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home : insight & opinion : guest columns February 05, 2016

11/30/2012 1:43:00 PM
Europe visit gives a grandpa much to think about
For the Daily News

I'm back from a week in Europe, and full of comparative impressions about how much it has and has not changed since I first went there almost 40 years ago.

Anne Frank's house is the same; Just about everything else has changed. Modern Europeans seem more modern to themselves than they do to us. There is the language babble to deal with, and much is lost in translation while some of it is just culturally incomprehensible.

I know there are terrorists, but I am pretty sure I have never met one. Why, then, does the traveling world insist on treating everyone like they are one? It is good to be cautious - I am cautious - but I try not to be rude about it. This, I think, has changed. I was a younger man when I was there previously, but the things that have happened in the world here and there have fundamentally changed our collective view of nearly everything.

I spent the majority of my time in Hamburg, visiting our son who manages a restaurant there, and Amsterdam, where we did the tourist thing and went to the museums and looked at the canals.

In Hamburg, we were invited along to a brewhaus dinner, which is the traditional means of sharing Bavarian culture, served at long tables full of drinking, singing men wondering why anyone was so unmanly as to bring a woman to such a place, as some of us had. This did not make my wife uncomfortable - she is an American woman.

Slices and sausages of different dead animals were piled upon some sort of mushy potatoes, all of which was very flavorful, just no flavors that were recognizable to us. The appetizer was rye bread and all the horseradish mustard you could eat, which was not much. Radishes were served as a side dish all by themselves, which was disturbing, but not as troubling as the way some of the boys gobbled them down.

Still, it was not the sort of meal that was likely to leave you hungry for another anytime soon. The barrel of beer brought to the head of the table was tapped for our enjoyment by our host, who worked hard to keep everyone's spirits up, and steins were lifted until it was empty.

Songs were sung, tribute was paid to the hunting-lodge meals of old and it was silently agreed that the French were so weak as to be vulnerable. The other side of the room was occupied by a group of Swedes who sang along together with much gusto from song sheets that were passed out. When the accordion player struck up what sounded to me like "She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes," they all sang "Yippee tie yie yippie, yippie, yeah," over and over where the lyrics should have been in an apparent salute to our small band of expatriated Americans. We sang along too, not sure what it meant, but not wanting to disappoint anyone or start an international incident for no good reason. Then we all toasted one another and laughed and drank some more.

They seemed friendly enough, even if they were misguided, and as much as I enjoy warm fuzzy feelings fueled by alcohol among strangers, I have to say it left me longing to be back home.

In both Hamburg and Amsterdam it was sad to see human trafficking exploited as a tourist attraction. Hundreds of girls work the sex trade in both places, and it doesn't take a genius to see that it is not a happy occupation. The state has given up trying to outlaw the business and regulates it instead. This includes the sale and use of "soft" drugs, and for those who propose such an idea here, I suggest they look and see what it really does before we take such a step.

I'm not sure what happened to common decency in all of this and I don't mean to sound like a prude, but if we are protecting the health of these girls, and perhaps their clients, then someone should show more concern for the mental-health aspects. Yeah, I know it's the oldest profession, but that doesn't mean it is something that needs to persist. If women are liberated and they want to have sex when they feel like it with whom they like, then I suppose it's not society's business as long as their activities don't burden us with the repercussions of such a lifestyle.

But they do. We collectively pay for their misery and the misery it brings to others, not to mention their health care. Just exactly how a democratic society would go about protecting such citizens and itself from exploitation and tragedy in such a setting is not clear to me, but I don't see much clarity in a great many other things that society takes on nowadays, either.

As for the drugs, they just make people stupid enough to use them even dumber, and let them feel good about themselves when they do. It has to be remembered that Holland is also the country that lets you kill yourself when you feel like it, so it is not necessarily out of kindness that they permit any of this. It could be just another form of state-approved suicide.

The lasting impression all of this made on me, however, had to do with my grandchildren. Of course I didn't have any when I first went there, so I had no clue that someday I would care about the world they will grow up in. Now that I have them, it matters to me. Without getting into the specifics of it, I would say that I hope their world will learn to do without things like this because by the time they are my age, they will have learned to love one another in better ways than we have.

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