Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Beauty in Doom

Volterrano's ceiling frescoes

The Baron have had his reasons to remain silent in the Florentine sunset.

As he contemplated the muddy waters of the Arno from the southern parapet of the Ponte Vecchio, he reflected on the last year of his life and his verdict fell unequivocal and courageous: it had been bad, pretty bad, if not the worst.

That afternoon he had been to Santa Croce to see Il Volterrano's frescoes in the Capella Nicollini

A few years ago most cultivated European readers would have understood what this meant: the Sybils that are part of the painted chapel's ceiling shook Stendhal, the French writer, so deeply that since then the expression 
Stendhal's syndrome is used to depict the temporary physical breakdown caused by the contemplation of deep beauty.

In Henri Beyle's own words “22 janvier 1817... Absorbé dans la contemplation de la beauté sublime... J'étais arrivé à ce point d'émotion où se rencontrent les sensations célestes données par les beaux-arts, et les sentiments passionnés. En sortant de Santa Croce, j'avais un battement de coeur … la vie était épuisée chez moi, je marchais avec la crainte de tomber.” (Rome, Naples et Florence, 1826 edition)

Henry Beyle, 

Among the American students in flip-flops and shorts talking too loudly, unaware of how their vulgarity soiled one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the Baron's thoughts went back and forth at random from his own decadence to that of the continent where he had been born and lived.

How could it happen?, the Baron wondered over and over again. 

Over the last years, obscure interests have successfully tried to set firmly in the belief of public opinion in many EU countries that other EU citizens were to blame for everything that is wrong in their societies: unemployment, crime, high taxes, poor public health services...

There was no money, so it was claimed, to pay for social subsidies to Romanians, Polish, Spaniards or Italians (it is never Northern Europeans) once they had received the last payment they were entitled to, after working for some time in other EU countries. 

Some of them were expelled. Some saw their allowances withdrawn. There were no demonstrations on the streets, the UN did not protest, and, unbelievably, their fellow citizens seemed to approve... and that even if whatever payments they could still receive were absolutely rightful. Nobody seemed to notice that they have put money into the so-called system. Nobody cared about their fate.

Apparently, every national welfare system was at risk due to intra-EU immigration.

Then, all of a sudden there is money for two million refugees. There is money for their education, for their social care, for their future pensions, for their flats, even for free swimming classes. Europe needs them. Europe will pay for them.

Those EU citizens who took the risk of living and working in other EU countries, of learning other languages and cultures, were demonized. Their accents mocked, their legitimate welfare claims often rejected,. Their taxes paid, forgotten.

Does it matter being an European these days? Is one an European only if one is German or French? What about the concept of a European citizenship? Why no European MP has dared to talk openly against the petty xenophobia hidden under the arguments used to decry intra EU immigration? 

How could, for well over 40 years, many non-European benefit from social policies providing them with homes, monthly allowances, healthcare, education and support for family reunion; while now other EU citizens are denied access to social welfare when they move abroad to work? 

Why if EU country A has high unemployment, cannot EU country B, needing workforce, offer language courses, flats and social benefits to the citizens of EU country A that are willing to emigrate to B? Would not that benefit everyone and help improve the EU economy as a whole? Would not that reinforce what being an EU citizen means? Could not that solve the difficult problem of integrating cultures that are too different? 

Can one then wonder at Europe's decadence, at Euroskepticism? Is it of any worth being an EU citizen these days? The 8 Spanish citizens that claimed political asylum as refugees in Sweden last year obviously thought that that is not the case. As long as it is better being a refugee than a EU citizen willing to work, we should not be surprised of such cases.

And are there any studies showing how many EU citizens are forced to return to their native countries tired of paying taxes for others to enjoy, of being discriminated in the job market, of seeing their qualifications ignored or mocked, of dealing with suspicious landlords and colleagues who shunned them socially...?

Brunelleschi's Duomo

The Baron sighed and recalled Volterrano's frescoes, Firenze's endless works of art, as he saw the last rays of the sun glitter on the Bohemian Goddess' blonde curls and thought that after all we still have all that beauty around us; that we can still the enjoy the works of Donatello, of il Dante, of Brunelleschi, of Botticelli, and countless others … and that that is enough to justify waking up every morning, until another Dark Age falls upon Europe.

It will always be preferable, after all, if the unavoidable Darkness catches us absorbés dans la contemplation de la beauté sublime avec un tout petit battement au coeur.  

Sandro Botticelli, La Primavera, Uffizi

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