We visited Marseille. At every port on our cruise, I spend a lot of time simply gawking. This city produced extra gawks.
There’s no sense trying to tell you what I saw because I honestly don’t know. Every building, alleyway, square, road and fountain has its history.
Our guide rattled off who built what and why, who designed this and that and pointed out the Roman walls and fortifications that remain woven into more contemporary creations.
The use of "contemporary" simply means thousand-year-old buildings built around and connected with 2,000-year-old walls and fortifications. I’ve always liked history but thought of the past as separated from the present.
In this part of the world, that’s not the least bit true. Mediterranean cities seem to flow their history directly into the present. Like standing on a mountaintop with a view of a thousand miles all around, these places present a seamless view over two millennia deep.
We traveled along cobblestone streets over which merchant carts rattled a thousand years ago and our bus rattled today. Even some very old structures seem almost "young" because builders often incorporated the use of ancient walls left by occupying Romans.
And the Romans really knew how to build walls. My knowledge of the subject is limited, but I’d like to check out Hadrian’s Wall in England. And let’s throw in China’s Great Wall while I’m adding to my "wall" bucket.
Each and every town square reeks of history, although all are now filled with tourists and cameras. Typically built around fountains, they served as meeting places and water sources for citizens and their animals.
One fountain we visited had four spouts spewing water and a simple and ingenious structure allowing humans and animals to share the common source. Underneath each spout was a flat stone upon which buckets were placed to fill before the fresh water co-mingled with the fountain’s pool.
Animals drank from the common pool but "their" water didn’t contaminate potable water flowing pure from the spouts. I’m surprised at the practice given their lack of knowledge about germs and bacteria. I guess the smells involved were enough reason even without knowing about micro-biotic dangers.
We sailed on to Majorca, Spain, which turned out to be our favorite — at least for now. The place is absolutely beautiful with a village atmosphere and rich history.
Unlike everywhere else, this place didn’t seem foreign. I think that was because — call me crazy — the place "felt" a little like Swansboro, quaint and comfortable. We toured Palma, had some serious chocolate and cookies in a garden table setting and watched the folks go about their daily routines.
All of these places we’ve visited so far have one thing very much in common: Tourism is the main engine of their economies; everything else finishes a distant second. So it’s not surprising everyone seemed courteous and pleasant, absent of any bad vibes whatsoever.
Of course I’m smart enough to know one can be anti-American and still be pro-American Express. Viva la cash register!
Otis Gardner’s column appears here weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.