Almost every town in Western Europe has them now, well-thought-out shops in neat streets whose uniformity is striking. These stores come with compelling logos and fittings, and windows designed by the great-grandsons and daughters of Lorelei the Siren of the Rhine. Here, in quiet northern France, we can find dresses and foods and communication tools, and book holidays to Zanzibar or Rome – and still be in Picardy-country for an early paté and wine lunch. Everything, Everywhere. That’s how it is now.
Abbeville, very close to the Somme river is the first place I’ve visited that doesn’t appear over-run with tourists or travellers – or bikers. It is full of local inhabitants moving around. I like it for that immediately.
In “Continental Drifter”, Tim Moore’s take on Tom Coryat, he observes early on that the French do averageness much better than the British. He says Montreuil is France’s equivalent of Ashford, Kent. In that case Abbeville is Maidstone, but a Maidstone in which the pace of life is not dictated by London. Abbeville doesn’t appear fast; sandwiches and fish and pizzas are lingered over, for the young and old. Later in the evening drinking is slow, calm. Very un-English.
As the sun comes out on Friday lunchtime it is easy enough to take the unilateral decision to avoid the First World War memorials in the countryside nearby, despite their potency (I have been before) and continuing allure for visitors and travellers. I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said.
This morning my fellow Contemporary Nomad posts that Prince Harry won’t be going to fight in the current war in Iraq. Iraq being too dangerous for Princes. Pas du merde, Sherlock: wars, however justified, remain the ultimate “Betwixt” experience, demanding a personal bravery we don’t naturally possess, I suspect. And yet on those computer games “bravery” comes so cheap.
As I re-read Coryat, rushing to churches, quick to condemn Popery and yet clearly – naturally – filled with a faith that draws him to all manifestations of religion and the spiritual life, I wonder about our religious and secular compulsions now, and wonder how on earth we are still at war. [This is one of the dangers of solo travel: it doesn’t take much to start thinking and speaking like Captain Kirk].
Just as Tom’s generation was “Betwixt” the ultimate sanctions of a cruel, medieval god, and the cool liberating discourse of science and the Enlightenment, so quite a few of us are now “Betwixt” a visceral sweated world and the odourless synthetics of the virtual. How do we ensure the merging of these two is creative, not divisive? That the overwhelming desire to destroy in computer games does not manifest itself in other ways: in personal relationships, say.
In “Monocle” magazine recently there was an article about a nightclub in Barcelona where entrance was solely possible via an in-house computer recognizing an “embedded” microchip in the guest. VIP meaning precisely: “very injected person.” Whilst absurd enough for any era’s most fashionable club, the injected chip is an apt image of Early-Adopter syndrome: those who get the first benefits of technology are the rich.
And the strange. People like Coryat…
On this walk I’m trying to at least see how we will soon enough have access to knowledge and information wherever we are; can look at a church or a mosque, modernist architecture or a painting, even the hills from the rampart, and “know” a little more than how much it costs, or how to destroy it with a “magic” sword. Day by day these stores of information grow, not always accurately but neither as bad as some might say. This doesn’t mean I think we’ll all become “Terminators” one day, watching the world through Rose-Tinted-Google Goggles, but we are in midst of an extraordinary transformation in what we know, see and experience.
And yet still Princes (almost) go to war.
It seems apt, I think, that in quiet, modest, Abbeville, close to the Somme river, there is wi-fi and it works.