Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Naples Arch
Naples, Italy

For the past four or five years, Mary and I have taken advantage of low-season travel rates coupled with high-season cultural spirit by traveling to Italy right after Thanksgiving. That would put us in good jet lag stride just in time for the December 1 kick-off of the colorful Italian Christmas season. This year circumstances forced us to plan to go a week earlier than usual, but with the Euro pushing $1.50, last month we canceled our trip.

For a little perspective, just five-and-a-half years ago one Euro cost ninety cents. While I'd love to blame the change on Bush, Paul Krugman says it's more complicated than that. But the bottom line is, at a time when the good old U.S. of A. can use all of the personalized P.R. and good will that it can muster, ever fewer of the kinds of Americans who are open to and interested in foreign cultures can afford the financial costs of traveling abroad.

This is not a healthy development for America or for the world. I should be in Milan right now, bitching about Bush to anybody I think might possibly be interested in what I have to say and able to understand it. Whether or not Europeans or Asians or whoever it may be agree with someone like me is beside the point. What's important is that we put a human face on our nation and try to communicate that America is made up of diverse individuals, many of whom may vehemently object to the actions of the American government.

I've been lucky enough in my life to meet and to befriend lots of foreigners, people from all over the globe. The attitude toward Americans of many if not most of these people can be summed up in something my friend Andros Sophocleous, a Greek Cypriot, once said to me. "[ahab]," he said, "I don't like the American government and many of the things it does; but I have rarely met an American who I did not like." This is from a guy who blamed the United States for failing to protect Cyprus from the Turkish invasion of 1974.

So, anyway, I don't get to go to Italy, not this year and maybe not for many years to come. I may never get to eat and drink my way through the legendary Piedmont Langhe, as I was supposed to be doing next week. I may never get to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which finally entices me now that it may be forever out of my reach (actually I once saw it from a plane window). And I may never get to drive-by Clooney's Lake Como digs (feeling about as welcome as a Republican). But the really important thing is that Italy will never get to have all of the ahab it might have gotten to have. And that's a damn shame.

Update: I missed a couple of points I meant to make yesterday. First, this weak dollar could fall significantly over coming months and years and stay weak for many years, squeezing out middle class travel and middle class emissaries during the critical post-Bush years. Not a good thing.

Second, the point I meant to make in discussing my friend Andros is that Americans rarely realize how influential our nation is in the world, how much power is and has been wielded around the world in our names, and not always gracefully. Add to that all that is unfairly attributed to America, and we can throw a pretty long shadow. So when people meet us individually and find that we're not only merely human but friendly and sensitive and egalitarian as well, it can go a long way toward transcending all of the history. And God only knows we've got some meeting and greeting to do to wipe away the memories of this president.