Frank Sinatra once cut a fantastic concept album about the joys of travel called Come Fly With Me. In the song “It’s Nice to Go Trav’ling,” Sinatra lists the assorted pleasures of vacation spots outside the U.S.: “It’s very nice to go trav’ling/ To Paris London and Rome.” In listening to the song, I find it impossible to absorb the following line casually: “It’s very nice to just wander/The camel route to Iraq.”
To hear Sinatra sing about Iraq as an exotic vacation spot for Americans is a wistful reminder that history and pop culture have long been knotted up together, and that it’s impossible to see the contours of the future just a few decades ahead (The album came out in 1958, one year after a 21-year-old Saddam Hussein joined the Ba’ath Party).
In any event, Saddam Hussein is dead and so, too, is his favorite singer (true story) Frank Sinatra. But the line from the song gets a new shade of significance with this news:
The first official Western tour group to enter Iraq since the US-led invasion six years ago is visiting historic and religious sites in the country, the tourism ministry said on Thursday.
“This visit is a positive sign for the return of touristic activity to Iraq,” ministry spokesman Abdul Zahra al-Telagani said of the five Britons, two Americans and a Canadian on a trip organised by a British operator.
This also gives new meaning to the next line in the song: “It’s oh so nice to just wander/ But it’s so much nicer, yes it’s oh so nice, to wander back.” Coalition troops have turned Saddam’s threatening wasteland into a free and viable country with a legitimate stake in a globalized future. When our men and women “wander” back, they better know we appreciated it.