The further I get from home, sailing along the New Zealand coast, the smaller the issues seem that once fixed my attention on the news. I suppose that’s what a vacation is supposed to do.
Since we’ve been gone, President Obama closed the deal to raise taxes, after four years and two months of agonizing negotiations. The debt ceiling has been finessed for the moment. The Super Bowl is upon us. But the big fight grabbing headlines Down Under is about gun control; that there is a fight seems astonishing to folks in Australia and New Zealand. People at home marching in the streets to protest proposed gun regulation astonishes me.
Of course, all the news comes to us late, as we sail ever farther south. That in itself is strange; at home we’re so accustomed to 24/7 headlines on our TV’s, our pads and our phones. The moorings to the mother ship have torn loose and we drift gently away from the intensity of breaking news.
In particular, the Newtown shootings seem to have happened longer ago than last month. The last column I wrote just before leaving spoke to the tragedy, and I felt sick with grief. When we left on Dec. 22, it seemed wrong to leave the States in the midst of such agony. But time and distance buffer pain.
Here, the crew and the other passengers are tuned into events from the U.S. They have a sophisticated knowledge of all things American. People love the States, especially the Big Apple, and they spot us as New Yorkers before we’ve finished a sentence. Just about every person I’ve spoken with asked about the big storm and how we did and how New York is recovering.
President Obama is popular here, with the notable exception of a fellow passenger from South Carolina who referred to him as “that old boy in D.C.” I’ve discussed the Newtown shootings with some people, and they wonder at the violence in the States. I wonder, too.
We went on a day trip two days ago, driving miles along a rocky stretch of New Zealand’s seal coast. The guide and driver of our four-wheel beach buggy was a young man whose other jobs include running a rifle range, hunting, culling possum for the government and repairing guns. He said he is appalled at the easy availability of guns in the U.S. and the apparent lack of will to tighten the laws.