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And then there are the appeals to the “solidarity” and “cohesion” of Europeans. A German politician asks angrily and rhetorically whether the British really prefer Muslim Pakistanis to white, Christian Poles. To which I have to reply that when my granddaughter was seriously ill and in great pain last year it was her uncle from Pakistan who could calm her. And I might add that the three members of the cricket club of which I am chairman whom I find most helpful are all from Pakistan. (Poles and Germans don’t play cricket.) I co-grandparent with people born in Amritsar and Nairobi. My various relatives have lived on every continent except Antartica, whereas I’ve never been to Bulgaria and don’t know anyone from there. So to what aspect of my sense of allegiance is the presumption of “European solidarity” addressed?

To analyse the possible relations between Lyrical Europe and Political Europe raises questions which are both complex and emotionally charged, as questions of identity always are. One of the more straightforward observations which can be made about this is that there are bound to be fundamental differences between the generations. After all, I travelled around continental Europe for a decade and more when it was unequivocally foreign. We were stopped at borders and had our passports examined (and even stamped); we changed money and pulled a new phrasebook or dictionary out of the rucksack when we arrived in a new linguistic zone. (I still treasure the tiny dictionaries I carried with me, testimony to my then excellent eyesight.) All of this seemed natural, expressive of boundaries which were real and secure. There is no way that my youngest son, a former resident of Spain who is usually taken for a Madrileño when he opens his mouth in Spanish-speaking countries, is going to look at it as I do: he sees his right to live and work in Spain, something he had taken for granted, being taken away from him.

Incorporated into people’s sense of identity and sovereignty are senses of property — and of lost property —which I find both fallacious and dangerous. Americans take great pride in the size of their country, though most will never experience much of it and, for the most part, what they do experience is “the tyranny of distance”, as the historian Geoffrey Blainey described it in the Australian context. Argentines get emotional about the “Malvinas”, a bunch of damp islands which they have never seen and whose existence is entirely irrelevant to their real pleasures and problems. Serbs obsess about Kosovo. All of this is the irrational sense in which sovereignty is understood as a kind of property. I don’t get it: I am an Englishman, from a land of traders, emigrants, wanderers and imperialists. I positively love being somewhere else, on someone else’s territory. I want to be in a Puglian Puglia, not one that belongs to me as a “European”.

That is because there is an important alternative sense of property. To adapt John Locke, this kind of property is accrued because you mix your life with people and places. There is a “my” Italy because I slept on the beaches and in the haystacks of Italy when I was a teenager and because I learned Italian from the lorry drivers and salesmen who gave me rides. And because I go back so far with Italy that I remember a conversation with a respectable Torinese gentleman in which I asked him where I could find a pizza and he replied by remarking that only the scum of the earth ate pizza. (He lost that particular cultural battle.)

And there is a “my” France. I adore France and many of the best times of my life have been enjoyed there. Yet I regard the political and intellectual elite of Paris with consistent repugnance. We Grand Tourists can love without any sense of a need to integrate.
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Peter Bollada
December 20th, 2017
12:12 PM
I felt a glow of satisfaction on finishing this article in a cafe. Maybe it was also the quality of the tea (Darjeeling). It seems like the gentlest of reasons for Brexit I have come across - the travellers reason. To quote one gem: "I positively love being somewhere else, on someone else's territory".

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