The Europe we love
Venturing abroad from the New Forest: for now in dreams and reminiscences, soon in real life once more.
This week Hugh and Mark touch on the topic of Europe.
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With the reality of Brexit becoming clear beyond Covid its unintended and unforseen consequences are coming into play.
But here’s the thing, the real heart of Europe isn’t within the glossy marble floored ziggurats of the Commission. The real heart, the soul of Europe, is the people and they haven’t changed one jot.
We're not talkng about the Europe that makes you throw your toast at the telly.
But the proper Europe, the one we’ve grown to love.
We want to remind you of sandy beaches and warm azure sea, skis and glühwein. Hiking boots and edelweiss flowers and foaming steins of beer. Pavement cafes and petanque.
Are you ready? Because it won’t be long, as we speak our nation is donning its running spikes and screwing the starting blocks to the drive. Once Mr Johnson says ‘go’, we’re off. The nation dreams of dusting off the suitcases and throwing open its arms to foreign travel.
Let’s go continental
Very soon we shall we hope again be enjoying Europe as we always did and what’s more Europe will be enjoying us! Greece is presently trying to broker a Covid passport deal with the UK, that’s how much they want us back. It’s more than just money that the Greeks crave, tourism is something they do very well. I spent two weeks on the island of Skiathos and I don’t think I have been more relaxed, ever. As you walk down the streets, you’re invited into restaurants by waiters hovering outside. There’s no friction, no pressure, just smiles and I felt that I could just as easily walk on down the street as wander in. The beaches are gorgeous, the water warm and the atmosphere calming.
Staycation? Thanks for the offer but let me get back to you on that one
You will have read of the enormous number of people who have, following recent Covid announcements, decided to pay a deposit for a foreign summer holiday. This despite the very real risk that they might lose their money. If proof were needed of how much we crave a holiday abroad here it is, writ large. The nation is taking a financial gamble on continental freedom and it can almost taste the sangria.
(Cornwall is lovely, my brother lives there, my mother was born there, our family used to holiday there. As our two regular readers might remember from a previous article, one year it rained for the whole two weeks. For an adult it must have felt like a rather long Covid briefing. For us children it was still a holiday, just a rather cold and wet one. We live in a verdant country; the author and anglophile Bill Bryson once described the sight of England from an aircraft window as a place seemingly on a chlorophyll overdose. But here’s the rub, green means rain and rain means holiday misery. Wet weather means overpriced museums, bored children and the toe-curling awfulness of what are laughably referred to as attractions. You can’t beat staring at carefully labelled bits of broken pottery in the glass cabinet of a small local museum for that magical holiday experience. Give me a gun now, any gun.)
Should I stay or should I go
Let me give you two imaginary holiday choices.
One: Fighting off ravenous herring gulls as their sharp yellow beaks snap away at your seaside fish and chips whilst you try to avoid the raindrops falling from your anorak hood.
Two: Taking shade from the hot sun as you snack on lunchtime olives and toasted bread at a Mediterranean beach café; the wavelets crunching and hissing as they run up the sand.
Yeah, the flight is worth it. Even the dystopian hell that is the modern airport can’t put us off. We want to get away (somewhere, anywhere) and soon.
Sorry mate, we don’t parlay the Frenchy wenchy
When I lived in France my neighbour Philippe used to take his family of three to ski in the French alps. He told me that once, after a day on the slopes, the family decided to try a newly opened bar restaurant. With incredulity he said that the place was English run and English staffed. Everything was English from the food to the beer and also, the language. He tried to order food and drink but was told that nobody spoke French. I can still see his astonished face as he recounted the story. Just imagine, in a country where the worst thing you can ever say is ’Do you speak English’ that you find an establishment in France where French isn’t spoken. A place run by the English for the English, an astonishing testament to the huge English presence in the French Alps. We shall return, in droves.
Le Bel Air the working men’s delight
Just down the road from where I used to live was the most delightful restaurant and hotel. It was run by a husband-and-wife team, he cooked, she served. The décor in this tiny place was delightfully awful. In summer there was a plethora of tiny deck chairs dangling here and there, toy buckets and spades and plastic starfish, even a fishing net draped across the window. The best time of year was Christmas. This is when Madame really came into her own and turned the place into a grotto, there was barely room to get in! It was frequented by building workers and truckers, all in their work attire. My favourite starter was Oeufs Meurette which is poached eggs in a red wine sauce, simply delicious. Red wine was served in decanters, as much as you wanted. On a point of interest, the truckers almost always drank water; the roadside Gendarmes are particularly vigilant after lunch. I remember that there were other places, some more expensive, others in a nicer location, almost all with better décor but for me nothing came close to the Bel Air and I really miss it.
The youngest rocks on the planet
In Sicily many roads are paved with volcanic rock, they’re not exactly short of it. At the time I was working there Etna was in a particularly fractious mood and she managed to shut the airport for a few days. Cars were covered in volcanic grit and there was a huge plume of smoke and steam belching from the summit. I took a cable car to the upper car park then went on in a special four-wheel drive coach which took us close to the summit. The guided tour was fascinating. I fell in with an American family and the father picked up a rock and handed it to his son saying that it was the youngest rock on earth, something I had never considered. We were taken to the site of a recent eruption, the guide explained that the pressurised lava seeks the weakest spot, bursts out, then as the pressure subsides the lava cools. The plug is thicker that the crust of the mountain and so the lava would never erupt there again. By extension this meant that everywhere else was at risk. Gulp.
Similarly, in Tenerife I visited Mount Tiede using a rental car. That was the most bizarre landscape ever, the actual summit is at a height of over twelve thousand feet. From memory that’s where altitude sickness starts. The whole place was so eerie, desolate and haunting that it could have been a lunar landscape. Getting back down to normality where there were beaches, trees and grass was a relief.
Soon these adventures will once again be available to us.
A criminal at large? Surely not.
We love Europe and the sooner we can return to enjoying it in real life, the better. However, we must note that our very own cartoonist Hugh was once banished from Italy as a persona non grata (this is latin for ‘get the hell out of my country’). How mysterious, perhaps he might reveal his sinister secret? In the meantime, we need to dream of foreign food and drink and warm sand in-between our toes. I can’t wait. I’m sure you’re the same!
Emulation is surely the sincerest form of flattery!
More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh
If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons, just click here!