Icy Slopes and Slippery Situations

 I have been squandering a week in the mountains, frivolously going up and down ski runs without a care in the world. I haven’t seen a television screen for a week but I am confident that the woes of the world have continued in my absence.  I do know that people power has triumphed again and Mubarak has stepped down in Egypt. It is quite thrilling to watch – from a distance – as a whole social system tips over and falls into chaos, provoked by information technology and maintained by the sheer weight of numbers in the street. There is something innately satisfying to know that, when push comes to shove, ordinary people do have clout and, en masse, are a force for change. I am not sure where to place myself, here in the West, land of democratic superiority. I own too much. Fear of loss makes me easy political fodder. I am thoroughly disgusted by “bankster” behavior but a bank loan enabled me to buy an apartment that I love. I will not go into the street to overthrow rank greed, crap leadership and manic law making. I have too much to lose.

As besides I haven’t got time to even consider political change; I am too busy skiing and that takes a lot of energy. You wouldn’t believe how much concentration it takes to get down a sharply angled slope covered in ice. It takes great skill to avoid colliding with other human missiles hurtling indiscriminately down the same slope on planks of varying sizes. We have all paid a fortune for this privilege but, as the sun has been shining brilliantly all week, we are happy to part with our money. There is plenty of sun in Egypt and Tunisia so I would assume that it is not the weather that is motivating this phenomenal mass movement.  I understand skiing is not a “must have” in the Middle East except, perhaps, in Dubai where artificial ski slopes have been created in the middle of the desert for the obscenely wealthy.

I am curious to know what kind of “democracy” the people of Egypt and Tunisia are clamoring for. I obviously live in a version that enables me to claim the necessity of one week’s skiing a year and, as I have already said, privilege prevents me from wanting to reform that one.

Like the people of the Middle East, I have teetered on quite a few edges this week, peering over into the “abyss”, wondering about the sanity of hurling myself into another descent. With absolutely no guarantee of life at the bottom, skiing is surely an act of courage and determination albeit less risky than street politics in the Mediterranean basin at the moment. The number of rescue helicopters flying around the mountain resort is possibly equal to the number of international camera crews covering events “hors piste” and in both cases would seem to suggest the tenuousnature of life.

France color codes its ski runs according to the degree of difficulty from black, the most difficult, through red, blue and green for beginners.

I tossed myself blithely off yet another mountain top yesterday, abandoning my limbs to the mercy of one more scantily dressed slope. I felt the adrenalin rush and heard the familiar refrain, “This is not the time to lose it”.  It started off as suicidal blue (post debutant), careened into certain death red (experienced skiers), lost itself somewhere in the middle and ended up as roller coaster blue again (seriously post debutant). I knew I had “lost it” when I found myself racing head first downhill, flat on my back, wildly out of control and minus skis. Once engaged there is no turning back. Inch’Allah!…

And, to continue the metaphor, there is no turning back in the Middle East now; there is too much adrenalin rushing through the system. The people have tipped over the edge and are rushing head on into “something else”. This is definitely not the time for them to “lose it”. Western diplomacy appears to have completely lost the plot – uncertain about the color coding and the amount of ice on the slopes. Indeed, the speed with which American foreign policy has chosen to abandon its long standing ally, Mubarak, suggests it has hit a black slope with loose fitting skis. No one does black with loose fitting skis especially if rescue helicopters are unwelcome in the area!

Who knows what’s at the end of the run or how far down it goes; who will get hurt and who will try to pick up the pieces. It is dangerous to try skiing in an area deprived of snow for over a month. It is even more dangerous to govern a people deprived of political change for over 30 years. If the comparison seems frivolous it is because I have absolutely no experience of what it means to be deprived of freedom. I just take it for granted. And you?

Enjoy your February holiday if you are lucky enough to be able to take one.


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