American Romance with Europe

A Jewish friend walks towards the Jewish District in Seville, Spain

The romance Americans have with Europe is astounding.  Europe – the home of mass slaughter, entangling countries with two world wars – romantic?

Recent wars have created populations with PTSD in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Concentration camps are now tourist traps in Poland and Czech. Germany opens its arms for Muslim migrants – Jewish cousins – to propagate its factories.

Even the American Sixties romance of the Volkswagen bus was not obliterated with VW’s wartime history, and with its recent auto emissions scandal. Reality merely dents VW’s reigns in German markets. Even Sweden’s IKEA is infamous for using East German prisoners in its factories.

Pol Pot in Cambodia, the French and Americans in Vietnam and Japan’s medical procedures on POWs forever sullied Asia. That and Japan’s rape of Nanjing.  Yet Americans tour these areas in lesser amounts than the millions who head east for cruises, tours and vacations.  All they need do is view “Games of Thrones” with its up-close and personal war battles and politics.               

One of Asia’s millions of smokers, Seoul, South Korea

Castles in the air, as if from Max Parrish posters.  The walled town of Carcassonne, France. Cities costumed in museum art in Venice, Paris, Rome, London and Prague. Foreign restaurants are now spicing the UK’s bland Shepherd’s Pie. DNA calls from the old country to satisfy taste buds.

History blankets my life, as I recall the many astounding views my father of 97 beheld (1908-2007).  I was born five years after the conclusion of WWII, during the Korean War, sickened with Cold War paranoia and Russia’s 1950s invasion of Hungary. I came of age during Vietnam. When I went overseas for work, both Germany and Japan still flashed WWII red danger signs. The sound of spoken German clinched my stomach in fear and disgust while the few, lesser popularized Japanese butcheries killed my curiosity.

China predicted it would bury the USA in drugs, and Europe played nice with each other. Russia has re-awoken, scheming to regain its lost colonies in Eastern Europe. Africa’s revenge on the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885  has been successful: A continent cut and carved for European consumption rushes forward now to partake of the West’s abundance.

Still, Americans spend billions to tour once-fascist Italy, occupied Greece, museum and zoo-rich Germany. How has Italy evaded its WWII stain? Has Western narcissism re-baptized Roman rule? Was the Pax Romana of three hundred years peaceful for non-Roman citizens?  Rome played out its mass murders within hundreds of coliseums across its lands. France birthed itself into Sartre’s nihilism with the mental horrors collaboration and Resistance’s workers suffered. Switzerland confiscated and housed Nazi spoils of war. Although Belgium was invaded by German storm troopers, Belgium’s behavior in the Congo can never be cleansed – once a person learns of its hidden historical horror.

For 30 years I resided in Arabic, Asian and European countries. Residency, not tourism. A sister once , visiting me in San Francisco declined my offer for an ‘underbelly tour’ of the city. One niece travels the world while working for an airlines, while another tasted global tourism for work. I thought their adventures smarter than mine: they remained ignorant of deep, cultural realities while able to enjoy pleasant heritage sites.

Cairo, Egypt

What pain lingers so deep within me that I cannot enjoy life?

My eyes see a little advertised coliseum outside Rome and the TV show Spartacus chafes my wrists, once, long ago, embraced by irons. A friend provides a new refrigerator magnet of Romania’s Vald the Impaler. Eventually I toss it out. A British wall runs through London and I am grateful people in the UK speak English, my only tongue.  Cairo’s Museum lets me touch carved five thousand year old stone artifacts. Decades later, Ankara Turkey’s museum separates me from stone reliefs of men baring gifts for now dead God-emperors. These stone reliefs once flanked the stairway to Babylonia’s palace.

Ancient wall relief from Babylonia, Ankara Turkey’s Museum of Antiquities

Even if I stood before Venice’s brilliant metal work by Giotto, my mind would recast the beauty in Papal Inquisition and Catholic Ireland’s stranglehold on its citizens.

Today, I am still thankful to my first apartment roommate, an artist. She explained much of European art pictured stories from the Bible because only the Church possessed money to pay artists. Otherwise, Christianity among Europeans would appear as culturally domineering as ISIS with its propaganda.

In Lyon, France, the renovated cathedral, open for a brief time, dazzled my eyes with its golden murals of the lives of the saints and Jesus. I marveled at the beauty and wondered how the original residents of Lyon felt when gazing upon these walls:  Astonishment causing God-like awe in such dreary peasant lives. In Bali, a local, when I asked if too many tourists were ruining the island, said their presence allowed him to buy oil paint to show the island’s beauty to paying customers.  Three such works grace my home.

Perhaps human DNA houses all of human behavior, from its lustful appetites to its disgraced abominations. Sometimes I yearned to have lived the tourist life and not the locals’ reality.

Yellow roses from open market, Cascais, Portugal – The beauties of flowers and nature are also worldwide.

Palm trees always remind Chicago-born me of heaven. Abundant in many countries.

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