Sunday, 31 July 2016

More than three million without a voice

The first Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence

The cruel stubbornness of the Bohemian Goddess in choosing London as her residence, while Baron von Trotta had precisely moved to Prague to be closer to her, has resulted in many trips to the former Workshop of the World.

We will not dwell now in what the Baron thinks about London, that Babylon of all modern Babylons, just in case we are charged something for that pleasure. 

As he himself learnt first-hand when living there, who is tired of London is tired of life and heads back to Dover with an empty wallet...

In one of his last trips, one particularly delightful summer morning the Baron found out that the Goddess had already plans for the day, and he decided to sink his exasperation by paying a visit to Aspley House, the last dwelling of the First Duke of Wellington.

The House is remarkably well preserved and hides not only splendid interiors, but also a very good painting collection that the Duke gathered mainly through personal gifts of members of the dynasties he helped rescue from the claws of Napoleon.

Notably the Spanish King Fernando Séptimo awarded him the loot the fugitive José Bonaparte was carrying in his hasty flight back to the French border. 

The taste of Napoleon's brother -or that of his advisers-  was not bad at all, as masterpieces by Veláquez, Goya, Ribera and Murillo can be found alongside works by Reni, Correggio, Tiziano, Rubens, Van Dyck, Steen, Maes & De Hooch.

El Aguador de Sevilla by Diego Veláquez
The peculiar version of History displayed throughout the premises did not conceal neither the quality of the paintings, nor the interest of the place. 

True, the Baron could not avoid a frisson de dégout  thinking that this was the sort of place where, at any moment, a Chelsea Pensioner, hiding around a corner and branding the Daily Mail as weapon, could attack him. Not that his Gnädiger Herr did not know how to handle such situations, of course.

After almost a couple of hours at the house, the Baron went to visit the basement where satirical drawings from Welligton's age were displayed. 

It always both shocked and saddened him to see how much more free and irreverent was the British press of that time, when the sad totalitarian hordes of PC zealots were still several generations away. 

A whole, probably false, idea of a free-speech loving Britain owes much to that press who left very little untouched, if anything, in its time.

One of the pieces exhibited was the front page of a periodical which depicted foreigners crammed in tiny boats trying to move to England where Wellington, according to the author, will give them money.

The Eavesdropper by Nicolaes Maes

The Baron could not avoid but smiling: nothing is new under the sun. 170 years ago, as it is the case sadly today, some play the fear of the invading foreign masses with success. 

This being England, xenophobia was anchored even more deeply in the minds of those already-dead readers by alluding to all the money they will have to pay for the upkeep of all those invading foreigners. 

The drawing depicted them as poor, haggard, in rags, and presumably lazy. L'horreur then, as well as now, for the always hard-working, always law-abiding, never-on-welfare, and always understatement-practicing Britons.

But the Baron, as he left Aspley House in the mild afternoon sun, thought about the 3.3 million EU citizens living in the UK and threatened with expulsion after Brexit. 

What will happen with the taxes they paid? Which European MP is raising his voice to defend them? Who is taking their side? Who mentions them in the media? Why we never sit down to breakfast to read about their broken dreams, their fear, their concerns? 

But we should not be surprised after all: they are mostly Poles, Italians, Romanians, Greeks or Spaniards. That is, second-class EU citizens. They have been deserted by their own elites. The taxes they paid at home, apparently, were as useless as those they paid in Britain.

What moral indignation is displayed in the media and judicial circles when someone mentions deporting criminals back to their native countries, as long as the potential deportee belongs to certain zealously protected minorities, while silence falls upon the more than 3.300.000 EU citizens living in the UK!

And the Bohemian Goddess is one of them ... could not help but think the Baron.

If Europe has decided to commit suicide, the Baron's mind is certainly not going down with it. 

That at least our ability to think by ourselves remains alive, at a time when it is increasingly denied to us the right to express our thoughts without fear, he muttered to himself, as he walked past Cording's.

The banquet hall at Aspley House

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