You might be familiar with World to the Wise Cultural Tours, which my wife Becky and I lead every summer to Europe. A new aspect of this adventure opened up in 2016…
Summer 2019 Tour
GREECE +ITALY + FRANCE!
Plans are already underway for the 2019 World to the Wise Cultural Tour, which promises to be as packed full of adventures as any tour in the past! We will begin with a brief visit to the ancient land of Greece, cradle of Western civilization. We’ll then head to one of our favorite countries, Italy. We just can't get enough of its incredible mix of history, beauty, culture...and food!
We'll also spend time in another non-negotiable destination: Paris. Not only do we see the highlights the city is famous for, we also discover some little known nooks and crannies, plus a day trip to one of France’s most treasured cultural landmarks. (Shh!)
If you’re interested in getting in on the action, just leave your name and email address below to receive information updates.
It was our privilege at World to the Wise Cultural Tours to partner recently with Journey Arts Collective in Brentwood, Tennessee to create a very special experience for a group of ten creatives from the greater Nashville area.
Led by Australian Brett Mabury, whose home town of Perth is where I started school as a five-year-old, the Journey group consisted of writers, poets, photographers, songwriters and musicians. At each stop along the two-week journey, Brett had prepared meditations and exercises for reflection that enhanced the already impacting experience of some of Europe's richest sights.
We began the adventure in Paris. Yes, we did take in many of the obligatory landmarks, but we also left space in the schedule for the travelers to explore on their own -- or sit and reflect or create. Our time also included a day trip to the Norman village of Giverny, where renowned impressionist painter Claude Monet made his home and painted his famous gardens for 43 years. We also enjoyed an evening with other creatives from the Paris area who are part of their own arts collective called La Fonderie.
Next stop was Lausanne, Switzerland, where I lived on two separate occasions for a total of six years. The weather that greeted us was unusually, incredibly mild and sunny, and we couldn't resist spending time by Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to the Lausannois). Over a traditional Swiss fondue in a restaurant overlooking the
lake and the Alps beyond, my good friend Luc Zbinden shared with the group a little about Swiss culture and the challenges facing today's Switzerland. The next evening was spent with yet another group of creatives, this time hosted by Psalmodia, a music school with multiple locations in Switzerland and France and where I taught voice at one time.
We then made our way by train to the Italian region of Tuscany, a land that has become dear to my wife and me over the years. We base ourselves at a retreat center a half hour's drive west of Florence, hosted by the Ammirabile family and the caretaker, Luca. Staying here in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, with home cooked meals and warm conversation, affords an experience that is simply not possible staying in a hotel in a city where we know no one. We make day trips to places like Pisa, the Tuscan hill towns of Volterra and San Gimignano, and of course the heart of the Italian Renaissance, Florence. Whether taking in the artistic genius of the Renaissance artists or simply admiring the Florentine sunset over the Arno River from the overlook at Piazzale Michelangelo, one comes away with few words and lots of sighs.
My wife, Becky, and I started a company around 2010 called World to the Wise. The mission statement of the organization is to promote and foster cultural curiosity by exposing people to other cultures and perspectives. This includes not only telling compelling stories, but taking people to other places! Summer of 2010 saw our first World to the Wise cultural tour, where we visited the UK, France, and the Netherlands. Since then, we have conducted two more tours to Italy, France, and the UK. We keep the groups relatively small in order to maximize the experience. Public transportation is used wherever possible in order to give our participants a feel for everyday life in the respective places. And wherever possible, we introduce our American friends to our local European friends. We believe that our perspective is impacted as we broaden our horizons and look at life from someone else's point of view.
This year's tour will be similar to the 2015 tour, with the addition of a couple of days in Amsterdam between Paris and London. The best way to stay informed is to sign up on the form at the bottom of this page. We won't wear out your inbox, but you WILL be the first to hear about future life-changing cultural tours!
Download the information/registration packet here: Info-reg. packet 2017
To secure a spot on the tour, all we need from you is the registration form (see packet) filled out and sent in with your $100 registration fee. The timeline and checklist for the rest are included in the info packet.
Purpose: to broaden our perspective and deepen our understanding of the world we live in by discovering the peoples, cultures and histories of other lands. Dates: Italy May 31-June 8 (depart US on Tuesday, May 30) Paris June 8-13 (*depart US on Friday, June 7) Amsterdam June 13-17 (*depart US on Wednesday, June 12) * and London June 17-21. It is an option to join us for individual locations except Amsterdam. We will begin in Rome and end up in London. We promise you won’t forget this trek through four of the most enchanting countries in Europe! (NOTE: There is a minimum of 10 participants needed for each leg of the tour to make. As of this writing, Italy and Paris are happening for sure; Amsterdam and London still to be confirmed.)
