Tag Archives: Brexit

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: On the Passing of 2016

jan-1No, it is not normal to talk about the passing of a year as if you were speaking about the death of a terminally ill friend who had been suffering for a very long time. Yet for some folks the end of 2016 could not come soon enough. Love ones were lost. The weather was weird. The EU began to fray with the UK’s exodus. The Austrian election was on a razor’s edge. The Italians seem to have changed course. And the American election—well, that was flat out brutal. The desire to see 2016 come to an end was even the case for a friend of mine, a pastor, who is himself publically quite doggedly apolitical. Too much sadness generally in the world this year for him and for many of us. (Though he votes dutifully, he views political solutions as largely temporary, whereas he is in the business, as it were, of eternal solutions. Point taken.)

Other friends of mine, on the left, of course, felt that 2016 was the year to end all years politically, if not apocalyptic at least revelatory of serious fissures in the democratic bedrock of the past eight years. What looked like a sure thing for them turned out to evaporate quickly in a 48-hour period just before the election. Maybe even fewer hours than that. Other of my friends, those on the right, not only want 2016 to end but the first twenty days of 2017 to go as quickly as possible. They are alarmed by the Obama administration’s calculated abstention on the recent U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement of the West Bank. They are also alarmed at President Obama antagonizing the Russian government in retaliation to hacking. It all seems to me a rather tough nut to crack, whether you grip the nutcracker with your left or right hand.

Harry Jakes
Harry Jakes

But I want to return to the idea of the year passing away. While it can be useful and occasionally inspiring to mark time by big occasions, like the change of the year on 1 January, or by your birthday, or even by a secular holiday like Presidents’ Day or Labor Day or, most noble of them all, Memorial Day, it can also be tough and painful to mark the year by the day on which someone died. I know that it is virtually impossible not to do so. My grandfather, Harry Jakes, died on Father’s Day in 1979. His daughter, Elaine, to whom this entire website is dedicated, died on May 23, 2011. Yet I have chosen not to mark the day of their passing with gloom or anxiety or regret. Rather, I prefer to reflect fondly, as I had when they were alive, on their birthdays.

And maybe that is the way we should reflect on the entirety of the year 2016. It was a very tough year politically—both parties in America seem to have found ways to stoop to new lows—and the campaign rhetoric wasn’t just hot, it was foul. But it is over now, and the future lies before each one of us, a future we can either worry our way walking backwards into or we can boldly turn forward to embrace and find a way to bring good to whatever situation we might find ourselves in. And though we saw the passing of some beloved celebrities, particularly Princess Leah (Carrie Fisher), tragically and suddenly followed by her mother, the equally iconic Debbie Reynolds, at least Betty White is doing well, and there was no need for the Go Fund Me Keep Betty White alive page, the proceeds of which now can be given to charity. A little weird, but hey, at least Betty White is still going strong.[1]

And my pastor friend—well, maybe he has a point. Maybe we should be more concerned about eternal things than those that are merely ephemeral. If we were to do so, we might be a bit more optimistic, for everlasting things have the backing not just of eternity but the Maker of eternity, the Granter of the gift of time to us all, and the Giver of humanness and humaneness to beings who often comport themselves in ways less than human.

On that note, I wish you and all my readers a very happy new year, the best of success and some joy with the turning of the calendar year, whether your joy derives from wistful thinking about past leadership or hopeful thinking about new, or from Betty White’s good health, or from the aforementioned gift of time, that is to say simply from there being a new year at all, and the relegation of 2016 to the past, for that is where it will soon be. Happy New Year! Wishing you (and Betty White, too) all the best!

Betty White
Betty White

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/nation-now/2016/12/28/man-launches-gofundme-protect-betty-white-2016/95904556/


Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Kingston upon Hull and Est! Est!! Est!!!

You would think that, being in Italy, I might want to write yet again about Italian food. You might think that the time has come to stop skating around culinary delights here and just come right out and describe a sumptuous feast. I could, perhaps, talk about my time at the lovely Le Naiadi Hotel, Teresa and her lovely daughters at the front desk, or its superb restaurant located on Lake Bolsena; and I could describe the gentle and warm Giustino and his tireless restaurant staff, the superb pastas they prepare and serve, the tasty secondi, accompanied each night by the superlative local vintage Est! Est!! Est!!! That white wine, Montefiascone, is truly remarkable. Somewhat full-bodied (for an Italian white) local production, it preserves just a hint of sweetness amidst a dry background.

Fugger tomb
Tomb of Bishop Fugger

The story goes that a twelfth-century German bishop by the name of Johann Fugger, a wine aficionado, en route to Rome in A.D. 1110 for the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, had instructed his attendant, Martin by name,[1] to go ahead of him to identify the finest wines for the cleric to enjoy. The servant would, according to the legend, write on the door of an establishment with good vintage the Latin word for “it is (good wine).” When the servant found Montefiascone he knew he had found an excellent vintage, and rightly (according to my taste, as well) wrote “est” thrice.[2] Of course, the idea that exclamation points were added to emphasize the wine’s goodness is an anachronism, as exclamation points had barely begun to evolve beyond the Latin evocation “io” (a cry of joy recorded in ancient Latin texts that eventually would be transformed into an exclamation point by shifting the ‘I’ above the ‘o’—but was not found widely in manuscripts as such until after the twelfth century). So taken with, even sidetracked by their fine discovery of the wine, were they that Father Fugger and minion Martin never made it to the coronation.

