The Dual Arts of Travel and Peace

by Jheri St. James

     The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, a constitutional monarchy, is an independent sovereign state tucked between Belgium, France and Germany, a dot too small for its name on most maps. In 963 A.D. when Siegfried, Count of the Ardennes and founder of the Luxembourg Dynasty, had a castle built on the territory of the present-day capital of Luxembourg, the written history of Lucilinburhuc (i.e., Luxembourg) began. After a long period of foreign domination (Burgundian, Spanish, French, Austrian), the Congress of Vienna settled the destiny of the country by raising it to the rank of Grand Duchy and giving it as personal property to the King of Netherlands, William I of Orange-Nassau. This lasted until 1890, a period of democratic institutions, political independence and growing autonomy. By the 11th of May 1867, the Treaty of London reaffirmed Luxembourg’s territorial integrity, this tiny country’s autonomy was validated, Luxembourg was declared perpetually neutral, and the great powers of Europe agreed to guarantee and protect this neutrality. Luxembourg has had its own Dynasty since 1890. The present ruler, H.R.H. Grand Duke Henri, succeeded his father, grand Duke Jean, to the throne in October 2000. Executive power is in the hands of the Grand Duke and a cabinet of 12 ministers. Legislative power rests with a parliament elected by men and women over 18, all of whom in Luxembourg have the right and duty to vote. The Grand Duchy is a founder member of the EU, and has a population of 420,000, including the highest proportion of inhabitants with foreign passports among the EU countries.

     The northern part of Luxembourg boasts sylvan settings perfect for skiing and hiking, while the Moselle Valley, just east of Luxembourg City, is one of Europe’s most idyllic wine-producing regions. The capital is no more than an hour’s drive from anywhere. Ryan Patrick Cawley visited Luxembourg City recently and had a difficult time finding a plot of dirt to collect for Common Ground 191. “I walked through the town and almost everything had been rebuilt so there wasn’t really any soil to be found at all, but I was able to come across a house that was deserted and had been chained off. I was able to get inside and take soil from the garden that hadn’t been seen in years . . . they didn’t have very many places that are still natural; everything is being built on.”

Ryan Patrick Cawley in Luxembourg

     Ryan Patrick Cawley’s soil collection story for Common Ground 191 was reminiscent of another Ryan’s (Latimer), who wrote for Vision Magazine in June 2005: “I worry about the loss of the essence of travel the way that I worry about the loss of literature. Complex Joycean novels have been replaced by short articles, encapsulated into bolded paragraphs and italicized sentences, minimized into bullet points that become quotes, or mottos slipped into insincere fortune cookies written by outsourced ghostwriters. Travel is becoming like this too. We are beginning to see the devolution of the traveler: ex-patriot to backpacker, student traveler to tourist; tour-taker to cruise ship lover. Ah yes, the cruise. Wealthy xenophobes stuffing themselves during midnight buffets of Mac n’ Cheese and frozen yogurt with chocolate sprinkles; traveling in air-conditioned buses to visit exotic destinations for a mere hour before arriving back on the ship for processed and homogenized American entertainment. What country were you in? Does it matter?”

     Ryan Patrick Cawley says, “… as soon as I got the soil, I had to make it back to the train to go on the Frankfurt. I was not able to ship it until I returned to England (which is a miracle by the way). Most of the activities there are mainly take the train to other countries for business because for the younger age it is hard to find jobs in Luxembourg. Also many students travel to Germany for school.”

     We at Common Ground 191 marvel at the miracles of soil collection and shipment, and their fascinating stories. The fact that good friends of every social strata are willing to take time from their travels, kneel down and pack up some soil from countries like Luxembourg moves us anew every time a soil shipment arrives at headquarters in Laguna Beach, California, having also cleared the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture procedures. Surely this makes even the minimilist travel that Ryan Latimer describes more deep and meaningful.

