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David Bouchier: Travel Interrupted

Bob Edme

Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer season with its vacations, festivals, barbecues foreign travels, and long lazy days at the beach.

Perhaps not this year.

Today we should have been packed and ready to leave for Europe. Flights, trains and hotel bookings were all in order. But needless to say we are not going anywhere. Like millions of others we are stuck, and everything is canceled.

We should be thankful that we are stuck at home. A cousin of mine went on a long-anticipated two-week tour of India and was held under quarantine in a small hotel in Amritsar without air-conditioning for two months. So we are lucky really. We will try to create a shadow version of our European summer here on Long Island. We can sit on the terrace wearing shorts and straw hats and drinking French wine. The scenery is not quite as spectacular, but at least we weren’t planning to go to the Himalayas.

The question in your mind, and mine, is: can the deprivation of luxuries really be described as a deprivation? How much are we really suffering if we can’t go to a concert, or if the supermarket delivers the wrong kind of cheese? The answer is, not much. To say that everything is relative is to offer one of the emptiest platitudes in the English language. Everything is not relative, especially not now. A few canceled airline tickets scarcely weigh in the balance against what a great many people have to endure.

We can squeeze a grain of satisfaction from the environmental bonus. Flights are down by 90%, driving by 50%, and we’ve all seen the dramatic pictures that show how air pollution has been reduced as a result. The lesson is obvious, to stop traveling huge distances at great expense for trivial reasons: to sit on a particular beach, ski down a particular slope or indulge in a particular cuisine. If we all stopped doing those things the world would change, indeed it has changed. The citizens of Venice can walk around freely in their own city, Rome and Paris are empty, and the most popular tourist destinations can literally breathe again.

The only small problem is that tourism is or was one of the world’s biggest industries, worth about $9 trillion to the global economy. Nothing is more human than the desire to be somewhere else. The idea of being stuck always in the same place, a kind of permanent global lockdown, is intolerable. So, little by little, cautiously, we will start buying air tickets again and, if history is any guide, we will soon be behaving exactly as we were before.

History is very good guide, but only if we remember it. The ancient Greeks believed that history moved in circles because we always forget what happened in the past, especially the bad things, and then make exactly the same mistakes again. Wars are the prime example of this. If we remembered the wars of the past we wouldn’t need a Memorial Day, but we do. It is possible that this collective amnesia is a survival mechanism. If we really recalled all the catastrophic events that make our history so interesting we might be paralyzed by anxiety and doubt.

But this time, surely, it’s different. We will remember this, and plan for it, and be ready for it next time. Of course we will.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.
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