On a cold, foggy morning five days before Christmas, my uncle and I headed east from Grand Saconnex, Geneva, along Route Blanche, to Chamonix, France. From Chamonix, we took a cable car up to Mont Blanc ("White Mountain"), the highest peak in the Alps. I was not sure of what to expect. Walking onto a wooden deck at one of the viewing points and being surrounded by indescribable scenery was a moment of surrealism. I was where few will ever be. Of those who live, have lived, or will ever live, most would probably never step foot there at the top of Europe.
I wondered about what this place signified. This place belonging to the world but restricted to a few. This place tightly controlled by borders and immigration policies. This place of highly skewed visitor demographics. This place of exclusivity. This place many would talk about but would never get to see. This place transformed into cliche yet indescribable in mere words. This place resembling the pictures yet defying the imagination. This place of wonder.
I wondered about how I got to be there. I was at Mont Blanc by pure chance. The good fortune of having relatives living close by. The blessing of a flexible job. The luxury of making enough to take a vacation. The by chance permission granted by a consulate officer having a good day. I did not earn this luxury, yet I was enjoying the privilege. The good fortune of my life was never more obvious to me than when I stood on that wooden deck staring at a panoramic view of snow capped peaks surrounded by the bright glare of sunshine amidst clear blue skies.
I wondered what being there could mean. Could I still empathize the migrant, immigrant, refugee, and asylee experiences after setting foot in this place at the top of Europe? Does being in this place forever blind me to the plight of those enduring harsh immigration policies? Could I ever be able to see beyond the snow capped peaks of this exclusive space? Would I still be able to understand?
The answers seem hardly clear. Yet one aspect seems certain. Whether they are the Alps of France, or the Alps of Switzerland, or the Alps of Italy or the Alps of any other Alpine State, they bear one universal characteristic: they are the Alps of the Privileged.
I am among the privileged.