I want to capture both the moment of Europe now and catch the echoes of its many histories. Trace the threads of European culture, and investigate some of the ways it has been depicted by writers, photographers, film-makers, broadcasters, printers, painters, sculptors, philosophers, new media mavens, exiles and cosmopolitans. By travellers like me.
I can’t expect to enjoy the same sense of stupefied wonder that Thomas Coryat esq. must have felt setting out from Dover in 1608. But I will revel in what can now be achieved thanks to technology, guide books and the works, writings, and creations of previous travellers. My journey will be about a rediscovery of lost Europes as much as a celebration of a twenty-first century Europe. But I will look also at contemporary Cities, Towns and Countrysides where the nexus of communications, cheap travel, and career nomadism make the entire continent appear, at times, no more complex to navigate than Coryat’s birthplace, the village of Odcombe in Devon.
At the core of the journey will be people. People I meet and travel with; people alive and long dead; fictional heroes and villains; artists who have shaped our vision of what it means to be European. From my grandfather, William Avery OBE, who sailed his boat eight times across the Channel during the Dunkirk evacuations of 1940 to jazz giant, Miles Davis. Nelson’s mistress and the first real paparazzi victim, Emma Hamilton. Tracey Emin, Victor Hugo, Goethe, Visconti, (or Isaac Casaubonus, Europe’s greatest classical scholar and inspiration for George Eliot’s tortured dry scholar, Edward Casaubon). Jarvis Cocker and Edmund White’s Paris, Jan Morris’s Trieste…From Leslie Caron, actress, dancer and inn-keeper to the mystic, Hildegarde of Bingen, or the singer Juliette Greco, the modernist playboy Laurence Vail, first husband to Peggy Guggenheim. Gutenberg the printer and Tim Berners-Lee, the guru of the World Wide Web. Pamela Harriman – the courtesan of the century; and Casanova (ditto, just another century).