Lake Bolsena
Lago di Bolsena, Italy

But I should get back to the reason I am not going to write about the delicate taste of Montefiascone or the truly fantastic food here in Italy or even the loveliness of Lake Bolsena, a place that it is my first time to visit. That reason is, of course, Brexit, England’s rebellion and unexpected break with the European Union. No, I am not going to get into the politics of that exit—I have my own opinion, and it is as farraginous as it is tiered. Nay, rather I would speak about the courage behind the vote rather than the vote itself.

A recent poll of the denizens of the city of Kingston upon Hull (aka Hull), a town located on the east coast of central England that serves as the gateway for European trade,[3] showed that they, among all Brits, were especially in favor of the UK’s break with the Europeans. The reasons for it are multifarious, but not to put too fine a point on it, I think the people of Kingston upon Hull are at bottom hoping to keep England British. That may indeed be too fine a point; it may be too monolithic an explanation. But it may also be right. The open border policy that the UK has had now for many years and its cred busoncomitant trade agreements have essentially promulgated the dissolution of the British way of life. When’s the last time you heard a “Cheerio!” or a “Pip pip!” or even a “Chin up, then!”? When I am in England I very much miss hearing these things, expressions that once characterized British parlance. At least the occasional “Cheers!” survives.

Now someone might say that such an argument is merely reductionist and that I and all the folks of Hull need to face the fact that the world is changing. Now while that person would surely be right about the world changing, the people of Hull have bravely decided that it can simply change a little more slowly. They cast a vote meant to put the breaks on the rapidity of global change; they voted, nearly three to one for an attempt to preserve the remnant of English culture. And whether you think it’s realistic or not, whether you agree with the risk of doing or not, well that’s another matter, and not the point of this blog. Rather, the point of this blog is that at least one important aspect of Hull’s vote and the vote of the rest of the UK was an attempt to preserve cultural identity.

9781480814738_COVER.inddAnd that is one of the major themes of the Curious Autobiography: that the peculiar ways, the timeless values, the enduring faith that we inherited from our forebears (in my case Welsh forebears) are worthy of being preserved, that they do in fact have meaning, and that hastily and heedlessly tossing them out—particularly for the hope of mere financial gain, even if that is only part of the motivation—is, well, for lack of a better word, heedless. Heedless, yes, and dreadful, too. And yet though it has resisted losing its Britishness, Kingston upon Hull remains, according to The Guardian, ungentrified.[4]

But I say, “Bully for Hull!” and “Bully for Hull’s bravery!” As for whether it will prove to be wise or not[5] and what indeed Brexit will mean for the world, time will tell. But the courage it takes for a single town located at the cross of the Humber and Hull to resist democratically a world telling you that its cultural identity is no longer relevant and that money and the global economy is the only thing worth pursuing, well that is a courage worth commending.[6] Until next time then, I offer you a warm “pip pip” and in the face of the terror that has ruined lives of innocent folks in Istanbul in the last few days, a sincere “chin up!” And to my friends in Hull, I shall close with a “cheers,” one set to the clink of a class of, if you can find it, Montefiascone’s best, Est! Est!! Est!!!Est.est.est wineVino di Montefiascone, Est! Est!! Est!!!

[1] “Curious Legend Surrounds Naming Italian Wine,” NYT (1980), rpt. Bangor Daily News, Apr. 15, 1980 [https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=CHg-AAAAIBAJ&sjid=tVkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2888,6318448&dq=est+est+est+di+montefiascone+wine&hl=en].

[2] Tom Stevenson, The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia (2005) 286. Wine encyclopedia

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/oct/30/hull-the-city-that-gentrification-forgot

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/oct/30/hull-the-city-that-gentrification-forgot

[5] Some are certain that it is national suicide: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/is-brexit-national-suicide/ and likely to lead to a recession: http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/28/news/economy/uk-economy-brexit-taxes-spending-austerity/index.html. Yet others see benefits: http://time.com/4381865/brexit-trump-global-economy/

[6] I realize that there will be some who will make the opposite argument, namely that it is greed in fact that drove the Brexit vote. I simply answer them in this way: even a less-than-well-informed voter knows that dissolving trade agreements is not likely to promulgate further trade. Nay, the real motivation behind this vote was cultural, not monetary. You’re welcome to disagree, of course. Though I have never been to Hull and I can’t speak from firsthand knowledge of that town, I have a strong hunch that I am right about this. I would love to hear from my British readers on this matter. See also https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/the-sunny-side-of-brexit-staycations-set-to-rise-133358961.html