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The art of traveling in volcanic times

NEW YORK —  The lyrics of Stephen Sondheim keep going through my head this morning. "My dear, I'm still here." Yes, I am still here on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Stuck in New York after a yo-yo day of hedging the odds.

The story, if you've been following it, is this: I was due to fly to Barcelona last night and then on to London. That reservation was made last Friday. After consulting with my British travel agent, a.k.a. the wife, we decided that wasn't going to work. If no planes were flying from Barca, I would be stuck with a long slog to get to the Channel, seats were at a premium on Eurostar, it would be a minimum thousand bucks I don't have to get back, if I could even get a seat.

Sunday, I managed to get a seat on a flight this morning from New York direct to London.

Yesterday, after consulting the latest pronouncements from British authorities — grim all grim — I consulted with my wife and we agreed to hedge and see if there was something a little later in the week. By luck, there was something on a flight Thursday night. OK. I booked it. And an hour later came the announcement air space was going to re-open over Britain today, Tuesday. I quickly called American Airlines to get my old seat back. Gone with the wind.

I spent most of yesterday in New York in a fog of despair. Like a Goldman-Sachs partner who had held a short position on Greek bonds and then decided there would be a euro bail-out and went long, and then the bailout didn't happen and so had lost his firm potential billions.

But then last night the bloody Iceland volcano started spewing ash again and London airports will remain closed today after all. Yippee!!!! I made the right call.

Now, how perverse is it that. I'm happy that the volcano is continuing to spew ash? Now I begin to understand the mindset of Goldman partners and other financial speculators in others misery. And to add a cherry to the cake of my demented triumph comes the news that there's a rail strike on in France. So even if I had gone to Barcelona I would be stuck.

Count on the French unions to stick the boot in. Someone really should tell the citizens of that country about their insignificance, and I speak as a Francophile.

Anyway this may come up in the next great election debate in Britain. On the back of his performance in last week's event the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has hauled his party right into the thick of things. The first major poll since that event was published this morning and the Lib Dems picked up 10 points, stealing support from the Conservatives and Labour.

This coming Thursday night's debate is on foreign affairs and here Clegg faces a problem. His party has historically advocated much closer ties between Britain and its European Union partners. The French strike situation may come up. If Clegg wants to sustain his surge he may have to say to France and its workers, "C'est La Guerre!!" With any luck I will be airborne during the debate and arrive in London just in time to read the summaries in the morning papers.