As Scarlett O'Hara observed, tomorrow is another day. The only trouble at the moment with that memorably wise bit of Americana is what day and where?
In the last two days - or is it 20? - Jimmy Carter has crossed two continents, slept in two palaces, attended two state dinners, laid two wreaths, sat down with two rulers and run into misfortune at the hands of two interpreters. A few hours ago we were lumbering up out of a snowstorm in Warsaw, and now we're somewhere on the edge of the mountains in Iran covered by a blanket of smog. I think it's New Year's Eve, but don't count on it.
Anyway, Carter is here for a while, attending something somewhere with the shahan-shah. It must be important because Barbara Walters has just stepped off the elevator after having hastily changed into into a purple evening gown, and off to the side amid the din a reporter is shouting into a phone on a poor connection to his office in New York that he's trying to figure out what time it is, here and there. And advising that "it" - whatever that is - "maybe carried live."
Carter's with us too in sound at least. You can just catch a phrase or two in that familiar soft drawl sounding over a TV set: "I look forward to . . . I don't believe . . . a fine gesture of frienship.
It's probably all John Foster Dulles' fault. His missionary zeal meshed perfectly with the advent of the jet age, enabling him to circle the globe on nonstop ventures of diplomacy. Our statesman, and particularly our presidents, have been doing it ever since.
The trick is to learn to live with it, and not expect too much from it. In any event, peace has not yet broken out with the start of this new year and the coming of Jimmy Carter to the Mideast.
That doesn't mean this trip is without significance. But readers would be advised to beware attaching too much grand meaning as the journey proceeds.
Or, at the very least, follow the reports, in comic strip form, of Garry Trudeau. He's with us, too, to see that his "Doonesbury" sketches the unfolding scene from pit stop to pit stop, hotel lobby to hotel lobby, state dinner to state dinner, joint communique to joint communique, continent to continent.
Of Jimmy Carter's trip so far, it can be said that it's following the standard presidential form. That is, it's providing a series of pictures, some silly, some serious. And it offers glimpses, distant to be sure, of the character and manner of the President currently circling the globe.
Carter's predecessors conveyed a distinctly different flavor on their foreign trips: Lyndon Johnson was ebullient and bombastic, Richard Nixon stiff and formal, Gerald Ford amiable and unhurried. As Carter makes his rounds of ceremonial and public functions, he seems entirely at ease with his role. He is a study in casual assurance.
The strongest impression that has emerged thus far is of his determination not to be seen as dodging his oft-stated espousal of human rights worldwide.
When he landed at the airport here today, for instance, it's understood that the American embassy carefully omitted any mention of human rights in their suggestions for his arrival statement. A sentence was inserted to get that message across in a nation that has been criticised for the severity of its regime.
"The interests of our nations are built on the interests of individuals." Carter said, while standing alongside the shah of Iran, "and in all of our discussions we emphasize guaranteeing our citizens the fullest economic and political human rights."
Not a bell-ringer, perhaps, but consistent with Carter's every utterance so far. His chief speech writer, James Fallows, who is accompanying him on Air Force One, says these statements reflect the President's own strong personal instructions.
And they have overshadowed the events of his trip to this point when he addresses the questions of peace and the Mideast with King Hussein of Jordan and his host here, the Shah. The human rights remarks might even have contributed to the embarrassment over his hapless interpreter's efforts as Carter first set foot on Polish soil.
in those airport arrival remarks, you'll remember, the President spoke strongly about a new world in which old ideological labels have lost their meaning and in which the basic goal of friendship, world peace, justice, human rights and individual freedom loom more important than ever."
He also spoke of wanting to understand the desires of the Poles for the future. That line, supposedly, came out "I desire the Poles carnally." A few other supposedly mangled interpretations got the trip off to a gale of laughter and acute embarrassment. It was, it seemed, the perfect Polish revenge - affirmation that now it's the American's turn to squirm at jokes about their incompetence. For it was an American interpreter who fostered that series of gaffes.
There is another view, more conspiratorial, about that interpreter's alleged remarks. It was the Poles, whose noses were out of joint for not having their translation chosen and American press and officials about the purported "insult" to their countryfen. No one, to my knowledge, has successfully unraveled exactly what the unfortunate translator really said.
Our Washington Post stringer in Warsaw, fluent in the language, came out with quite different interpretations of what was said. The interpreter clearly stumbled, but our version had him saying nothing about desiring the Poles carnally.
It's also true that Polish officials were smarting at Carter's remarks. At a reception the last night in Warsaw, when the vodka was flowing freely, one official sourly remarked:
"The first moment he sets foot on a socialist country's soil and what does he do? He turns to the secretary of the party and tells him ideological labels mean nothing."
Last night another interpreter had another problem. When Carter arose to deliver his toast at a state dinner in his honor, he paused for interpretations after every sentence. After the second question, he turned looked at the interpreter behind him and paused. The interpreter seemed unable to understand fully what the President was saying. He then withdrew his favor of Polish First Secretary Gierek's interpreter.
You can attribute the problems either to nervousness or the deliberate desire to embarrass, if you wish. But I'll settle for a sure explanation: everyone, all around, already has a case of jet lag.
But then, tomorrow really is another day - for Jimmy Carter and the rest of his bedraggled followers. For tomorrow it's off to India. And less than a week to go, I think.