The first time I traveled internationally, I began my flight by setting my watch to GMT. I was flying from New Zealand, around the world, to the United Kingdom, where, I hoped, there would be something approaching reasonable employment for a writer with ambitions of paying rent. I had never left New Zealand before; to say that it was a gamble is not overstating the facts.
I had read that the reason people suffered from jetlag was that they struggled to adapt to the time difference on an intellectual level – they had not prepared to arrive twelve hours after they left on a twenty-four hour flight. I had read that setting your watch to the destination time would solve this problem. It didn’t – I spent my first week in Britain sleeping for four hours a day at awkward times.
In more modern times, this is a problem easily solved by mobile phones, which will also automatically update to the timezone you’re in while retaining the time you come from. In a recent holiday to Italy, I discovered that my phone presented me with both UK time and Italian time. It wasn’t really necessary, but it was nice.
Zero to Three
Historically, of course, people have always had different approaches to keeping track of time. Buckminster Fuller, the famed inventor and thinker, wore three watches everywhere he went. “I travel between Southern and Northern hemispheres and around the world so frequently that I no longer have any so-called normal winter and summer, nor normal night and day,” he wrote in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, “I wear three watches to tell me what time it is.” Yes, three ! Some would say he was greedy, others a little crazy, either way he was practical.
For Fuller, who saw the universe (he typically spelt it with a capital U and no article) as a great, single entity composed of many cells, time was an awkward convenience – something he had to deal with, but that also gave rise to opportunities. In Buckminster Fuller’s view, time allowed Universe to manage its chaos, letting cultures and civilisations rise a step at a time – it also allowed half of mankind to sleep while the other half was active, ideally working to improve conditions for those who were sleeping.
And Back to Two
Almost conversely, Fidel Castro wore two Rolexes as a practical tool of maintaining the Great International Revolution. One watch was perpetually set to Havana time, while the other tracked the time in Moscow. It’s a sensible solution to the problem of coordinating actions when communications are regularly intercepted or broken down, and was doubtless useful to be able to know when you could call the Kremlin and expect an answer – for all of Castro’s bluster and his position within the public consciousness, Cuba was merely a satellite pawn for the USSR, and getting Khrushchev or Brezhnev to answer the phone was uncertain unless an emergency or at the right time of day.
Fidel’s watches, however, were a Rolex GMT Master and a Rolex Day-Date, and the GMT Master was already capable of tracking the time in two locations, so it may have been a simple matter of showing off. The Day-Date is the same watch that Rolex presented to Churchill and Eisenhower, however, and so the watch itself is thus emblematic of leaders who fought against great evil and were victorious. Castro almost never spoke of his chronometers – it could not have been easy to do when so many of your people live in poverty – but he clearly knew the value of knowing what the time was.