Heinen: Modern discomforts

I do not like camping. I don't hate it, exactly.
Heinen: Modern discomforts

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like camping and those who do not like camping. I do not like camping. I don’t hate it, exactly. But I don’t like it. I’ve tried sleeping bags and tents and campfires and fresh fish in a skillet, and I prefer the Hilton. I love cool fresh air and the soothing rustle of leaves, so I appreciate it when the hotel in which I am staying has windows that open. I do not require both a shower and a tub, but I am a fan of actual plumbing. You get my drift.

Not that hotels can’t be a bit of a crap shoot on their own. I have stayed in some that made camping seem almost desirable. But in general I have found clean rooms and comfortable beds, so yes, go ahead and leave the light on for me. A fair amount of this has to do with the great pleasure I get from traveling. My wife Nancy and I got a late start with overseas travel, but between the opportunities afforded me by annual National Conference of Editorial Writers conventions, and primarily Scandinavian and Western European exploration (especially Italy), I have a deep appreciation for the broadening of my world view, the discoveries I find and the meaningful shared human experience of, to paraphrase a favorite Washington, D.C., restaurant, “going places and eating things.”

In the process, I’ve become a committed subscriber to Mark Twain’s statement that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” Twain went on to say “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And right now, like many of you, I am yearning for broad, wholesome and charitable views of men – and women – and things.

It’s always interesting to reflect on this country while spending some time in another, and I did that recently when we returned to Italy to spend a week in Bologna, a city we have traveled through but not to.

The city’s reputation is summed up in the description “la dotta, la grassa e la rossa,” meaning the learned, the fat and the red. The references are to the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the Western world, the city’s extraordinary culinary tradition and the consensus that it has the best food in all of Italy (think about that for a minute) and, finally, the city’s long-standing, left-leaning politics.

Some sources try to make the case that “the red” refers to the color of the brickwork in the city. Don’t be fooled. Bolognese wear their politics on their sleeves –  their left sleeves. It’s a great city and we loved it. It has a bit of Madison to it as you might surmise. Mantova looks like Madison in its topography. Bologna feels like Madison. The student influence, the restaurants and markets and food traditions, and its politics all felt familiar.

In fact, more and more the issues of much of the world feel familiar – national economies, immigration, employment, infrastructure, food systems, social justice and the impact of terrorism. Familiar is not necessarily similar, however. The employment issues in Italy, for example, are disproportionately discouraging for young people. That’s not true in the U.S. and it’s sad to see in Italy. And immigration, despite elements of xenophobia shared by citizens in both countries, is more generally viewed as a threat to centuries-old cultural traditions that are essential to the fabric of civic life. It feels far more heartfelt and thoughtful than contrived, America-first jingoism of our comparatively young country’s immigration “debate.”

Understanding, and then compassion, grows as prejudice and narrow-mindedness dies. Travel sure helps me with that, especially if pillows and little bars of soap are included.

Side notes

Madison adds a StartingBlock

Some of us have been waiting for this for 20 years. StartingBlock, Madison’s new startup incubator and entrepreneurial jump-starter, is exactly the kind of new economy cornerstone envisioned by those who saw the Capitol East District as the next big investment in Madison’s future. It’s opening in early June in the new eight-story Spark building on East Washington Avenue. It gives the city the right entrepreneurial hub to bookend Cap East with the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and a space to grow businesses that rivals any in the country. If anyone needed more evidence that the Capitol East District has arrived, you’ve got it.

Voices for recovery

This year’s 9th annual Recovery Foundation Luncheon Fundraiser is in September, but we draw your attention to it now for two reasons. First, it’s become a hot ticket as more people appreciate the impact the Recovery Foundation has in providing services to motivated people with substance use disorders in recovery, and in raising public awareness. The luncheon is at The Edgewater again and it’ll sell out. Second, there is still time for businesses and individuals who’d like to be sponsors of the event to do so. You can find ticket and sponsorship information at recoveryfoundation.net.