Frequent Flyer

By Judith Green

One day last winter, Jim West faced a happy coincidence: a one-semester sabbatical and 140,000 frequent-flyer miles.

It’s not that West, a professor of economics and business, had been such a footloose fellow. “You get ’em [the miles] when you buy things, as well as when you fly,” he explained. But upon looking into how to use them, for he planned to spend his sabbatical working on a book about global economic development, he found out he could cash them in for any six stops around the world—as long as he kept going in the same direction.

This entailed a bit of planning, but he was able to devise an itinerary that took into account research for the book, several professional conferences and lecture opportunities, a month in India to study economic development and visit family, and a little bit of tourism.

“I had three goals for my sabbatical,” he said. “I wanted to get a couple of articles written. I wanted to develop a working proposal for a book on global economic issues. And I wanted to visit Australia.”

He was in several of these places in the midst of turmoil: Israel while it built the wall separating Palestinian territories on the West Bank, India right before a hotly contested Parliamentary election, Athens as it prepared frantically for the Olympics.

But in the airports, where he expected chaos, there was none. “I took 17 flights,” he said, “and every single one was on time.” Except for a bomb scare at Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, all the legs of his travel were uneventful—though he adds dryly: “The levels of security checks made for some interesting comparisons.”

He divided his trip into a short visit to Israel and a longer trip covering his other destinations. In January, West and his family flew to Israel for a combination of pilgrimage and tour. They went first to Haifa to visit the Baha’i Shrine and Gardens, marked by an imposing gold dome on the slope of Mount Carmel. They then took the road to the ancient port city of Akka and drove along the West Bank to Tel Aviv. The wall was under construction, he says. “It was eerie, driving along in this divided land through the dusk. The green glow from the Palestinian mosques was in contrast to the modern bustling city of Tel Aviv, just minutes away.”

He started his longer journey in March. He decided to begin with a short visit to Rome and then go on to Athens, the twin centers of Western civilization. “I wanted to get a sense of their history and magnificence,” he says, “and I wanted to look at them from an economic perspective, especially post-Euro” [the common currency of the European Union].

He happened to arrive in Rome just after the March 11 Spanish train bombing. “I was in the Vatican when it observed a request from the European Union for a three-minute moment of silence,” he says, “and the Spanish Steps as well as the nearby Spanish embassy were filled with flowers.”

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Jim West and his wife, Ruhi, visit the Baha’i
Shrine and Gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel.

All photos courtesy of James West