Travel in Europe is a hopscotch of national identities. Every border crossing requires a change of lens and a twist of the tongue. Each country has suffered from the ravages of national superiority complex for centuries, either as perpetrator or victim. Terrible wars, great art and architecture, and dying monarchies have been the result.
When I first came to Europe as a young man, I knew little of its history and only gradually arrived at an awareness that I was walking through a cultural graveyard. I was a Tom Sawyer kid, a cultural innocent from the New World, walking on the bones of my ancestors. What I knew of the Old World I had learned from books by Mark Twain, who had little use for palaces and cathedrals, or wars ordered by kings.
In my rustic disdain for formal education, I was unaware that the place of my first assignment along the Rhine River in Germany was only a drive of two hours or so from the valley associated with the 1856 discovery of the remains of Neanderthal cave life.
The Neanderthals had occupied areas of Europe and Asia for several hundred thousand years before being gradually displaced by the Cro-Magnon at about 30,000 BCE. Over the next 20,000 years, clans of ice age hunter-gatherers prepared themselves for the founding of Civilization.* The clans turned into tribes and the tribes turned into powerful chiefdoms. Beginning in Mesopotamia, ancient urban cultures rose and fell, culminating in the flourishing of classical Greece and Rome in what is today called Europe.
When Rome fell in Western Europe, the process of independent identity formation began and the sovereignty of many nations of the continent emerged over the next thousand years.
*Go to FAQ for use of the term post-paradigm and capitalization of Civilization.
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