Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Don't stop travelling - Paris, the rest of the world, needs travellers more than ever

Travel writers often desire to write about our own special memories of a place when that place is in the news like Paris has been the past week, particularly if it involves tragedy.

Unfortunately, the only memory I have of Paris involves running through Orly International Airport, trying to make a connecting flight to Madrid, Spain.

I was en route to Tenerife in the Canary Islands to attend an international parrot symposium at Loro Parque; I'd flown into Heathrow early that morning and my flight through the Netherlands had been cancelled, and re-routed through France.

Someone from Air France had me de-plane ahead of everyone else and led me on a run through a series of back doors and empty hallways to get me to the plane on time. I distinctly felt like I was stuck in a Home Alone movie, and I kept waiting for the theme music or  "Run, Rudolph, Run" to begin playing.
Nothing to do with Paris - plenty to do with
parrots in the Canary Islands.

I did make it. But I had no chance to even think about soaking up anything vaguely French in the airport. I haven't been back, since.

Now, some of my favourite movies of all time revolve around, or are set in, Paris. Movies like...
  • Casablanca ("We'll always have Paris!")
  • The Three Musketeers ("One for all, and all for one!")
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame ("Sanctuary! Sanctuary!")
  • Irma La Douce ("But that's another story...")
But, those films and a few others, along with my quick run through Orly are all I have to draw on in terms of memories of Paris.

Sadly, with the kind of event that took place on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, there is a great deal of backlash that is unfortunate and undeserved.

I'm talking about reactions like burning mosques in Peterborough, Ontario...attacking a Muslim mother in Toronto as she went to pick up her children at school...those are just a few examples of the wrong types of knee-jerk reactions - the key word there being "jerk." As in the people doing that.

I won't spend much more time on that, as this is largely a travel blog, and others have written ad infinitum about that in political columns, on op-ed pages of newspapers, and so on.

With the anger, there is also an aura of fear.

No one wants to travel to Paris - or many other places right now.

What I will suggest is the one thing we CANNOT do is to stop travelling. To Paris - or anywhere. That way the terrorists win. It shrinks the world, it puts up more walls, burns more bridges, when we should be tearing down walls and building bridges.
Travel can help do that. 

Travel helps us connect to others, to people around the world, it helps us to understand we are just like them, and they like us.

For as Mark Twain said...

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

People need to let go of the fear and let go of the perception that Muslims are different and that all Muslims are terrorists. And we need to travel. Hell, travel to a Muslim country (make sure it's a moderate one, mind you.)

Azlina, our Muslim guide in Malaysia:
a very warm and knowledgeable hostess.
I've travelled in a Muslim country - Malaysia - and I did not really feel any different than I did travelling anywhere else in the world.

There may be a few dress codes that seem a bit more conservative than in our own North American or European cities - but that's also true in the very Christian African country of Malawi (more so, in fact, as I can attest to, having been there myself).

I found Malaysia actually had a very tolerant attitude toward all religious faiths.

In one city street, in the course of a few blocks, there were Mosques, Christian churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples. I wonder if the same can be said of other places in the world?

We need to keep travelling, to meet others, to build bridges, not burn them...tear down walls, not build them up - and the process, build friendships the world over.

For as another great writer, Robert Louis Stevenson (who visited Paris while paddling around France) said...

"We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend."

So go, travel, find an honest friend.

Now to leave you with a song about Paris, from another writer, balladeer Jimmy Buffet...