Today, January 31 2020, is Brexit day. At 11pm tonight the UK will leave the European Union. Like with all goodbyes to relationships that have meant something to me, I feel sad.
I’d like to mark the day with a few thoughts and images.
I was thirteen years old when I discovered the BBC drama The Roads to Freedom, based on the trilogy by the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. I remember being fascinated by the series and loved the theme tune, sung by Georgia Brown, who also happened to be related to my best friend at the time. When Georgia Brown sang La route est dure, mais je suis forte*, I would always join in. Sometimes, even years later, I’d find myself singing that refrain at the top of my voice.
At the age of fourteen I decided to read the books themselves, and bought the Penguin paperbacks which were translated into English.
Nearly all my old paperback novels have been given to charity, in a massive Marie Kondo-style decluttering. However, one of the trilogy purposefully survived the purge. Nostalgia? Symbolism? Somehow, this book represented an important part of my growing up. The cover features artwork by Picasso – a panel called The War. Picasso who was Spanish, was also one of my favourite artists at the time:
Shortly after this teenage discovery Britain joined the EU, and being a part of the EU is what I have known and experienced for all my adult life. I embraced and still embrace multilingualism and learned to speak and read in French, Italian, and to a lesser extent, Spanish. For several years I taught an interdisciplinary Open University course on Post WW2 French and Italian culture, spanning film studies, art history, literature and philosophy.
Below, a selfie with a photograph of Sartre, Paris, 2015:
In terms of daily rituals my tastes are informed by Europe. Breakfast is likely to be what is referred to as Continental and never a Full English and invariably involves a Lavazza coffee in a well-used Bialetti Moka coffee maker:
My evening rituals regularly involve watching a Nordic Noir thriller. As a former teacher and programmer of Italian cinema studies I’m also currently relishing the latest series from director Paolo Sorrentino, The New Pope. Last night whist reading my Kindle in bed (another ritual) I abandoned the gloomy American thriller I was reading and immersed myself in a few pages of The Wings of the Sphinx by the late Andrea Camilleri, whose brilliant Montalbano series has me both gripped and guffawing.
So I am a Europhile. I’m sad but I’ll get over it. La route est dure, mais je suis forte! I took the photo below in Verona a couple of years ago. At the time it was a merely a record of Italian graffiti adorned with a black heart. It now feels personally pertinent. Ciao Ciao, Europe.
- *The road is hard, but I am strong
Also published on Medium.