That is, the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, where I was honored to speak yesterday. And the funny thing that happened? Based on some amalgamation of the bio I submitted and my Wikipedia profile, I got labeled in my introduction as an “activist and travel writer”! See, back in the day, I wrote this book and then contributed to this other book, and while that’s approximately the extent of my “career” as a travel writer, the label has somehow stuck, although this is the first time I’ve ever spotted it in a professional context.
In any case, as I embark on a six-week journey that will take me to three continents and seven countries, a thought occurred to me: I should really blog about this. Thing is, I travel all the time and so, while I no longer find anything particularly exceptional about doing it, this particular journey—six weeks, one suitcase full of fairly monotone clothing and a small backpack—is a bit novel, I suppose.
Part one, brief as it was, has taken me to Strasbourg, France, a place I’d never been before, to speak about new media, censorship and democracy alongside an incredibly distinguished panel that included Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman; courageous Azeri journalist Eynulla Fatulleyev; the inimitable Syrian caricaturist Ali Ferzat and others. It was an honor to meet each panelist, and I was particularly honored when, after making what probably sounded like a very American argument for free expression, Tawakkol looked me in the eye and responded in agreement, saying that absolute free expression was an imperative for any movement fighting for equality and democracy. To have a Nobel Laureate agree with you on a stage in front of hundreds of distinguished guests at the Council of Europe is, well, exhilarating.
Strasbourg itself is lovely, though it has rained most of my time here and thus my photos (which I’ll be sure to share later) are minimal. I also enjoyed the company of a group of lovely individuals that I’d only previously met online last night at the Rhumerie (yes, rummery) Waikiki, which can only be described as the strangest bar I’ve ever encountered in Europe. Alas, it was fun.
Destination next? In about an hour I head to the airport to fly, via Lyon, to Casablanca, a return journey to my second home that I have not visited in five years! And the next eleven days shall be spent in relatively offline bliss, traveling across the country that partly raised me (well, into adulthood anyway). I’ll be sure to take plenty of pictures and will catch up with part #2 at the next destination, to be announced.