22 Apr 2011

RTW

In Jules Verne's classic story, it took Phileas Fogg 80 days to travel around the world. While that may have been a mad dash in the 1870ies, it would be an eternity today. And it would, sadly, amount to over five times my annual vacation allotment. So no matter how much I'd like to tread in the literary hero's footsteps (not to mention having a lackey named Passepartout), my choice was between short trip and no trip.

So here I am, at New York's JFK airport, one of the 21st century's crossroads of the world and a fitting place to start my quick tour du monde. On the tarmac outside, tailfins from all continents taxi by, while in the terminal travellers from just as many places hurry past, guided as if by magic to intercept their matching aircraft. My vantage point is the familiar Swiss Air Lines lounge, and indeed I am headed to Switzerland.

But, much like Mr. Fogg, I will go the round-about way. Which is why, instead of taking an 8 hour flight due east, I'll soon board a 14 hour one in the opposite direction, dropping me on a politically divided peninsula half-way around the globe. I then plan to chase cherry blossoms in a land of trembling grounds and melting reactors, before visiting a harmonious society in their capital. I'll meet my trusted travel buddy for a great leap forward on an equally great wall, thus strenuously earning some comfort time in the fascinating and familiar surroundings of a fragrant harbor. Yet another globetrotter will meet us there, and onwards our journey will go to the city of Angels. It is their soothing and relaxing touch which will invite me, at long last, to join their flight to that small alpine country in whose New York outpost I currently sit.

Yes, I'll definitely take the long way home. In fact, the final bit back to Canada will seem like a walk in the park. But as any good world traveller would agree, it's all about the journey. And while the globe may only turn a few times while I am gone, you can bet that I'll add one more spin myself. It's a childhood dream come true - I'm getting on the merry-go-round!

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6 Apr 2011

Contempt

Neutrality can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it allows you to avoid making choices and to stay on good, or at least neutral, terms with everyone. A curse because it prevents you from taking a firm stand, speaking your mind and picking favorites. The Swiss have long been masters in neutrality.

The upcoming election in the Great White North makes neutrality easy. Canadian citizens will have the unenviable choice of four national parties, with a good number of Québecois ritually plumping for their additional option of the Bloc Québecois. As a newcomer to the country, I was of course curious to see what the parties stand for, and which one would be most worthy were I to wield a vote. The proper, scientific way to assess this would be via the CBC's excellent Vote Compass. Much more fun, however, is to simply listen to the candiates' stump speeches: Although they all agree on Canada's need to get rid of its $40.5bn deficit, none of them feels much inhibition to pander to their special interests. Do you care for fighter jets? Home renovation credits? Unemployment insurance? Organic farming? Or simply more cash and less strings for la belle province? No problemo, there's a party for you!

Ascertaining that plausibility is optional, the alternative would be to simply opt for the hottest candidate. Unfortunately, I neither fancy graying men nor women in cowboy hats, and thus am grateful that I am not forced to pick.

Canadians, if nothing else, have plenty of practice in the voting game. With this being the fourth federal poll the country endures in seven years, Canucks make even the Swiss look lazy. Yet such are the perils of a British-inspired system of variable parliamentary terms. Whenever the government looses the confidence of parliament, a fresh election is called. And with the Bloc patently depriving any of the larger parties of a solid majority, confidence remains fickle. Stephen Harper's Conservatives have even managed to be found in comtempt of parliament, a rare achievement that set the stage for the latest election. As a neutral observer, one can only hope that amidst this brouhaha, the classe politique does not eventually find itself in contempt of its people!

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