Memory Lane

I rewrite this personal anecdote every few years, whenever it feels I might be able to improve it a bit at just a moment when I feel the seed may fall on fertile ground.

The scene: Me, alone, 1989, traveling by train through Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, East Germany before a semester abroad in Lille, France:

“Papers!”

The demand at every border, on both sides of the border, by intimidating uniformed men who could tell instantly I was a foreigner, well before my passport and visas were promptly presented. This is, for reference, even in the five miles it takes across ‘no man’s land’ from East Germany to West, between Germany and Italy, between Czech Republic and Slovakia, etc.

For reference, imagine traveling the equivalent of 3 states in New England and having to show your papers 6 times, even in the middle of the night in your sleeping car. Whether they chose to search your backpack or detain you for any number of unknown reasons depended more on the officials’ mood than anything you might say in the moment, so you learn quickly to keep your mouth shut, nod and smile, A LOT.

It was annoying and intimidating but especially, for me as a young, naive American, it was baffling. As was the constant currency exchanging, the shifting languages, the ghost-town Sundays when everything was closed. I was already used to being mobile across vast distances since my earliest memories without any of these inconveniences. It seemed primitive to me. Backwards, less advanced culturally, surviving from the Stone Age.

It was the first time I really considered a few of the advantages of my home country, since it was already trendy by that time at university to defile the uncouth, uneducated ‘ugly American abroad’.

When I went back again after grad school in the mid-90s I saw for the first time protestors against the European Union and heard for the first time the word “Globalism”. I considered those protestors as I did the other European inconveniences, that is, yet more survivors of the Stone Age. I’d bought the propaganda like the good student I was.

Please note—I was bold enough to travel through foreign countries alone as a ‘cute young thang’, foolish enough to roll my eyes at border officials (once), confident enough to crash on strangers’ couches or even on a bench of a train platform, desperate enough to work illegally, dumb enough to smoke hash in the loo, smart enough to learn a few foreign languages—but not nearly wise enough to recognize the mountain of propaganda I’d swallowed—hook, line and sinker.

No borders? Single currency? One GIANT happy Global family? What in carnation could be wrong with those protestors??

I saw the EU maneuvers as the continuation of a smooth skate in an ever-ascending flow toward cultural Enlightenment.

I was a front-row witness to an explosion of progress and those protestors were a visual menace to Europe’s peaceful transition. Thankfully for me, they were really easy to ignore. The politicians and media agreed with me, obviously, and slurred and minimized their pathetic attempts at being such bitter clingers to the past.

Ringing any bells yet?

It wasn’t for several more years that a few pinholes pierced through my blinders. First, it was non-stop celebration.

I lived on the Czech side of what was referred to as Sudetenland, just past the west German border and the goods were flowing, fast. The thrill of choosing between 3 kinds of toilet paper, the gratitude for non-fat yogurt, the convenience of plastic wrap and home phones and fancy new trains, all upstaged the coming onslaught, for a while.

Then the McDonalds came, and the ubiquitous candy and junk food and porn and the flood of advertising. And, once the EU was firmly established by the end of the decade throughout most of Europe, it became nearly impossible for an unconnected American to find legal work anymore.

And if that wasn’t all bad enough, then came the crowds.

Booming tourism, which I once believed would be a great thing, began invading all my favorite quiet haunts and deserted streets and the subtle, muted colors of old Europe went proverbially (and sometimes literally) neon.

And, finally, I questioned, “Uh-oh, what have I been blindly supporting through my ignorance and short-sidedness all this time?”

It had never occurred to me for a moment that I might be inviting in Tyranny through the back door. I’d considered myself an advocate of progress. But, I was not wise enough to ask: “Whose version of progress?”

The American Empire is on its last legs, but I never wanted, or asked, to be a part of any empire. Progress to me now means something very different than it did 3 decades ago. I wish we could go down more gracefully than the empires of the past, but there’s little hope of that.

So instead of hoping for a miracle I work, with growing awareness in ever-increasing ranks, toward piercing more pinholes in all those as unaware and propagandized as I once was—those who are still blinded by tyranny in its many guises and stuck in various roles of keeping it alive and thriving, while insanely badgering on about ‘progress’.

2+2=5 | Two & Two – [MUST SEE] Nominated as Best Short Film, Bafta Film Awards, 2012

(Hat tip to The New Abnormal for sharing this video and sending me down Memory Lane once again.)