ITALY – Who hasn’t dreamed of roaming the Tuscan countryside, marveling at Michelangelo’s David, the famous Duomo (cathedral) and the other treasures of Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance? Or relaxing on a Roman terrazzo, imagining the days of the gladiators while standing in the Coliseum, and gazing up at the Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel? Or sampling a different gelato flavor every day? Or making such fast friends with our Italian friends that you won’t want to leave? Eight days in Italy.
PARIS – Often called the Pearl of Europe and the City of Lights, this gem has probably inspired more songs and literature than any other city. Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, Montmartre with its sidewalk artists, the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées…not to mention the obligatory sidewalk cafés, croissants, pastries, baguettes, cheese… (Oops, got a little side-tracked there.…) We’ll include a day trip to Monet’s gardens in Giverny. And we’ll enjoy a meal with some Parisians who might surprise you with their openness and friendliness! Four full days in Paris plus a travel day.
AMSTERDAM -- One of the most charming cities in all of Europe, Amsterdam has a character all its own. Take a boat ride on the city’s intricate canal system while admiring the quaint elegance of the 17th and 18th century houses. Visit the home of the intrepid Anne Frank or take in the works of Vincent van Gogh or the renowned Dutch Masters. Then get away from the city on a bike ride through the polders, the land famously reclaimed from the sea by Dutch ingenuity. And discover the meaning of “gezelligheid” or coziness to the max. Three nights in Amsterdam.
LONDON – Many Americans have the feeling of coming home when they discover this land that is the mother country to many of our ancestors. Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theatre, the Tube, the River Thames, cream tea, shortbread, meat pies, homes of some of English literature’s greats, and an unforgettable day trip to Oxford, including a meal at the pub where Lewis, Tolkien and the other Inklings spent so many hours! Four full days plus a travel day.
Just download the registration packet here. A $100 registration fee will save your spot until the $600 deposit is due Feb. 24. All details can be found in the registration packet. All you need to do at first is fill out the registration form in the packet and send it in with your registration fee. The liability release form, etc. can wait until your trip has been confirmed.
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Europe here we come!
In this episode, I give a brief wrap-up of the six-week discovery trip in Europe that my wife and I undertook in order to better understand some big issues. Some of these issues we are also dealing with here in the US; others are perhaps particular to Europe, but there is an interesting dynamic often at work -- what happens in Europe very often affects us here in the US and other parts of the world. It is my hope that what Becky and I saw and learned -- and the stories we relate -- will help you get a better handle not only on the refugee crisis in Europe but also inform your thinking on similar issues and challenges you face wherever you live.
As always, your feedback is welcome. Just leave a comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Very few saw it coming. We were in France when it happened. We had spoken to a number of Brits from multiple generations before the day of the referendum, and they were unanimously in favor of #remaINing in the European Union. So it was as much a surprise to us as to anyone that Brexit became a reality. It reminded me of the Trump phenomenon in the States -- I don't actually know anyone who voted for him in the primaries, but someone obviously did. It would be mistaken and simplistic to point to one single motive behind the results in favor of Brexit; ever since there was such a thing as Britain, there has been a prevalent island mentality. (The word "insular" comes from the same word as "island".) Great Britain opted out in 1992 of adopting the euro as its national currency, even though it was a part of the newly formed European Union. There has always been a sometimes comfortable / sometimes uncomfortable distance between the UK and the European mainland, in spite of the fact that the 31 miles between Dover and Calais has not changed recently.
But there was more at play here. The working class north of England, as well as Wales, has apparently been feeling disenfranchised and unheard. But the wave of migrants flooding the European continent, already in progress before the Syrian war even broke out, then overflowing because of said war, has certainly played a role in this 52% to 48% vote. There is concern, some of it understandable, about migrants taking British jobs. (This has been going on for some time -- in my experience, chances are very good that your order in any British pub or cafe will be taken by a foreign national from another EU country.)
Combine this situation with a rising tide of nationalism -- not only in the UK, but in many European countries -- and you have a volatile mix. There is a circle-the-wagons mindset taking hold across the continent. Not unanimous by any means, but significant. The day after the Brexit vote, the Dutch anti-immigration leader called for a similar referendum in the Netherlands. Greece has long had a major chip on its shoulder vis-a-vis the EU, as my wife and I heard first hand during our recent time there.
