It is said that travel broadens one’s horizons and I believe that is true in virtually every instance. There is always something that can be learned from getting out from behind your four walls and visiting people and places with which you’re unfamiliar.
Perhaps some of us learned our first lesson about travel as teenagers. We found out just how many miles Mom’s car or Dad’s truck will go when that little hand on the fuel gauge means the tank is really empty when it says “Empty.” And there’s a math lesson there too, besides the obvious one about how fuel mileage calculations are critical. Also to be learned is how parents’ anger and anxiety increase exponentially with every minute past curfew a teen tries to blame on running out of gas.
But the larger lesson to be learned from travel is that while we may look different from each other, speak many different languages and dialects, and live in homes both spacious and comfortable or cramped and inadequate, human beings behave in pretty much the same ways. I was reminded of that lesson recently on a trip we had been planning, saving for and anticipating for quite a while.
We were anxious to visit the Christmas markets in several capital cities of Central Europe. First though, came the long and boring flights to get from here to there — masked up like we’re about to perform surgery. That lesson about people acting in pretty much the same ways was proven in the first airport — Memphis International. There, a few folks already fatigued with the whole mask protocol either pulled or let their little paper personal protector down below their noses while in the check-in queue. An alert Memphis Airport Police sergeant quickly corrected their behavior, if not their attitudes.
Later, at the gate, the same officer felt led to give a speech to everyone regarding how quickly he would toss out of the airport anyone he found violating the mandate. I was not one of the violators, but I nevertheless thought the speech unnecessary and redundant given that my fellow travelers and I had proven vaccinated with our CDC shot records and had tested negative for COVID less than 24 hours earlier.
I’ll spare you the details of the cramped flight of masked passengers in a commuter jet to Chicago, followed by masked connecting flights including a looooong masked layover at London Heathrow before our eventual arrival in Prague. Suffice it to say, hours on end inhaling and exhaling one’s own breath is not my idea of fun. Now, I understand a small but irritating part of the challenges doctors, nurses and first responders deal with every day.
Everywhere we went in Central Europe, the requirements were in essence the same. Everyone on a ship, on a bus, in a taxi or entering a business or public building must wear a mask. In some instances, visitors were required to show proof of identity and proof of COVID vaccination to enter, and in others, one person must exit before the next person may enter.
Christmas markets were closed in most of the cities where they are traditionally held, but enterprising farmers cooking sausages or selling cheese set up in the market areas, calling their events “Winter Farmers Markets.”
Austria was not only a puzzlement, but a disappointment. Austria imposed a national lockdown in late November shortly after placing restrictions on the unvaccinated. Some of the rules depended on the region. For cultural gatherings or events, there were caps on the number of people depending on whether it was indoors or outdoors.
But when our boat docked at Vienna, said to be the most beautiful city and home to arguably the best Christmas market in Central Europe, we were not allowed to disembark. Apparently, the Austrians decided the region in which Vienna is located was not open to out-of-towners such as us.
Sounds a lot like the United States, doesn’t it? The rules differ depending on the location and they may be subject to change at any time. We get conflicting information from the media and/or government and may be uncertain what is the best course for our health as well as the health of our school children and businesses.
Just last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease expert, said evidence seems to indicate the omicron variant of COVID was causing less serious illness than the Delta variant, while he warned the nation can’t be complacent. At the same time, airlines were reporting thousands of flight cancellations and instances of employees calling in sick.
While in Prague, we learned a new word, taught to us by a guide. George, born after the Nazis’ national socialism was defeated but during the post-war period of communist control in Central Europe, said there now is a new “ism” affecting peoples’ lives — “Covidism.”
George has his definition of Covidism, but in my view, the United States should beware of two variants of Covidism.
In one variant, we let fear of the virus control our everyday lives and shut down our institutions and economy. In the other variant, we dismiss COVID as a virus not unlike the common cold or flu and think we’ll just chalk it up as a seasonal ailment that a shot will take care of.
Neither appears satisfactory. We must balance science, common sense and economic considerations in not falling victim to Covidism.
Editor’s note: Paul Holmes is editor-at-large for Northeast Arkansas Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.