Thursday, February 18, 2021 9:45 PM
Someone Else Can Write About Why (2021Feb18)
The major Western religions have a man: a prophet, a messiah, or a messenger, who walked the streets of Jerusalem. When Dark Age Europeans became restless, a trip to Jerusalem was the top choice among exotic voyages (excepting Polo). When Europeans tried to travel in the Dark Ages, it was part walking, part scouting, part defending against bands of robbers.
A favorite Era of mine is the one in which Europeans, first traveling to the “Holy Land”, were surprised to find travel much different in the Middle East. These travelers returned to Europe with virtually magical tales of hospitality, of how a traveler is treated like a king. They still condescended to these “Godless Saracens”, even while delighting in the culture and the sophisticated comfort of their society—because that’s what always happened. Someone else can write about why.
So, anyway, for that brief period, Western travelers found themselves in a traveler’s paradise, upon crossing into foreign territory. The pride in hospitality taken by their hosts, the connection hospitality had (in their minds) with spiritual rightness—all of this made for easy-pickings—and thus under-respected pickings, i.e. pearls before swine.
Soon enough, a flood of Europeans were passing through, disrespectfully greedy and completely unappreciative of the fact that their own culture offered no such bounty to strangers. The Middle East was quickly impoverished, and put on the defensive against travelers—and it soon became the harder part of the journey—leading to the so-called Crusades.
History is disgusting. It shows people, as a group, to be the most shameless pigs, with the occasional surprise mixed in. But I like to linger over those brief moments, when we surprise ourselves with generosity and splendor hitherto inconceivable. Promptly, such gardens are trampled by mobs—literally and figuratively—but that brief moment….
A traveler arrives. He is bruised and harried from a recent encounter with bandits. He delights in the contrast—this landscaped lane—these ordered orchards and fields—beautiful homes with airy courtyards. He is welcomed in by a smiling Father, the homeowner—tickled to death to have a chance to show off to his neighbors how great his hospitality.
The traveler is bathed with oils, showered with feasts, bedded in silks, clothed in gold-thread brocade—and generally made much of. Think Dark-Age Disneyworld. He is never asked to leave, quite the contrary, he cannot leave without protests from the Father.
Laden with gifts, supplies, and perhaps even servants and camels, the traveler proceeds fifty miles east and finds himself treated to the exact same hospitality. And on and on, there and back (and, no doubt, less-than-relieved to return to Europe’s dangerous roads and its cutthroats).
This was a brief era in history—when the globe began to reawaken from the crash of Rome’s glory. Before this era, no one in Europe went nowhere (plague, ya know). Soon after it, the trip to Jerusalem transformed from a fairyland’s wanderjahr , into a forced-march-in-enemy-territory—that’s what always happens.
Someone else can write about why.
This Black History Month, I can point to another brief stab of glory—Tulsa, OK, before the massacre. Another tragically short era, but, O, the beauty of it…