My wife works for a large multinational software company with campuses in Germany, Brazil, Israel, Paris and Palo Alto. Yesterday, two of her colleagues from Tel Aviv joined us for a daysail on San Francisco Bay.
I enjoyed having them aboard. Both women were confident and adventurous. Both had served a two-year stint in the Israeli army. Twenty knots of wind didn’t bother them in the least.
After a brisk couple of hours tooling about the central bay, we anchored near the mouth of Richardson Bay to share a glass of wine a nibble of cheese. We could see, to the west, the streets of Sausalito being swarmed by tourists. That was when one of our guests said, “I don’t understand why tourists come here.”
It was an honest question, posed by someone who grew up near tourist destinations where major religions were born. None of the houses adorning Sausalito’s hillside have signs out front that say, “Jesus slept here.”
The question perplexed me nonetheless. I gestured aft toward San Francisco, glittering there on one of the most beautiful bays on the planet, and mumbled, “It’s pretty?”
The conversation switched topics, as conversations in sailboat cockpits tend to do, and then switched again. We finally arrived at the topic of future travel plans, and I mentioned that I’d applied for a Fulbright to spend six months at Queen’s University Belfast.
“Why would anyone want to teach in Belfast?”
I’ve been working on empathy lately, so I forced myself to examine the question through the eyes of an Israeli. Both of my new friends live in a country where terror may lurk around the next corner. For them, the ideal vacation destination is to places where the local citizenry doesn’t manufacture home-made bombs. The capitol of Northern Ireland would not be included on that list.
I get it.
After our guests departed my wife and I discussed how we select vacation sites. For both of us, the less history the better. No cathedrals, no castles, no crowds, and the fewer war memorials the better. Lots of trees, plenty of water, birds we haven’t yet identified.
What a blessing it is not to have to worry about whether someone who subscribes to a different religious system than my own might want to kill me. What a blessing it is not to have to live in a neighborhood with extreme historical significance. And what a blessing it is to plan vacations where the ultimate security issue is whether we’ll have bears in camp.
Journal of Natural Hist. Ed.
Natural History Institute
Center for Humans & Nature