Like most well-traveled white hipsters with a powerful sense of irony, I have a deep and abiding love of Rick Steves — the hay-headed public television mainstay who hops around Europe leaving his nerdy imprint on every picturesque hamlet and medieval village he encounters.
Steves is the perfect advertisement for American travel. He is polite, doesn’t mind walking to see the good stuff, and pointedly avoids the bus tour stuff that many settle for on trips abroad. His guidebooks are indispensable for their precision and detail, and he devotes considerable attention to helping Americans avoid paying the idiot tax for a hotel room or bistro. (In both Paris and Berlin last spring, the enlivening and bejeweled Mrs. Pax Arcana and I relied heavily on Steves’ books to help us navigate our way around.)
He is also high on occasion, according to this interview in Salon:
A lot of my outlook and writing have been sharpened by enjoying a little recreational marijuana. If you arrested everybody who smoked marijuana in the United States tomorrow, this country would be a much less interesting place to call home.
The fact is, the marijuana law in the U.S. is a big lie. It’s racist and classist. White rich people can smoke marijuana with impunity and poor black people get a record, can’t get education, can’t get a loan, and all of sudden go into a life of desperation and become hardened criminals. Why? Because we’ve got a racist law based on lies about marijuana.
Wait that’s something entirely different.
Anyway, the point of the interview is that Steves just got back from filming a segment about traveling in Iran. And you’re never going to believe this, but he says the 70 million or so inhabitants of that country aren’t all murderous demons with fireball eyes and forked tongues:
I was actually scared to go to Iran. We almost left our big camera in Athens and took our little sneak camera instead. I thought people would be throwing stones at us in the streets. And when I got there, I have never felt a more friendly welcome because I was an American. It was just incredible. I was in a traffic jam in Tehran, a city of 10 million people, and a guy in the next car saw me in the back seat and had my driver roll the window. He then handed over a bouquet of flowers and said, “Give this bouquet to the foreigner in your back seat and apologize for our traffic.”
Oh come on, Rick. You’re just being duped, you got a minder, he’s only going to show you the good parts of the country.
Some people say, “You’re just being duped, you got a minder, he’s only going to show you the good parts of the country.”
I do want to make clear that Iran is not a free society. They traded away their freedom for a theocracy, out of fear. It’s just like Americans. We don’t want to torture people, we want to have civil liberties, we don’t want our government reading our mail. But when we have fear, we let fear trump our commitment to our civil liberties and decency. We allow torture, we allow the government to read our mail. It’s not because we’re bad, it’s because sometimes fear is more important than our core values. And Iran is afraid. They’ve given up democracy because they know a theocracy will stand strong against encroaching Western values.
Frankly, I don’t see why we all can’t sit around a table with Rick Steves and a huge pile of weed and work this thing out. Come on, Ayatollah, you’re bogarting the pipe again.
The other side of Rick Steves [Salon]