In the wake of the attacks in Paris—and the subsequent outrage that we haven’t paid enough attention to terrorist attacks in other cities (recently Beirut, for example)—I am reminded of a more innocent don’t-go-there story, a personal one.
It was late 2005. The American president had gone stomping off to the Middle East to kick some butt in retaliation for the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and the French had declined to go along with the program. All over the country, outraged ignoramuses quit drinking French wine and declared that they were never eating another french fry. (Freedom fries, on the other hand … )
Gerry and I had planned a trip to Paris for the following spring, and as soon as some of these folks heard the news, we got the feedback: “Don’t go there.”
Well, we went, and we had a grand time. (You’re talking to a woman who flew from Nashville to San Jose nine days after 9-11. “Aren’t you scared?” people asked. Puh-leeze.) Wild horses could not have kept me from Paris; stupidology certainly wasn’t going to.
“Don’t go there,” the know-it-all, stay-at-home finger wagger says of many a distant place. I have heard it my whole traveling life, and in almost every case it was bad advice. In my experience these maligned countries are often the most fulfilling. I am not saying they are fun. For undiluted jollification you bake in the sun at Waikiki with a mai tai in your fist, or eat lotuses on the Côte d’Azur. As for the recognition of hard travel as rewarding, the feeling is mainly retrospective, since it is only in looking back that we see how we have been enriched. At the time, of course, the experience of being a bystander to sudden political or social change can be alarming.
Throughout history the traveler has been forced to recognize the fact that leaving home means a loss of innocence, encountering uncertainty: the wider world has typically been regarded as haunted, a place of darkness: “There Be Dragons.” Or as Othello reported, “Cannibals that each other eat, /The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads/Do grow beneath their shoulders.”
I think you’ll enjoy it.
Meanwhile, in this household we mourn the state of the world today—in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere. But it won’t stop us from planning our next trip.