As winter looms, the savvy traveler begins meditations on spring break and summer vacation. Naturally, I'm torn between springtime in Paris or Baghdad, the world's newest and unlikeliest fun spot for those who like a little adventure mixed with their relaxation.
If you like paintball, you'll love the Green Zone!
Coming soon to a brochure near you is a five-star, 23-story hotel in central Baghdad. In Monday's online edition of The Independent, writer Kim Sengupta reported Iraq's optimistic future in tourism.
With a new constitution under way and more elections down the road, tourism is freedom's inevitable offspring. The tourist board already is a bureaucrat's daydream with a staff of 2,400 and 14 offices. Not bad for a start-up democracy.
Sengupta notes that Iraq already is enjoying a steady increase in travelers - not including foreign suicide bombers who, though they might enjoy a little gam 'n' ale on the eve of their destruction, have not, to our knowledge, demonstrated a strong preference for 600-thread Egyptian cotton sheets.
The tourism upon which Iraq is banking refers mostly to Iraqis themselves, ex-pats returning to visit. And to various foreigners willing to risk life and limb for the extremely high wages paid contractors to build infrastructure, schools and hospitals in Iraq's explosive environment.
With death outside your door and money burning the proverbial hole in your flak jacket pocket, a luxury hotel with a golf range holds vastly greater appeal than a low-interest savings account back home.
Baghdad's hoped-for hotel is being built on land donated by an Iraqi businessman, whose name is being kept under wraps as a security precaution. Among some of the more unusual considerations is building the hotel to withstand mortar and rocket attacks.
Also in the works is a plan to use Saddam Hussein's palaces in Tikrit (his hometown) as a theme park. Dictators in Paradise? A world of Disney with a too-much-fun splash of Hieronymus Bosch, Saddam's former stomping grounds include 18 palaces, 118 other buildings and gardens overlooking the Tigris.
Meanwhile, in that other tourist mecca overlooking another famous river, Paris burns. Looting, burning and assault continue there as "French youth" - who bear an uncanny resemblance to "insurgents" trying to block Iraq's soon-to-boom tourist industry - are enjoying their second week of terrorism against their adoptive compatriots.
At last count, rioters had burned 3,300 vehicles, and torched untold numbers of schools, post offices, police stations and other government buildings. They've also injured at least 10 riot police, as well as a woman on crutches who suffered burns when she was doused with gasoline and set afire.
What set off this conflagration of emotion and chaos were the accidental deaths of two teens who were electrocuted while hiding in a power substation, reportedly believing they were being pursued by police. The youth, like most of the rioters, were of North African descent and lived in the heavily Muslim, unassimilated poor areas of France.
Rioters reportedly are increasingly organized, communicating by cell phones and the Internet, and strengthening both in number and ferocity. Police discovered a gasoline bomb-making factory, as violence has spread as far west as Normandy and south to Nice and Cannes. Attacks also have been reported in Lyon, Lille, Marseille and Strasbourg.
We wouldn't want to leap to conclusions, but veteran dot-connectors might note that "Muslim" keeps cropping up in the same sentence with words like "rampage" and "destruction." And that France's policy of appeasement doesn't seem to be very effective among those filled with rage and armed with Islam.
This is not to suggest for one millisecond that Islam is anything but a religion of peace (PBUH). But I - like most sane Americans - am probably going to steer clear of vacation spots where large numbers of unhappy Muslim youths reside. If I were French, I'd consider vacationing in the U.S., where Muslim-Americans, like their recently liberated Iraqi brethren, express themselves at the polls.
As final advice to vacation travelers, an official in Basra, where tourism has been declared open, offered this: "Tourists should dress like locals and maybe dye their hair," said one official. "And they should have armed guards and they should be always vigilant."
Tempting, isn't it? (ITALICS)Where, oh where, did I stash that burqa? And all that money wasted on tasteful highlights.(END ITALICS)
Both France, the ever lovely, and Iraq - once the cradle of civilization - deserve to be inundated by cheerful tourists eager to part with hard-earned cash. Time will tell which becomes the destination du jour: Iraq, which is plotting a future without war?
Or France, which is putting its own future in peril by denying that this IS war?