Friday, April 15, 2016

Report from My Trip

Remember on the first day of school when the teacher would ask you to write an essay on: "What I Did on my Vacation"?  Some of us who hadn't been anywhere just sat there. Somebody else wrote the most fantastic essay on seeing lions and tigers and somehow salamanders got squeezed into the process. One little boy wrote about his trip to Disney World: "We had the best time we saw a Raccoon in a cage at a McDonald's in Florida." So much for family vacations.

My wife and I just returned from a river cruise from Prague to Paris. We were on Viking's long boat. It held 175 vacationers plus the crew. We were gone for 14 days. At the end of the trip I asked my wife: "Who is going to serve us in the morning at the breakfast table--you or me?" Two weeks of being pampered does not exactly hurt. But here are a few of my observations.

1. Safety. Just before we left the Brussels attack made us wonder if this was not a dumb idea. Who wants to get in danger in so place where you can't speak the language. Guess what? We saw few soldiers with guns when we arrived in Prague. Security was not any more severe than other trips we had taken. We saw a few soldiers with machine guns--but not many. Probably more here at home than overseas. These countries where we stopped: the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg and Paris--had all been scarred terribly by war after war. Yet they rebuilt and life went on. ISIS had not won. And we
Americans with all our politicians fanning our fears ought to learn something from, as my Mother used to say, those "across there waters." Pablo Casals once said,  Love of country is a wonderful thing, but why should love stop at the border?

2. People. The people on the boat came mostly from the States. Those who worked on the ship were from all over the word. College-age kids mostly from place like Romania and Slovakia and the Philippines, Russia--and all over. And then there were the people along the say that could speak English far better than we could their language. We are all the same the world over. Most of them we're gracious and kind. The kids on the ship that worked so hard were alive and excited and wonderful to be around. Underneath it all we are all the same.

3. Politics.  It was an enormous relief to be away from the round-the-clock politics in this country. Folks we have overdone it--and when the election comes we might just find that many people stay at home because they have politics fatigue. I hope this doesn't happen--but don't we have something better to do than to wonder: "What Trump said or Cruz or Hillary or Bernie." Over and over like a broken record they say the same things. It was great to pause from all our political shenanigans. I was struck by two things. Most of those in the countries we visited love America and love our President. But from cab-drivers to peopled who stopped us on the streets we heard. "This man Trump scares me." For those who have lived with bullies and dictators--they fear Mr. Trump. And they are all interested in what this country will do in the fall election.

4.  History.  We visited churches that dated back to the 800's. We visited places where the Romans
had set up camp even before the birth of Jesus. We walked into churches that had survived war after war.  Fascism, Nazism, Communism. Even though we saw many monuments for the brave soldiers and statesman in many countries--people still walk the streets.  They sit at corner cafes--life goes on. Americans that are constantly screaming Armageddon need to pack a suitcase and visit abroad.

5. Pain. Even though life goes on--the scars were everywhere. As one tour guide in Germany began to talk about her country she broke into tears. She apologized and said, "Forgive me...I shouldn't do this. I was a little girl when Hitler ruled. But my parents told me the stories--it breaks my heart to think of what happened to our country then." I asked one person in Prague which was worst the German or the Russian invasion of their country.  She said, "They were both the same."

We visited the Holocaust Museum in Paris. It sits on the site where thousands of Jews were hauled into cattle cars and boats and then taken too Auschwitz and Buchenwald. and other concentration camps.  Most of them would never return. In the Museum we saw a time line of hatred against the Jews. The first traces of Anti-semitism could be found as soon as 80 AD maybe sooner. But the time-line told the story of how the Jews had been persecuted in every age. We sat concrete walls ten-twelve feet high covered in names of those Jews that were put to death. I could not bear to read of the terrible experiments they did on children. And then there were the pictures of the children themselves that did not come back. The Germans could not believe what happened to their country and how everyone was sucked into the vortex of Hitler's message and making the trains run on time, making sure everyone had a decent job. Put a car in every garage. Making, the Fuhrer promised, their country great again. Well-all the country.

n the tiny country of Luxembourg we stopped at the military cemetery that hold the graves of
American troops that perished in World War II. All those mostly men who would never return to their families and their country. General Patton, quite a hero there is buried in that cemetery.

5. Promise. We came home to a country where many take for granted the richness of our lan We do not have the beggars lining our streets as they do in foreign countries--but we have our poor that are as important as the rest of us. We have immigrants that look to this country for a new chance to live in freedom and hope. We are far from perfect--but we have the unending task of keeping the flame of freedom alive.

When Benjamin Franklin emerged from Constitution Hall, a woman who recognized him asked,  "What kind of government are you giving us?" "A republic," Franklin replied, "if you can keep it.
These are some of the things I learned on my vacation.

--Roger Lovette /

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