The River Esch-sur-Sûre

     But more about Luxembourg: there are 12 rivers, the Moselle being a canal which links the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to the large European waterways. Other important rivers are the Sûre, the Our, and the Alzette. Luxembourg is slightly smaller than Rhode Island. The country is divided into two clearly defined regions: It’s a shame that Ryan Patrick Cawley missed the “Eisleck” or “Oesling” in the north, which is part of the Ardennes, on the western rim of the Eifel, and covers one-third of the territory is a wooded country of great scenic beauty. Maybe someday he will visit the “Good Country” in the center and south of the country, which covers the remainder of the territory and is mainly rolling farmland and woods. This area is bordered in the east by the wine-producing valley of the Moselle, and in the extreme southwest by a narrow strip of red earth, which forms the Luxembourg iron-ore basin.

     It was the discovery of iron ore around 1850 which marked the economic turning point for Luxembourg. An important steel industry came into being, drawing tens of thousands of foreign workers into the ore mines and steel factories and bringing prosperity to the whole country. The steel exports constitute one quarter of the value of Luxembourg export trade. The Arcelor group produces 90% of flat carbon steel and long carbon steel, and is among the world’s leaders in stainless steel production, and is among the largest firms in Europe for distribution, transformation and trading. Since the end of World War II, aluminum, glass, cement, tires, magnetic tapes and computers have become other exports of Luxembourg. Dams have been built in Esch-sur-Sure and Rosport, Vianden is Europe’s second-largest hydro-electricity pumping station, and ASTRA satellites are controlled from Luxembourg.

     But the most famous of Luxembourg’s activities has to be its major role as a prominent international financial center, numbering 14,000 domiciled holding companies, some 1300 investment funds and 220 banks which represent the greatest banking concentration in the European Community. More recently Luxembourg has reaffirmed its importance as a center for Eurobonds with a big emphasis in ECUs and the future seems likely to attract more and more investment funds in Euros to this comparatively young, but steadily growing center. Other sectors such as investment fund promotions and services, life insurance and personal investment business thrive here as well. In close cooperation with Belgium and the Netherlands, Luxembourg is a partner in an economic entity called BENELUX, which was the first step towards the current larger European union. Tourism also contributes significantly to the national accounts.
The people of Luxembourg (439,500) speak Letzebuergesch, which has its own dictionary and grammar, and is recognized as the national language, even though French and German remain the official languages. Letzebuergesch or Luxembourgish is taught in schools and in language courses mostly addressed to resident foreigners. Although of Germanic origin, this maverick language has sufficiently differentiated itself from its parent language so as no longer to be understood by many a German, as well as incorporating many French and English words. French is the official language of the administration, jurisdiction, parliament, educators, and some literary circles. This peculiar language situation is a direct result of the size of the country, and its historic associations with both France and Germany. So one can see that most folks in Luxembourg must speak four languages to navigate their world.

The Bourscheid Castle in the Ardennes

     The Bourscheid Castle in the Luxembourg Ardennes is located on an isolated promontory above the river Sûre. Even today the ruins testify to an impressive fortification covering a surface of 12,000 square meters and surrounded by a massive ring wall with 121 watchtowers, an excellent example of the medieval castle tradition, much visited by tourists today. Geological excavations have yielded traces of Ottonian, Carolingian, Merovingian and even Roman artifacts. Behind the gateway, a ditch protected by four towers barred the access to the upper and lower castle. The square in front of the exterior gate was protected by palisades, and justice was pronounced under a lime tree. Imagine a time when one could stand under a lime tree and declare justice, or feel secure behind watchtowers and walled fortifications. This castle was about more than fairy tales; it was about fighting—victory and defeat—war.

     Luxembourg’s army is all volunteers; 17 the age of joining up; soldiers under 18 not deployed into combat or with peacekeeping missions. These young soldiers likely travel, like our two Ryans. Spiritual writer, speaker, and master of the art of travel Deepok Chopra has something to say about travel from the peacekeeping point of view. “I have traveled the globe many, many times. My journeys have absolutely influenced my views on world peace. My experiences of observing poverty, violence, waste, ecological ignorance, and acts of war have reinforced my understanding that nationalism is unnecessary. There can be no us versus them. We are one planet, one people. The sooner we realize this and embrace each other with compassion and love, the sooner our planet will begin to thrive with abundance for all people wherever they live.” (Vision, June 2005) And isn’t this the underlying truth about our planet? All countries, even tiny Luxembourg, rest on common ground, in spite of the arbitrary lines drawn on the surface. But making and keeping peace is an art, one that humanity needs to practice.

Joseph Mallord William Turner painting of Luxembourg





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