I dropped Mrs. T off at the Milwaukee train station a couple of hours ago, then checked my voice mail as I drove to the airport and found out that I had become the Flavor of the Day.
It seems that the New York Philharmonic has definitely decided to perform in North Korea next February, and that the New York Times ran a story this morning in which mention was made of “Serenading a Tyrant,” the Wall Street Journal column I wrote in October arguing that this would be a mistake:
Some questions have been raised about the appropriateness of visiting a country run by one of the world’s most repressive governments. North Korea’s policies have been blamed in part for the famine-related starvation of perhaps two million people and it confines hundreds of thousands of people in labor camps.
If the orchestra goes to Pyongyang, “it will be doing little more than participating in a puppet show whose purpose is to lend legitimacy to a despicable regime,” Terry Teachout, an arts critic and blogger, wrote on the online opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal in late October.
Once I got to the airport and checked my e-mail and voice mail, I found a half-dozen increasingly urgent messages from a CNN producer who wanted to know if I could appear on The Situation Room this afternoon to talk about the Philharmonic’s planned Pyongyang debut. Alas, it turned out that my flight from Milwaukee to New York had been delayed, so I e-mailed the producer to let her know that I’d be spending the next few hours cooling my heels in a departure lounge. She promptly called me on my cell phone to ask if I’d be willing to do a phone interview instead. Impressed by her persistence, I agreed, went through the security line, made my way to Gate 41, set up shop at a table in a nearby food kiosk, and turned my phone back on. Then I booted up my MacBook, plugged back into the Web, and read an e-mail from a BBC producer wanting to know if I’d do a phoner on the same subject.
As I waited to hear from CNN, I noticed that airports are very noisy places. Had I been giving a performance of John Cage’s 4′33″ instead of a phone interview, it would have consisted of the following overheard sounds:
• Get-on-the-plane announcements
• In-the-interests-of-security announcements
• A pair of waitresses discussing their love lives in tones loud enough to shatter glass
• A tableful of men discussing their love lives over pizza
• A wide-ranging medley of kitchen-related noises
• Canned music (Milwaukee favors smooth jazz)
I fired off a e-mail to CNN warning the producer that she might have to do a bit of editing, and she wrote back to reassure me that all would be well. Five minutes later my cell phone rang, and a minute later we were off and running. A correspondent asked me five or six perfectly logical questions, all of which I answered in the manner to which my Wall Street Journal column had accustomed her. Then I e-mailed the producer a photo of myself sitting at a piano, and she told me that the segment would air at five p.m. Eastern. Needless to say, I won’t be seeing it–I’ll be somewhere over Pennsylvania, I hope–but you’re more than welcome to tune in and hear what I had to say.
No sooner did I finish with CNN than I heard back from the BBC producer, who asked me to sit tight while she lined up an interviewer. Ten minutes later I was talking to London.
“Where are you speaking from?” the interviewer asked.
“The airport in Milwaukee,” I replied. “I came out here to review an Alan Ayckbourn play.” (I figured that would boggle him.)
“And what’s the weather like?” he asked, imperturbable to a fault.
Now I have two hours (I hope!) to kill in a strange airport. How shall I spend them? I could start writing about Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Cymbeline for my Friday Wall Street Journal drama column, put in a bit of work on my Louis Armstrong biography, catch up on my e-mail, or grab some lunch.
Such is a day in the life of a traveling opinionmonger in postmodern America.