Monday, May 26, 2014

an islamist detour

We are on our way to Carthage.

That is what I would have been writing if we had stuck to our original itinerary.  But, we are not.  Instead, we docked yesterday in the unscheduled port of Olbia, Sardinia after the captain announced that we are not headed toward Tunisia.  (So much for my plan to visit three continents within one week.)

When my cousin asked if I wanted to accompany him on this cruise, the selling point was the opportunity to visit Carthage.  I am not certain of the roots of my Carthage obsession.  Maybe it was Edward Albee’s tangential reference in George’s soliloquy in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Or George Patton’s reincarnation fantasies on the battlefield outside the walls of destroyed Carthage.  Or even Cato’s repeated speech coda -- Delenda est Carthago.

Whatever it was, it was my primary motivation for signing up for the cruise.  In fact, it was the first excursion I purchased.(The lawyers amongst you may suspect that that sentence is the first element in a percolating detrimental reliance estoppel suit.  But it isn’t.)

The week before I left for Barcelona, I knew there was a very good chance that the ship would not call at La Goulette, Tunisia.  It appears that politics intrudes even on the high seas.

Several weeks ago, the Tunisian immigration authorities refused to allow Israeli passengers on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship to enter the country.  As a result, the line cancelled any further ports of call in Tunisia.

Because Tunisia had not altered its policy two weeks ago, the ship I am on (the Noordam) canceled its stop in La Goulette and docked in Olbvia -- just as we have.  Cruise lines are as smooth as politicians when it comes to discussing sensitive issues.  The cancellation letter merely referred to “ongoing issues regarding visa requirements for some of our guests.”

I am disappointed to miss walking across the battlefield where
the "Arab women stripped the dead Carthaginian soldiers of their tunics and their swords and lances. The soldiers lay naked in the sun. Two thousand years ago."  But, I fully support the cruise line’s decision -- a decision that will be costly to the Tunisian tourism trade.  I would anticipate the cruise line would have made the same moral decision if the Islamists in Tunisia had banned women or Christians from coming ashore.  And the company would have been correct.

The Arab Spring sprouted in Tunisia.  And there have been some hopeful signs that its revolution may actually have introduced liberal democratic principles to one of the more economically-advanced northern African nations.  It appears that optimism may have been ill-placed.

Instead, I spent the day in a town I didn’t even know existed.  Two churches and a rather limited archaeological museum are about all it has to offer.  Even the town itself could be mistaken for main street in Iowa.

But the archaeological museum reminded me of something I knew.  Sardinia was once part of the Carthaginian empire.  Over two thousand years ago, Carthaginian settlers were good enough to make a trek across the Mediterranean and leave a few shards of their empire -- just so I could claim that I finally had contact with Carthage.

See.  It is possible to make lemonade out of lemons.  Or, at least, water with a twist of lemon.

George Patton would accuse me of settling for second best.  But, why do I care?  He’s dead, and I am on a cruise enjoying life.

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