2017 Trip to Europe
August 9, 2017 Steinbach Manitoba to Zurich Switzerland
In August of 2017, perhaps the worst time of the year to travel in Europe, we left Steinbach and headed to the airport to commence our trip by 2 flights to Europe. We had expected to be travelling with friends who picked the Rhine cruise we have now booked but they changed their mind. I made the mistake of picking this time of year. Life is hard when you are stupid. I have learned that many times; yet I have learned nothing at all.
At the beginning of the year we headed to Arizona in search of civilization. Though we found signs of it, they were few and far between nearly drowned out by baying political animals. We still think it is there–somewhere, though perhaps, on life supports. Sadly, we found some ominous signs and civilization–and by that mean I mean western civilization–is badly in decline. Some might say we are witnessing the fall of western civilization.
So we are trying again. This time, we are heading right into the heart of Western civilization–Switzerland, Germany, France, Holland, and England. It does not get nearer the heart than this. This is surely where we can find great art, literature, music, philosophy, democracy, and religion.
If civilization is on a steep decline as sometimes it seems, we must be wary and alert for all signs. That is what I hope to do.
The flight to Toronto from Winnipeg was interesting. “Interesting” is never a good word to use about a fight by aircraft. As we stood in line–at the head of the line thanks to Chris’ sporting a cane–we heard small children wailing. Never a good start. First one child started to cry, then another. I feared I would start crying next. After all we were about to subject ourselves to the abattoir of modern international air travel.
The young children were even louder on the air craft. One of the children seemed to crying “Get me out of here.” A perfectly understandable reaction. I felt exactly like that too.
The aircraft was extremely loud. The noise was nearly unbearable. No wonder children were wailing. It also felt rickety. Like one would imagine a First World War airplane would feel like today. It seemed well qualified for a flight from Harv’s Air Service in Steinbach to Blumenort–no more.
When we arrived at Pearson International Airport we were famished. You know you are in Toronto when you pay $25 for a Panini, water, and fruit Smoothie. Not only was it too expensive, it was as tasteless as last week’s laundry. And just as nutritious. As soon as we were finished eating, we headed out to the next restaurant for food.
Waiting in the airport was also interesting. Each table was connected to the Internet with Tablets provided. Not for the 10 Commandments; to connect to the Internet. I must admit I preferred old fashioned technology–a good book. I was reading Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Capital the history of Europe from 1848 to 1875. It had insights on every page.
The flight to Zurich was different again. This will sound so outlandish I fear no one will believe me, but I must report faithfully what happened. On our Air Canada flight from Toronto to Zurich the airline food was great. I know no one will believe me because the words “great” and “airline food” have never appeared in the same sentence before. But that is what it was. We loved our meal of chicken in a delightful sauce, and couscous, mixed salad and red wine.
On the flight I sat next to a Professor from Switzerland who had attended an academic conference in Toronto. The subject was risk management from the perspective of insurance companies. While that sounds excruciatingly boring, our conversation was not boring at all. I asked him if Switzerland was still maintaining its position of political neutrality. He assured me it was and that this position was very attractive to the Swiss. Some criticized the Swiss for supporting brutal dictatorships by their failure to denounce them. The Swiss do not believe that this is what they do. They point instead to the abject failure of attempts by the west to impose their system on other countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. The history of western interventions is far from happy.
That history should lead the west to be cautious, but there is little evidence that the west has learned to rein in its hubris. At this very moment in history North Korea and the US led by Donald Trump are rattling their nuclear sabres at each other. Donald Trump said that if Korea threatened the US again it would be met with fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen before. I know I shudder at the prospect of the US and North Korea each led by megalomaniacal leaders tangling with each other with nuclear warheads. Not a pleasant prospect.
My Swiss Professor friend also explained to me how they had a recent plebiscite or referendum on whether or not to purchase some very expensive modern jet fighters. The Swiss believe they have to defend themselves because of their maintained neutrality. Unlike Canada, they cannot rely on allies. While the jet will cost hundreds of millions of dollars a fighter jet can fly across Switzerland in 6 minutes. Does it make sense for the Swiss to spend millions on such aircraft? They decided to forgo the acquisition. I think they were wise. There are better things it can spent the money.
I watched a comedy movie tonight when the lights went out and I could no longer read my book. It was called Going in Style. A review is included under the category “Movies”. I won’t say Going in Style is the best movie. It is not even a great movie. It is however mildly entertaining and the 3 leading men and Anne Margaret as the spicy love interest for one of the codgers all bring years of experience and professional skills to their task. If, like me, you find yourself in a dark aircraft, unable to read a book, it is worth the view.