Saturday, July 26, 2003

The joy of travel

Sitting in the hostel kitchen in Arles yesterday, I found myself chatting and drinking a little red wine with a young woman from northern California. She was an American on a six month trip travelling around Europe. This in itself is quite unusual (Americans tend to favour shorter trips). However, as the conversation unfolded, I discovered more. She came from far northern California. She had grown up on an organic farm. The discussion got to movies and television, and she said she her knowledge was limited because until two years ago, she had never had a televison. Prior to travelling through the south of France, she had spent three weeks picking lavender (and not being paid for it) a little north, and had organised that through an organisation called World-wide opportunities on organic farms (WWOOOF). She had left her job as the head of the flower department of a natural food store, to come on the trip.

Frankly, WWOOOF seems like the sort of organisation that I would like the 3rd infantry division to take out after it has finished in Iraq, but of course, I didn't say that. And in fact although she sounded like a northern Californian cliche, she wasn't at all. Another Californian walked in, this guy from south of the state. He was also on a six month trip about Europe. He had finished a college degree, and had signed up for six years in an intelligence portfolio in the US Navy. He had decided to see some of the world before his time in the navy, which sounded very reasonable to me. They were two nice people, and they got on like a house on fire, despite coming from seemingly different ideological positions. The conversation went on, and a fourth person joined in, a Slovenian guy who teaches international politics in a university in Slovenia. After things got going for a bit longer, he wanted to know if Australia would ever become a republic. I thus found myself trying to explain the reserve powers of the Australian Governor-General (and ultimately the meaning of the Statute of Westminster) to two Americans and a Slovenian in a hostel in Provence. Fun.

I am now in Marseilles. It's a big city, with the good and bad of that. One of my Samizdata editors (Hi Perry) described the city as "a shithole" when I said I was going there. However, he later conceded that it was perhaps an interesting shithole. And, to be truthful, interesting shitholes are the places I find most interesting to visit. My expectation is that I am going to love the place. (More on that later). Tonight I am going to have my one "treat myself to really good cooking" experience of the trip, and I will sit down somewhere and have a really good bouillabaisse.

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