Biological rhythms follow a 24-hour cycle. ‘Desynchronosis’, jet lag, results when the body cannot adjust to a new chronological regime. Physical functions fail, including excretion and sleeping, and mental faculties are impaired. I recall a catalogue of horror, an urban grimoire, case studies in a medical textbook that documented the condition. Jetlagged travellers walking into the paths of moving cars, unaware of the speed and motion around them. Driving off cliffs and into lakes. Embarking on violent rampages, just like sleepwalkers.
Jetlagged construction workers falling off radar dishes, hundreds of metres high. Jetlagged businessmen falling asleep in meetings, yet still closing important deals. Once, corporations banned executives from making major decisions within 24 hours of crossing an international time zone. Today, the organism has evolved. If you can sleep with your eyes open, especially during transatlantic business meetings, you are a valuable piece of meat.
William Gibson wrote that jet lag is ‘soul delay’; there is a gap as your soul catches up with your body. When you fly from Europe to Australia, the journey takes 24 hours and you pass through five airports and five time zones. By the time your soul catches up, your body has changed beyond all recognition. In extreme cases, there is no reunion; the docking operation is rejected and your soul is left to drift, alone, in violation of your physiology.
Those who had known the age of planes would recall the confusion they had felt upon arriving in Mumbai or Rio, Auckland or Montego Bay, only hours after leaving home, their slight sickness and bewilderment lending credence to the old Arabic saying that the soul invariably travels at the speed of a camel.
This new widespread 'camel pace' would return travellers to a wisdom that their medieval pilgrim ancestors had once known very well. These medieval pilgrims had gone out of their way to make travel as slow as possible, avoiding even the use of boats and horses in favour of their own feet.
She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien’s theory of jet lag is correct: that her 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.
Amalfitano had some rather idiosyncratic ideas about jet lag. They weren’t consistent, so it might be an exaggeration to call them ideas. They were feelings. Make-believe ideas. As if he were looking out the window and forcing himself to see an extraterrestrial landscape. He believed (or liked to think he believed) that when a person was in Barcelona, the people living and present in Buenos Aires and Mexico City didn’t exist. The time difference only masked their nonexistence. And so if you suddenly traveled to cities that, according to this theory, didn’t exist or hadn’t yet had time to put themselves together, the result was the phenomenon known as jet lag, which arose not from your exhaustion but from the exhaustion of the people who would still have been asleep if you hadn’t traveled. This was something he’d probably read in some science fiction novel or story that he’d forgotten having read.