The last chapter in Yuval Ben-Ami’s anti-travelogue: an exploration of places unvisited. (Click here for the rest.)
They say that in the Swiss countryside, one need not wear a watch or carry a cellphone to know the time. Towns are abundant, and each country church sports a functioning clock. Just look over to the next village, and you shall arrive punctually to your next Swiss engagement.
This is accurate only at certain latitudes. There may have been a church in the valley below me, but I was too high up to tell it apart from other houses. The familiar land of rusti and Sprungli, which was still a ways away.
I was headed for green Switzerland, descending there from Switzerland’s own white peaks. I could not go to Lebanon, but I could come here, and was that not an okay deal? Would I have rather had it the other way around?
The Swiss may go where they please on this Earth. Such is the fruit of stubborn neutrality, but so much of humanity is restricted in travel, if only for economic reasons. I was experiencing the human condition. I should learn to love it. There was no greater liberty, I told myself, than the liberty to be in the present moment.
The present moment was extremely lovable. At first the snowy slopes were challenging, but the stick kept me well and the snow soon gave way to rubble, then to gorgeous fresh meadows crisscrossed by streams, where mountain sheep grazed. An entire herd of them mistook me for a shepherd and followed me down a stretch of trail. I took a hilarious selfie.
Bereft of a foreign passport, I could not go to Lebanon, the next door country, nor to Syria, Iraq, Iran (which was particularly high on my sealed-bucket list), any land on the Arabian Peninsula and many in Africa. I would not get to know my own neighborhood well enough to ever truly be part of it. It was tragic, but look at the compensation!
I could be in Switzerland, the world’s least Middle Eastern land. Was it somehow also mine? We make places our own by traveling them, and I have done some traveling here.
In June of 1995, one month after first escaping my land for comforting Europe, I played a song for a baguette at a country bakery in the South of France. I took the bread...Read More