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The grand tourist: Francis Basset, later 1st Baron de Dunstanville and Basset, painted in Rome in 1778 by Pompeo Batoni

We just did the Grand Tour — again. All the way from Royal Leamington Spa to the Ionian Sea and back, a little under 4,000 miles. Our 18th-century predecessors used to take three years over it; we did it in a little over three weeks. And whereas they did it once we were doing it for the nth time and there was no need to go to Florence and Rome. Instead, we travelled by way of Lucca and Lecce, Matera and Mantua, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Baden-Baden. Our route roughly duplicated that which I first travelled with my parents so long ago that there were no tunnels under the Alps: we crossed from France to Italy over the Mont Cenis pass (Cenisio on the far side). In both cases we came back over the Brenner Pass, which has no tunnel and is just a long grind. I was particularly curious to see if there was anyone still on the Mont Cenis pass since the Frejus Tunnel was built underneath it. And there are, of course — bikers, relishing the turns and gradients and the absence of large vehicles. When they get to the top and take off their helmets it turns out that they are by no account young people.

What was different about this version of the tour was that it was our first since the Brexit referendum of June 2016 when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. For decades we had travelled Europe in the knowledge — a knowledge permeating the ether of our minds and relationships — that, whether we liked it or not, we were in the process of “integrating” with other European countries. Now we were engaged in the reverse process. Even if one didn’t want to think about the subject it would have been very difficult to avoid reading it into many things, from attitudes to exchange rates. In this context it must be noted that the Tour was not by any means our first post-Brexit European expedition. We had actually spent about 20 per cent of our time on the continent in the year since the vote, including a long trip south from late summer 2016 into the autumn. So far as I know, there is no equivalent European word for the North American “snowbird”, but the phenomenon is common enough.

I should also remark, as an ex-social scientist, that one can’t build anything solid out of anecdotes about Brexit conversations, though they are often suggestive. For example, the first night we spent in France after the referendum was in Evreux in southern Normandy. We talked to the two old ladies at the adjacent table in our hotel’s restaurant. They were Parisians who had spent their lives in Paris but had now moved out because the city was “uninhabitable”. They were surprised to see us because they believed that the port of Calais was now closed whereas we had come through it, uneventfully, some hours earlier. Actually, this confused two news stories: Brexit and the closure of the “Jungle” of Calais refugee camps. They entirely sympathised with Brexit as it would enable the British to keep out “undesirables”, which their own state had failed to do. It was not worth pointing out that the undesirables they had in mind were almost certainly not people who had exercised their “freedom of movement” within the EU.

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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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