Luxembourg City sits smack-dab in the middle of Europe’s tectonic political boundaries. It’s surrounded by Germany, Belgium and France, rendering it a strategically important position back when any self-respecting monarch tried to conquer the whole of the continent at least once per decade. As a result, Luxembourg spent a good deal of its time as a massive throng of fortresses alternately gripped by competing dynasties.
The Casemates are a remnant of Luxem-bourg’s time as a giant bulwark which people happened to live on top of. The Casemates were a sprawling bomb-proof complex of tunnels stretching twenty-three kilometers and burrowing as far down as forty meters. Cavalries and cannons could be stashed in them, waiting until the right moment to strike out against the French, Germans, Spanish or whoever else was poised to siege. In an attempt to lessen an arms race between France and Germany, they were mostly disassembled in 1867, and now are only a fraction of their previous staggering length. (Luxembourg still got invaded by the Germans. Twice.)
Luxembourg feels like a blend between France and Germany, and to a large extent it is. The official languages of the country are French, German and Luxembourgish (itself a blend of the former two). As near as I can figure out, the Grand Duchy exists not because it is particularly unique compared to its neighbors, but because its geography made it anomalous and dangerously central. There were plenty of other counts and dukes in the neighborhood, but all the rest got subsumed into stronger kingdoms. Had history gone slightly differently, Luxembourg would simply be a distinctive and multilingual region in one of the surrounding countries. Instead it’s a bit like the Delaware of Europe; an amazingly tiny state made viable by tax havens.
I checked out several museums while in Luxembourg, but my favorite was the Museum of the History of Luxembourg. It featured standard bits like Luxembourg’s development from a medieval fortress town through the second German occupation, but the best section was “Born to be Wild,” a temporary exhibit exploring teenagerdom by focusing on Luxembourg’s youth culture from the 1950′s onwards.
According to my parents I myself was a teenager a little less than a decade ago. Yet I scarcely recall any details specifically corroborating that I was one. I recall that, I think over the span of one evening, my voice dropped to its present octave. I went from the lofty voice of a prepubescent castrato to fully-formed baritone telemarketer in a day or two. So much so that my first girlfriend’s parents literally thought I was a teacher the first couple of times I called their house asking for her.
The museum’s displays on raves, complicated “tween” vernacular and fiery self-righteous rebellion were as foreign to me as Luxembourgers themselves. I felt a bit like an android reading up on human development stages. “Ah, this is interesting,” I would say, reading a note on the wall. “Teenagers are torn between great pressure to rebel and to conform. Hmm.”
Interesting because I don’t remember doing much of either. I owned a standard ill-fitting Star Trek uniform and to this day don’t fully understand the rules of American football. Retrospectively it doesn’t appear like conformity was high on my agenda.
But rebellion was equally beyond me. I’m an Eagle Scout who scarcely dabbled in drinking at all before the legal age, and didn’t touch a drop of alcohol in high school. Perhaps on account of a father working in law enforcement during my developmental years coupled with living in a state with astounding puritanical fervor. I have a theory that if your parent is in a particularly authoritative position, like a senator, police officer or minister, that you are likely to react to the intense authority of your pater familias in one of two ways. Either you acutely rebel by doing drugs, shoplifting and sleeping around (what in the American Midwest we label “Preacher’s Kid Syndrome”) or you basically become the Vichy Kid.
I opted for the latter. At one point in middle school I recall fellow students glowering at “The Man” (authority figures), with their obsessive rules and wanton interference. I immediately thought, “Looks like a keen idea to befriend The Man, I guess.”
A guiding light of my youth and onwards. Make friends with the Vice Principle and you can walk unfettered through the halls, sans pass, with an excuse of dubious reasons. Lock horns with teachers and you get detention; make friends and you go on field trips. At one point my best friend and I had between us a key to the school, the alarm code and a couple of computer network powers so godlike that I hesitate to mention them for fear my diploma will be retracted. It’s easier to run amok inside of a system than to throw rocks at it from the outside.
The most profound insight I had last year comes from Scott Adams, who said (here paraphrasing) “People are not rational. They are rationalizing.” I fully agree with this assessment. A lot of the time people react emotionally, based on chemicals or instincts, then their brains compel them to proffer up a logical explanation for why they acted so. Hence, teenagers and college students become passionate and angry and go to protests because they need an outlet for feelings of anger and passion. Supply creates demand. If we lived in a Utopia, seventeen-year-olds would get equally worked up about hoverboard price increases or robot tax subsidies. Fortunately the current planet has plenty of legitimate things to smolder about.
Thus I didn’t react with sympathy or wistfulness to the exhibits at the museum, but rather mild panic that my own future children might someday inexplicably start smoking, get weird tattoos on their haunches or set golf carts on fire in a conflagration of hormone-induced angst. Bad news for unborn Heatonspawn that their father has already written off youthful monologues as “just chemicals jabbering.”
Still, this cynical author is not entirely bereft of sympathy. One bit at the museum said something to the extent of, “Teenagers are going through impressive changes. Growth spurts sometimes make boys gangly. Combined with awkwardness around girls, it can be a difficult transition period.”
Those poor guys! I can hardly imagine being bean-pole skinny and awkward around women. My deepest sympathies to all.