One last train through the Helsinki gloom. I will miss this city’s dignified buildings and straightforward sensibility. What shapes the personality of a place? Perhaps cold weather yields orderly queues and quiet sidewalks rather than the chaotic crowds and ad hoc markets that fill the streets of warmer cities. Or is religion responsible? The spartan Protestant ethic of northern Europe versus Catholicism’s pageantry, local saints, and elaborate methods for hacking damnation through confession and Hail Marys. Maybe religion and weather are intertwined.

Night flight to Amsterdam to visit the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk. I’m burning up my savings to look at art. I prefer flying at night, cocooned in a netherworld beyond space and time, no longer aware of hovering above the earth at thirty-thousand feet.

Meanwhile, China has quarantined a city of eleven million people with more cities to follow. Two cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the USA, one in Washington and another in Boston. Maybe a student in Texas. America’s irrational droning of an Iranian general seems to have been forgotten, along with the passenger flight from Tehran to Kiev that was accidentally shot down by Iran’s army, killing 176 people. The news cycle lurches from one catastrophe to the next, and this decade is racing out of the gate with impeachment, drone warfare, and pandemics.

A woman on the plane has a coughing fit and we all turn to judge the poor passenger, evaluating the risk.