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The parable of Provence

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Being the victim of a robbery highlights our inherent helplessness in an inexorably changing world

It was on the cusp of winter in southern France. As president of an international health care organisation, I had been in Geneva and decided to have a few days in a village near Avignon. Up to that time, the trip had had its moments.

One such moment was our flying out of Schiphol. Birds, probably geese, had struck the plane. It was thought that at least one engine had been involved. The plane returned urgently to Amsterdam with the runway lined with a welcoming display of fire tenders and ambulances. A daytrip from London had been transformed into the tedium of waiting into the early hours of the morning for a replacement plane. There was tension among the passengers given that, just a few weeks earlier, an El Al Boeing 747 cargo plane had crashed into a block of flats in the Bijlmermeer district of Amsterdam, killing at least 39 people on the ground and injuring many more. The plane had lost its engines in flight.

You put all that aside and have a relaxed time in Provence, shorn of tourists in this season. In the city of Orange on the way north, there is a famous Roman theatre, so we stopped in the city square, and went off to see it. From the end of the square I looked back and saw — nothing. The theatre was in a state of disrepair, much of it fenced off.

It must have been 30 minutes before…