May 09, 2003
Northern France versus southern Spain

Today we took a trip into Spain, and the contrast was not that great, but nevertheless definite. The part of France where my hosts live has the air of a place where old people outnumber most others, and of being a place where things are accordingly done for the convenience and entertainmet of old people. So for example, yesterday, when we visited a French seaside resort, the most striking sight was a bandstand next to which elderly couples were dancing old fashioned type dances to old fashioned type tunes. Most tellingly of all, there were even some young people doing olden type dancing. All the virtues that old people value, like peace and quiet, architectural cuteness, politeness when greeting strangers in the street ("Bonsoir, monsieur!" even from the most scarily dressed and forbidding looking people), and so forth. Is France all of it like this? Is its current foreign policy the diplomatic equivalent of a batty old great grandmother shouting illogicalities from the far corner of the room in response to half heard snatches of conversation among the still definitely functioning? Probably France is not all like this, but a lot of it seems to be. If you want to do anything economically dynamic or different, your best bet is to move to England or America. French society seems to be going nowhere, but very prettily. On the other hand, maybe that will be France's economic future. Maybe it will be a pretty place for old people to live in, just before they die. Well, it's a living. Sort of.

But in northern Spain things are different. Spain is on the up and up. Spain in thirty years time will be very different, and a lot richer. The town of Figueras, which we drove to today, is full of young women pushing prams, and has an altogether livelier feel to it than southern France.

Figueras is the world headquarters of the Salvador Dali industry, but I'm afraid Dali is not an artist whom I much care for. All those bendy clocks, and broken feet, and suggestively meaningless landscapes. Well, correction, I'm sure if I dropped everything and studied Dali for a decade I'd find that it all means a tremendous amount, but my heart sinks at the thought. The museum which is the centre of the Dali cult is an entertaining building, though, even if it is decorated in little repetitive gobs of what appear to be little deposits of dog crap. I kid you not. There is a tower with giant eggs on the top, which looks amusing, and a big geodesic dome on top of everything. I didn't go inside. I didn't fancy the price, it wasn't convenient, and I didn't want to give the ghost of the old fraud the tiniest speck of further satisfaction. But the outside is fun, and far more good humoured and less self-important than the object of its devotion.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:27 PM
Category: Cultures