It was an annoying journey out: a thirty-mile lift to the train station, then a train, a bus, a plane, a transit zone, a plane; unfitting and refitting my belt, tired and prickle-skinned among the glassy hustling public, and the jarring mesh of duty-free odours, and the funneling tunneling lights. My night in Vienna, old Austro-Hungaria, was spent in a very contemporary airport hotel. The windows were sealed by regulation. I lay on the bed and watched TV – all I ever do in anonymous, upmarket hotels – on pillows too bulky, sheets too sterile. I watched too much Arabic Jazeera, slow eyes chasing the script on the news bar, about the killing in Syria, in Homs and in Dara‘a. I slid to sleep to the hiss of air conditioning.
It was inevitable that I’d experience this transit day – from somewhere to nowhere, not yet to somewhere else – as an annoyance. My life at home was being disrupted, my comfortable routines, my standard small measures of time. The amount of experience allowed in a usual day’s burst is regrettably small, not counting occasional epiphanies. But visits to places like Iraq, to meet writers who’ve lived through the worst, expand the amount. For this reason my account is labelled day by day.