It's anyone's guess exactly how Brexit will play itself out, and some of our distraught British friends may decide in the future that they over-reacted on June 24, 2016. I don't pretend to be an economist or an expert on international affairs; but I am concerned about the growing resistance to anything foreign, whether in the US or Europe. It is a little too easy to take legitimate concerns about jobs and terrorists too far and turn them into irrational, fear-driven conclusions.
With all the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from both sides of the Atlantic, I can't help wondering what the Native American community must be thinking. Do they laugh or cry to hear white-dominated Americans deciding who can and who cannot land on these shores?
On this Independence Day 2016, may we realize our DEpendence as well. Our interdependence. In the 21st century, there is no more such a thing as a pure American than there is a pure Briton or a pure Frenchman. Not that we can't celebrate our national identity as we do today; but we must not forget that our strength is not in our sameness, but in our diversity.
(For Part I, click here.) Once we had been waved through, we had to decide which of two dirt roads was the more passable in order to get to the small cluster of makeshift buildings marked by a couple of signs saying "Ecole" or "School" on the edge of the camp. There were a few other cars parked, all with French license plates. Our eyes landed on a white, middle-aged woman talking to a handful of dark-skinned migrants. She was a local volunteer, giving several hours per week to teach French to anyone who asks. It was immediately evident that she has given her heart and soul for the people of the Jungle as she answered our questions. It is in many respects a small city. Although there are some tents, many of the dwellings are makeshift houses, although that word is really saying too much. There are shops, of sorts. (As you look at the photos, remember all our observations were from just outside the camp.)
There are a lot of reasons the Jungle feels different. For one thing, none of the camps we visited in Athens come close to the number of people all in one place. But the biggest distinction is that the migrants at the jungle can almost SMELL their desired destination, just 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) away. That makes their quest seem a little more dramatic and perhaps a little more urgent, with almost daily attempts at hopping a truck.
We were chatting with Dominique, the first French volunteer teacher we met at the school, when we were invited inside for a video presentation by a young lady from a performance art company from the city of Nantes. She does advance publicity for a traveling street performance called Long Ma, or “horse dragon” in Chinese. The company builds huge mechanical figures in the form of a horse dragon and a giant spider, and they draw huge crowds on the streets of European cities as well as on other continents. It was her idea to interest as many of the Jungle inhabitants as possible, which we agreed would be a great diversion from their daily existence in the camp. When she found out I was a French teacher, she asked if I would be willing to interpret for her in English. I found myself wishing that more from the camp had heard about the presentation, but I’m sure the word about the street show traveled.
After the presentation, we were standing back outside when we suddenly saw and felt our first ever tear gas attack. All of us were immediately seized with burning and tearing eyes, coughing, and stinging nostrils. Becky and I thought about making a run for the car, but quickly realized that would be no escape. So we ran back into the makeshift schoolroom to wait out the worst of the gas and its effects. The French volunteers were saying they had never experienced tear gas in all their time of coming here.
And yet, it is apparently not all that uncommon. The riot police have their orders: to contain the migrants in the camp and prevent them from attempting any more stowaways. As we eventually got in the car to leave, the visual was striking: the police in full riot gear in a face-off with several dozen migrants. I was reminded of the video a Palestinian refugee from Syria showed me in Athens of Turkish police with knives boarding the inflatable boat they were in with orders to puncture the boats. Like the French riot police, they were following orders to stop the flow of migrants leaving their shores.
In spite of the contrasts between what we experienced in Greece and France, the parallels are undeniable. The great majority have crossed water under perilous circumstances, be it the Aegean or the Mediterranean. Most of them have someone waiting for them in a prosperous European country, having gone ahead to seek a better life. And most of them still in the camps have nothing left.
Our oldest son and his brother-in-law, also a dear friend of ours, wrote a song about the plight of the refugees in this latest wave of the past year to two years. I leave you with a rough audio recording, along with the lyrics, below.
We did not come away from our experiences with specific ideas or strong opinions about what should be done to stop the Syrian war, or solutions for solving the massive challenge facing Europe at this time. What we did come away with is a renewed awareness of the senselessness of war, as well as not one but dozens of stories — stories that put a face on this crisis and have left an indelible impression on us. We know we cannot remain indifferent — including to those in our own city.
