Every single one of us is searching for and building artificial paradises to suit our needs. That search is man’s weakness – after all, life will show its ugly face sooner or later and we will have to turn our backs towards it, if only for a while, so we can keep on going and keep on breathing.
I don’t know if it’s a conscious or subconscious move, but in recent years, when the grey, leaf-falling season arrives and the summer light and heat abandon us for a while, my eyes and my thoughts, in search of refuge, usually fall upon England. Walking through Oxford, with all of its streets, parks, canals and traditions, is still one of the most rewarding activities that you can do in Europe if you’re trying to understand or if you’re longing for what the West used to be not all that long ago. While nothing is the same in this age of the internet and McDonalds, you can still enjoy the spirit of a city which has managed to retain quaint celebrations such as the Boar’s Head Feast at Queen's College, a celebration in memory of a student who saved his own life five hundred years ago by putting an Aristotle book in the mouth of an angry pig that attacked him as he walked by; or you can imagine the social gatherings about Vikings, Saxons and Hobbits, the kind that Tolkien, Lewis and their friends would have enjoyed in front of the fireplace in The Eagle and Child.
The English countryside, much like the French, is insurmountable with its balance and conservation, and it highlights the incivility of the Spanish people who, despite our beautiful land which is often greater than Britain’s soft, rolling hills, are unable to get close – with the exception of some isolated individuals – to the clever example of rural development set by our neighbours. And we should always bear in mind our deficient urban design, a national disaster caused by the tackiness and the ignorance of our sad, nouveau riche, country.
But you don’t need to cross the Channel if you want to briefly enjoy Merry England: Kipling, Conrad, Stevenson, Wodehouse and Saki will always be there; you can become mesmerised like a child with drawings by Snaffles, Arthur Rackham or Cecil Aldin (with the permission of Norman Rockwell and Carl Larsson); you can walk along the Danube with Leigh Fermor or fill yourself with the light of Durrell’s Corfu. Alternatively, you can ascend with Vaughan Williams’ lark, some comfort for the weary spirit, perhaps the most that can be said for a piece of music.
But all good things must come to an end, and, although us Spaniards resist and try to protect ourselves from the elements of our time, from our rowdy and rude reality, from the unbearable pettiness of our politicians, and from the general decay of this pulseless Spain, we are doomed to return. And all that does is compound our private pains, which are, after all, the only truth.
It frightens me to think that I’m beginning to see exile as a comfort. I doubt it’s any use though – after all, we can’t escape from ourselves.
Published in J. LAINZ, España desquiciada, Ed. Encuentro, 2007