Basilica Tours (1982)

As if it wasn’t enough to be disturbed from my meditation by a rush of feet coming into the Basilica, all of the rubber soles squeaked their way into the pews to my immediate right. Ponderously turning my head with disdain toward them I let my eyes widen to reveal my contempt.

What a sorry lot! Pudgy faces bulging under spotted scarfs and dollar-fifty camp hats, their bellies hanging out of plastic-coloured tee-shirts and their bodies strung with cameras and dangling sunglasses. Brochures were sticking out of every pocket. I’m suprised some weren’t stuck in their ears. All of them wore nice new canvas running shoes with nice white laces. I suspect, just as they were told.

A short man rose before them to his full stature and, barely able to see over the pew, he began to speak. Not a sage but a Tour Guide. On the walls of the Basilica are many murals representative of various countries and designed by an artist of that country. The guide took five minutes to itemize them all, each one from where he stood, his attentive flock leaning on each word. As the little man spoke all the pudgy heads turned in unison to follow the projection of his voice. Even as their heads were spinning he exclaimed, “Now we must rush to St. Joseph’s before it closes in five minutes.” And all the little feet scampered off with short, neat steps.

They had ten minutes in the Basilica and five in St. Joseph’s. That’s how one sees the Holy Land in eleven days for thirty-five hundred dollars. Absurd I thought as I turned back to my meditation amused with the resolve of the human spirit.

Post Script: Was I feeling a mite superior when I wrote this piece? Perhaps I wanted to say this journey was a serious matter for me, not some trifle of a tourist expedition, in the writing affirm my commitment to my task, push away my own culture that I wished to remove myself from. Was I dismissive of presumptions of my fellow North Americans coming to the Holy Land thinking they could know anything in 11 days when I would know nothing after 10 months and hours sitting in the Basilica, thinking they could understand this place eating meals and sleeping at night in the Hilton Jerusalem. Perhaps I was amused and enjoyed making the most of the amusement in the athletic writing of words to entertain at the expense of a stereotype. Is this cruel? Is it unfair? At least I or you don’t know any of these people. Truth is, I can hope, it is me I was making fun of. I wish it to be a bit of fun at no one’s expense, yet perhaps harbour some truth to reflect on even if the truth is to disapprove of this young me writing it.