by Jonathan Durham and Brian Beise
So the plan has changed, so we quit the land,
So we lost our home, I still have your hand
So the dark is deep, and our vessel shakes,
I will call your name, and the day will break
See there's the sunlight; it was never really gone
It's travelled far and it has farther still to go
The wind has died but we will set our sails, love
There is no tide so we will row
So waves of our friends crash onto the shore
Everyday we choose another last resort
So the borders close and the waters rise
We will ride these boards and find the sea's good side
See there's the sunlight; it was never really gone
It's travelled far and it has farther still to go
The wind has died but we will set our sails, love
There is no tide so we will row
We haul on frozen ropes, salt-soaked to the bone
But when you say my name you and I are home
(c) 2015 Brian Beise and Jonathan Durham
We didn't really know what to expect. We had been following an organization called "l'Auberge des migrants" on Facebook for several weeks. It is a UK-based nonprofit that mobilizes volunteers -- largely from the UK, but from other countries as well, including a few Americans -- to sort clothes, cook and deliver meals, teach English lessons, and generally help meet the daily needs of the roughly 4,500 migrants that find themselves in a place called the Jungle.
I'm not at all sure who gave this refugee camp that nickname. In a way it seems to me to dehumanize what is already a cauldron of needs, hopes and aspirations, not to mention abhorrent living conditions.
Becky and I wanted to visit the camp, even for just a day, to observe and compare this situation with what we encountered in Greece. We decided to apply as volunteers for a day with the Auberge (which means "inn"). Not having heard back from them (it turns out they only accept volunteers for a week or more), we decided to just drive to Calais and see what we could see.
On a tip from the staff at the restaurant where we had had lunch, we drove to an area near the port of Calais, where hundreds of vehicles line up every day for the car ferry that will take them across the English Channel. Not surprisingly, the Jungle is right there, below the overpass leading to the ferry, although it took what seemed like forever to figure out how to get there by car. One young man at a nearby animal shelter, where we stopped to ask more questions, told me where I could find the warehouses where most of the volunteers work.
Under a chilly drizzle, we arrived at the warehouse, given away by the number of British license plates on the cars parked in the street. We were welcomed by a smiling young man from Manchester, wearing a high-vis raincoat. Dozens of other young volunteers scurried about, many of them finishing up a coffee break and getting back to sorting supplies, setting up donated tents to make sure all the parts were there, and loading a large truck with clothes. Mostly English was spoken, with a little French or German here and there.
After a few more minutes of asking questions of whomever was available, we were told that we couldn't actually go inside the camp, but that if we showed up at the gate at 6:00 pm, we could visit the makeshift school on the edge of the Jungle, where anyone can go and volunteer their time to give lessons in English, French, and other things.
We arrived at the entrance to the Jungle, guarded by a strong contingent of police. Having set aside my natural reluctance to ask strangers questions (I suppose I'm becoming a self-styled journalist in my old age), I struck up a conversation with one of the troopers while his colleague was running my passport through the system. He told me this unit is part of the national riot police, called in anywhere in France where there is a need to restore order. It wouldn't be long before we would see part of how this is done.
There was such a different feel between the camps we visited in Athens and the Jungle here in Calais. A majority (by how many I'm not sure) of the migrants come from Africa, notably Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. There are also a number from other African countries, along with Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Many have attempted to jump aboard a truck bound for the ferry. Some of those waiting in the Jungle are following legal procedures for applying for asylum, but their chances are usually slim. And now with the Brexit, many in France are calling on England to protect their own border -- in other words, to relieve France of the responsibility of holding them back.
If many of the refugees in Athens have family waiting for them in Germany, many of those in the Jungle have people waiting in the UK -- hence the hope of somehow making it across the Channel.
In Part II, you'll read about the surprise that awaited not only us, but some of the volunteers who happened to be at the Jungle at the same time....
(Note: see below for a correction of an error in this week's episode.)
This episode comes to you from beautiful Switzerland, where I am currently doing a short series of concerts with my old friends and partners in crime, François and Christine Reymond. As I've mentioned earlier, the primary purpose of this trip to Europe, however, is to observe and document some of the enormous changes the European continent is going through, and I couldn't resist the urge to check into some of the developments in Switzerland along these lines. I was all the more interested since I've spent six years of my life in this country.
Here's a table of contents of this episode:
Chapter One - a crash course on Switzerland, just to make sure we're on the same page and that you're tracking with me
Chapter Two - walking the streets of Lausanne (where I lived in two different stints) with a good friend, who happens to be a policeman
Chapter Three - the changing face of Switzerland through the eyes of a high school vice principal
Chapter Four - an encounter with some refugees in Switzerland
Join us next week, when we'll be coming to you from Athens, Greece!
Correction: if you listened to the segment on my interview with Lionel the policeman, you heard me mention drug dealers on a Lausanne city square at night. I mistakenly understood Lionel to say they were Eritreans; they are instead of other African nationalities, but rarely Eritreans. I apologize for the error.