to my room. I read for a while, then let the rushing waters of the Garavogue River lull me into a deeper, second sleep.

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