Monday, March 2, 2015

Tourism in the Bandit Infested Hills

I both admire and envy my more adventuresome friends.  They travel, seemingly without fear, to Laos and Tunisia and Antarctica.  They trek across the Sinai on camels.  They join the Peace Corps and live in Central American hamlets.

I am speaking generally of people ten to twenty years younger than I, those who came of age in an era of cheap airline tickets and social tolerance of delayed adulthood.  The folks I am envying here did most of their globetrotting either before or in place of raising children.

I now have the available time and resources to travel where I will, but there are more risks than there used to be.  It once was that you were safe so long as you did not venture out on an ill advised jaunt into bandit infested hill country.  Now the bandits have come down from the hills and live among us.

I have walked through too many places where terrorists attacks have occurred.  The Olympic complex in Munich, the London Underground, the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.  I regularly pass through the Amsterdam airport where the infamous "underwear bomber" was helped onto a US bound plane on some sort of humanitarian ticket.  I have driven past the Pentagon and have walked under the dome of the US capitol that escaped its intended targeting on 9/11.

No center of culture and urbanity is safe.  Paris the City of Lights.  New York, the self styled "Greatest City on Earth", Moscow with its atrocious subway bombings and Tokyo its sarin gas attack. For all the negative publicity that rural America gets, it is still a very, very safe place to live.

In a matter of weeks we will be heading for Italy.  It seems like a safe enough place to go, certainly Italy has done little to offend anyone of consequence in recent times.

But just a few hundred miles away, on the shores of Libya we now see the barbarians of Islamic State lining up Coptic Christians for mass slaughter.  And at the end of their latest atrocity one of the jihadists points a bloody knife north across the sea and proclaims that they will march on Rome.

You don't hear about that part of the message much in American news media.  Oh, in part it is wise to give these monsters as little attention as possible.  But a bigger part of it is the sheer embarrassment of our Current Administration.  Having started an optional war against Mohamar Khadaffi they "led from behind", dropping equal numbers of bombs and press releases.  Now we have another festering, chaotic pool of terrorism, and one with convenient access to Italy via a well intended policy in which refugee boats are actually helped ashore by the Italian Navy.

I usually avoid politics in my writings.  But part of the reticence to discuss the catastrophic implosion of Libya is that to do so would be an embarrassment to our Current President - who was gifted a Nobel Peace Prize for his anticipated diplomatic brilliance - and to our hopeful "President in Waiting", who was Secretary of State when the Libyan incursion was somehow, implausibly, deemed to be a safe and prudent action.

But these are the conditions that exist.  This is the world we live in.  The bandits are probably now in the Seven Hills of Rome.

You do what you can.  I get in and out of airports as quickly as possible.  I like to think I have good situational awareness.  Several times in Egypt I got a vague sense of danger.  Usually a close look around would show up a few of the Mubareck era Secret Police on the periphery of things.

I think we will steer clear of obvious danger zones, St. Peter's square for instance.

I always try when traveling to avoid an easy identification of my nationality, although when dealing with a threat like Islamic State their hatreds are so eclectic that passing myself off as being from Luxembourg may not suffice.

I don't think it is morbid to have one's "affairs in order" before going on a journey.  It is one less worry in life and when I travel I prefer to live for the moment.  Another glass of "vino della casa", another bit of ancient building peeking out from under modern trappings, another day of having no obligations other than enjoying ourselves.

I am sure I will climb up on the Aurelian Walls that surround the ancient parts of Rome.  They were built at a time when the Empire was crumbling at the edges and savages were expected to reach to the very heart of Western Civilization.  The Walls held then, and in fact for another century and a half the external enemies were kept out.

Like all enduring things of a past age they are thought provoking.  And could give you justifiable reasons for either optimism or pessimism.

At one point in their history they were an inconsequential barrier when an army, flush with victory and carrying the banner of a radical new religion just marched on through.  Constantine the Great with his newly professed Christianity prevailed against greater numbers and carried the day.

But at a later date and against even more lopsided odds the Byzantine general Belisarius strode these battlements.  He had prevailed against armies of Goths that should have matched him ten times over. But he had sturdy walls and strong resolve and the barbarians raged against them and broke.


Harry said...

Heavy thoughts on a Monday morning. But a good read. It does feel like the barbarians are at the gates. There's a photo of the 9/11 bombers up here in Portland, Maine at an ATM before they boarded their first leg of their flight. I've used that ATM. I had used it within weeks of them being there. In 2005 we were on a trip to Italy and then London. While in Italy we saw the news of the bus bombings in London. When we got to London they still had the streets cordoned off where the buses had been. Last summer, around midnight on a Saturday I was half-asleep. I heard a few firecrackers in the distance. Found out the next day it was a father blowing away his wife and 3 kids and then himself. I still hear the pops in my head. What do you do when the world around you is going insane? I guess you just make plans, do your best, and live.

Tacitus2 said...

Geeze, Harry. I forgot you live out there in Stephen King land...