Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The City Upon a Hill

Even though I feel like my brain is somewhere 39,000 feet off the coast of Scotland, I'll try to put together a few thoughts about our just ended tour.

As I wrote earlier, it had been some 45 years since I used French extensively. It was extremely rusty, but it worked in most situations.  It's somewhat deflating to ask a native something in French only to have them answer in English. Most people we encountered were helpful, with a few exceptions. One was the young man who loaded the funicular for the trip down from Heidelberg Castle.  His idea of guiding people was to scream at them in German. That didn't work well.  Then there was the officious functionary at Sainte Chappelle who wouldn't let us in at 5:30 although it closed at six.  My best efforts to argue in French didn't work.  The last example was a touchy gate agent at the airport who was upset that (1) we had come too early (three hours before our flight as instructed) (2) there were so many of us (?) and (3) we hadn't given our passports to him to check us in.  When we did, he complained we gave him too many.  I hope his medication arrives in the mail soon. Still, three people out of hundreds we came across is not a high percentage.

Europe in general has become more diverse, as we have. There are the little differences--the plugs that require adapters (but no more converters), ice (three cubes) only on demand for drinks, and not many trash cans.  Someone said the idea was to pack it out.

I am not trying to be provincial or seem like an ugly American, but I felt a certain sense of claustrophobia when I was there this time. Some of that came from the size of the hotel rooms or the buses or being pressed by throngs of people. There is a kind of restraint in Europe: they make better use of resources than we do and are more willing in general to accept limitations on their freedoms.  I thought about this a lot over July 4.

The roots of our freedoms lie, of course, in Europe, in the Reformation and in English common law. They were most fully realized in the American Revolution, in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution. We worked hard to exploit (some would say abuse) resources and land, and that resulted in a country whose influence extended the ideals of that Revolution all over the world, as lately as the one in Egypt. For all our shortcomings, and we do have them, we have the finest expression of freedom and individuality anywhere in the world and any time in history. It's no accident that people risk their fortunes, their welfare and their lvies to come to this country and experience the opportunities we have to offer.

The English Puritans wrote and spoke of creating in America "a city upon a hill," an ideal society that would draw the notice of the world and attract people to it.  We have not reached that goal of being an "alabaster city undimmed by human tears," but we are moving in that direction.  This journey back to the land of some of our origins made me realize just how free we are.  And that's a matter for celebration every day of the year.

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