Mindful of last nights particularly ‘Europe focused’ BBC Question Time in which the ‘in or out’ debate raged across the panel and through the audience, I am moved to write about my recent trip to Paris. It was my second time and a special event. Mr B. had scrimped for a year so he could take me for my half century and as that falls on a bank holiday weekend, a lot of scrimping was involved. Mr B. is always shocked at how ‘untravelled abroad’ I am, even my eldest daughter has travelled abroad more than I have but as the sibling of a severely handicapped child it is perhaps unsurprising and I do know England, Wales and swathes of Scotland and Ireland – like the back of my hand.
Travelling is so important it broadens your understanding of history, life, people. Travelling extends your sense of secret self by challenging your presumed response to new situations and assumptions accrued by ignorance and lack of experience. I did most of my childhood travelling in books and by listening to the stories and memories of others, later through plays and theatre. As soon as I could drive and afford petrol I explored and adventured the counties of England and Wales soaking in all the rich history, culture and people.
The Europe debate is quite a poignant one for me, every time I travel via Eurostar to Europe I am mindful of how wonderful it is for the unaccustomed traveller to venture abroad safe in the knowledge that there is a structure in place that helps them to do so with relative ease. One of my uncles went alone to India in his early twenties, he was lost for two weeks before being flown home in shorts and a t-shirt and no shoes, having fallen ill and having had all his belongings including his passport stolen from him. As traumatic experiences go, it didn’t break him, it helped him discover a part of himself, previously hidden; a resolve to survive, an ability to communicate- to live every day more fully. But travel shouldn’t have to have such a strong sense of danger and uncertainty attached to it, we are not all twenty-something thrill seekers and lone adventurers and for me that is one of the strongest reasons to be part of the European Union. What I would hope the European Union starts to address is the retention of a country’s identity and sense of self so we don’t become an homogenous land of fast food outlets and perfectly formed fruit and vegetables.
Anyway, back to Paris. Whilst travelling on foot to Monmartre we came across a school building which displayed a plaque recording that over three hundred children had been taken from the school and died in concentration camps in the second world war.http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMD57N_In_Memory_of_School_Children__Paris_France
Later we came across the Ecole Ville de Paris which displayed a similar plaque more blatantly naming the Vichy Government as well as the Nazi’s. It occurred to me, whilst registering the utter inhumanity of that act, that recently over two hundred girls had been taken from a school in Nigeria and were still being held captive. It is all too easy to forget the lessons of that war and the biggest lesson of all is that together against a common enemy we are stronger but equally in times of peace together we are stronger in building a better world where we stand against injustice, tyranny and inhumanity. There may well be corruption within the European Union itself but its formation had a higher purpose and we should be very careful not to turn our backs on the potential of a relationship formed from the utter horror and evil of a war, when it strives to do the best for all people, although it may not always achieve this.
I don’t believe that we as imperfect humans with all our myriad weaknesses and vulnerabilities, should strive to live harmoniously in a one world culture but I do believe we should celebrate and respect our cultural differences. Later, whilst sitting in the La Place de La Republique considering ‘Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite’ I felt the benefit of the European Union more keenly than I ever have before.
I had been considering closing down the @cultureactive twitter account. Finally it feels as if other platforms are emerging to champion on a broad scale all that is good and glorious and should be celebrated about culture largely in the UK but also internationally. It is good to see what is being done and what is being valued or explored in countries far away and to reflect on that, in much the same way that we have embraced events at night in museums, a popular concept originally offered by French Museums. As our twitter base grows and we continue to promote awareness of all that is out there it seemed that perhaps our act of ‘activism’ has come to an end. But perhaps we should simply be considering more fully whether it’s time to move on a stage? Like the broader debate on the European Union, our beleaguered arts organisations and the fight to recognise the value of arts and artists perhaps rests on the simple premise of “it is better to be all in it together than apart”.