And from The American Prospect:
All year long I write about tribal conflicts. In August, when Israeli tribal customs dictate vacation, I want to get away not just from e-mail but also from news, politics, and insistent national claims. But I’m not terribly good at it.
A few years ago, we decided to splurge on taking the kids to Crete. Until then our usual getaway was a farming village in the green hills of the Galilee. But Palestinian suicide bombers were blowing up all over Israel. My wife and I decided that vacation should include time off from bombings. My wife found a bargain, a cottage in an up-country Cretan village surrounded by olive groves. The best part was that when I spotted a newspaper in the village grocery, it was written in letters I’d last seen in college math. If the headline said that the earth had swallowed Jerusalem, I wouldn’t have known it.
One day we drove down to see the ruins at Knossos, the capital of the Minoan civilization nearly 4,000 years ago. At the entrance, we hired a Greek guide named Pavlos. As he led us through the excavated palace, Pavlos found evidence that every enlightened idea began among the Minoans. The low benches in one courtyard, he said, proved that it was a pre-school — and that Minoan education followed the Montessori method. The shape of a throne showed that it was designed for a female behind — and that the Minoans practiced equality between the sexes. Before a famous Minoan mural of dolphins, he recounted that just recently dolphins had saved some Cretan fisherman whose boat sunk. This proved, he said, that “dolphins are genetically programmed to help Minoans.” The fastidious dolphins would have let lesser humans drown. In Pavlos’ telling, the four-millennium gap was erased: Cretans were the very same as Minoans and therefore, the crown of creation.
If I didn’t learn much about Minoans, I did realize that tour guides are the ultimate purveyors of national narrative, able to put even public-school history books to shame. Travel is so broadening, I thought. It shows you other nations’ narrow-mindedness, so that when you get home you can see your own more clearly.