Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Holy Grail and other aspirations. LIke European unity.

My wife points out that we face the possibility of moving, for the first time in our lives, to a place where we’ve chosen to live.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve always lived in places we dislike, just that in the past we’ve always moved to them because we’ve had to. It’s either been to take up a new job or, worse, to respond to having lost an old one. Buffeted through life by the whims of redundancy, a tedious fate.

That makes it a pleasure to be in Valencia, in Spain, where we hope to retire at some as yet distant date in the future. As it happens, it won’t just be the first place we’ll have moved to entirely voluntarily, it’ll also be the first place we’ll have chosen before we even knew it.

That’s why we’re out here now, discovering the place.

My first impressions have been excellent. I mean, the city has a town beach of golden sand a kilometre or two long. A beach inside the town? Hey, that alone gives it full marks right off the bat.

But then I discovered more. For instance, I had to make a visit to the cathedral as soon as I learned that it houses the holy grail. I kid you not: the holy grail. They call it the holy chalice but, hey, that’s what the grail is. The thing’s in a side chapel, in a display case, for all to see.

The hunt for the Holy Grail is over:
look no further than this display case in Valencia cathedral
Seems a real pity that no one told the Arthurian knights. Think of the trouble, the desperate quests, the lives truncated that might have been saved. All they had to do was hop on an Easyjet flight in the morning, pop into the Cathedral at lunchtime to take a look at the grail, and they’d have had time to spend the afternoon on the beach with an ice cream. Or a mojito if they preferred.

On the way to the cathedral, I was struck by another sight which was almost as moving. More, to be truthful, if you see things the way I do. The symbol of an aspiration almost as unattainable as the holy grail seemed to be until we found it hidden in plain sight.

Wandering up a Valencia street, I was struck by the sight of three flags flying from masts over the entrance to a court building.

Three Flags in Valencia
On the left was the flag of the country and city of Valencia. It consists of the Senyera, the banner of gold and red bars that marks Catalan nationhood. To it, Valencia adds a blue strip with gold leaves. The whole thing is a proud and attractive statement of local attachment.

In the middle was the flag of Spain, representing the national state to which modern Valencia belongs.

And to the right was the familiar pattern of gold stars on a blue ground of Europe, the free confederation of which Spain is a member, by its own will and with pride.

It struck me as an interesting collocation of local, national and supranational adherence. It says, my roots are here, but I realise I belong to a wider community and, through that community, to something beyond even the old and timeworn concept of the nation, source of so much needless conflict, pain and death down the centuries. Indeed, I belong to an evolving union designed to end all that bitterness and slowly, painfully build something better.

It was encouraging to see that the people of Valencia seem capable of reconciling those three levels of attachment. But it was a little disappointing to think that my own countrymen, back in England, are apparently unable to show that generosity and breadth of vision. They prefer the parochialism of Brexit over the internationalism of Europe.

Ah, well. It’s enough to drive you back to the beach and another mojito. It would have been fun to drink it out of a grail, of course, but hey, a glass will do. The setting and the drink itself are just as good, whatever the container.

A glass is perfectly appropriate to salute the generous courage I saw symbolised out here, and drown the memory of the petty-mindedness back home.

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