Friday, July 11, 2008

On Europe

My new wife and I just got back from our honeymoon in Europe Saturday. We had a great time. Our trip brought us to four major European cities: Rome, Paris, London, and Dublin with various stops along the way.

A recurring impression in the larger cities was the pervasive lack of local culture. A friend of mine referred to London as "New York with an accent". It is indicative, I think, that the most authentic and enjoyable meal that Erin and I enjoyed in London was Indian. It was delicious. In Rome, Paris, and London the people that served us food, drove our taxis, sold us tickets, and checked us into our hotels were from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia. Another memorable occurence, again in London, was getting off a subway and emerging into an outdoor market where Erin was the only woman for three blocks not wearing a veil.

It was ironic that the first English language paper I got a hold of on the trip, the International Herald Tribune, had an opinion piece on the popluation implosion in Western Europe and the Americas.

The import of this, for us, was that the trip was intended to be a cultural tour. We chose Rome, Paris, and London because they are the "capitals" of Western culture, so to speak. There's still a lot to see in these cities and they're still a must-see for a cultural tourist. But the "culture" is not local anymore. It's almost like a cultural theme-park, where you are guided around a museum of the cultural past. It had a Disney-like effect at times, with the cultural "attractions" curiously isolated from their context.

Ireland was the shining exception to this phenomenon. Actually, the Vatican is also an exception. As much as the Vatican is (and always has been) the domain of tourists and their predators, the Vatican is a breath of fresh air in so many ways. Perhaps because it is intended to be "universal" and hence not tied to any nation or people, it didn't seem culturally artificial in the way that other cities did. But it was also free, as in it didn't cost any money. The line for St. Peter's Basilica stretched across the piazza and the basilica itself was full of tourists, but I wonder if any of them realized that no one was asking them for money. There were voluntary contribution boxes all around the basilica, none of which had very long lines for access.

I'm loathe to say that the pictures, to date, remain on the memory card of our camera.

Oh, by the way, we met the Pope. Erin and I both shook hands with him. I brought him greetings from the Diocese of Worcester. I decided that we wouldn't post that picture online. If you want to see it, come to our house. I don't want it isolated from its cultural context.

By every measure, the trip was a success. But I don't know where to tell people to go who want to see the cultural center of the world. It's probably Facebook, or something. It is disconcerting, however, for a devotee of Western culture to find it without a home. I imagine it's kind of like a Cub's fan visiting Chicago and finding that they've turned Wrigley Field into a soccer stadium. He's probably still a Cub's fan, but he's probably left with a curious sense of isolation. That was me in Europe.

I don't plan on learning to like soccer.

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