Ticket in hand.(Credit: Elsa Wenzel)
I'm holding a ticket to Baghdad in my hand. I just booked the flight at a kiosk in a storefront travel agency in San Francisco's hipster heart, the Mission District.
From speakers in the room, a woman's soothing voice calls out some of the highlights there, like restaurants that are never crowded. Televisions spell out more urgent tips for travelers: "No skirts. No photos. No children."
No ordinary travel agency.(Credit: Elsa Wenzel)
Brochures in English, Spanish and Arabic provide more details: "All the beautiful places that you might have read about have either been destroyed or looted."
The boarding pass will take me nowhere, however, except my imagination. The fake agency, Abidin Travels, is a political art exhibit in the culture-jamming vein celebrated by the likes of Adbusters magazine.
Stumbling across this interactive, digital exhibit brought me closer to the hard truth of a war that is remote from my daily grind, yet visceral and immediate for so many other people. The experience was both amusing and terribly unfunny.
This fall, I had the privilege of visiting Vietnam with my veteran father. He shook his head in astonishment and pleasure at seeing the vibrant, thriving culture in peacetime. During the war that ended a month after I was born, who would have dreamed of today's beach resorts, passion for gadgets, and Gucci stores?
You can book virtual trips in person or at the Abidin Web site.(Credit: Elsa Wenzel)
"Can you imagine tourism like this in Iraq someday?," he asked. The question was already on my mind.
Abidin Travels is one piece within an 8-month Iraq-themed series of events supported by the nonprofit Montalvo Arts Center in Silicon Valley's Saratoga Hills. Its creator, Baghdad-born artist Adel Abidin, lives in Helsinki, Finland. You can visit his Web site, a replica of the art installation's kiosk screen, to book your own imaginary trip.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007