Months ago, I made plans to travel with new friends from Samois-sur-Seine, the small French village where I now live, to the United Kingdom’s University of Cambridge. Their son was coordinating and hosting a charity fund-raising photography exhibition and gala, and we would be his guests. Who knew that when the day came for us to arrive in this historic university town, the much-maligned former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be scheduled to address a prestigious student debate society that very night?
Invited by the Cambridge Union Society to speak at the university, Strauss-Kahn’s presence late last week was greeted by hundreds of protesting students, livid that a man who resigned from the IMF in May 2011 following charges he sexually assaulted a New York hotel maid had been given such a speaking platform. (Separately, 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn has been under investigation in France for possible involvement with a prostitution ring.) Because one of my friends is a fellow journalist writing for an Asian newspaper, she suggested we check out the protest in case it provided fodder for coverage. Little did we know that we’d witness students tussling with Cambridge police, being chased, carried off and arrested—and find ourselves smack in the middle of an internationally reported protest.
While there, my friend captured great photos; I interviewed male and female Cambridge students spending their Friday night shouting slogans such as, “2, 4, 6, 8, Stop the Violence, Stop the Rape” and“DSK, Go Away” and carrying signs that read, “Rape Survivors Don’t Get This Platform,” “Shame On You DSK/We Are All Chambermaids,” and “Rape Is Not a Sex Scandal.”
Third-year student Silkie Carlo joined the spirited protest “because Cambridge is a bastion of privilege. We’ve got a history of (promoting) white, powerful males,” she said. “It’s offensive, and to still be hosting people like this shows how antiquated we are. I think it’s really important to note that it’s not just the allegations, but (DSK’s) leadership of the IMF. The IMF has been raping the world.” Said fellow third-year student Kim Graham—a 21-year-old member of the prestigious Cambridge Union Society that invited the former IMF head: “I just think it’s disgusting, (happening) right after International Women’s Day, that they brought DSK here.” But “the worldwide media exposure we’ve gotten has been amazing. This coverage is really good for the cause.”
Such is the serendipity of travel. When you book your trip, you never know what adventures—including globally newsworthy ones like this—might await. And when opportunities present themselves to you during your journeys—whether a last-minute late-night concert or an afternoon in a café with fellow travelers—why not take advantage?
I love books that address the wonder of traversing the world. One of my favorite tomes is The Power of Travel: A Passport to Adventure, Discovery and Growth (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, $12.95), by Steve Zikman. As he writes in an entry called “On the Wings of Serendipity”: “No matter our intended design or schedule, Chance is our ever-present travel partner in discovery. Fate and Destiny orchestrate our journey, map out our path. Fortune and Luck plot our course, serve as our compass….”
And who knew this compass would direct us right into the midst of the DSK saga, a sordid tale being followed and covered by news organizations the world over? Timing is everything, as they say.