In Anglo-Viking-Flemish Norwich, a Londoner and a Roman invited a Venetian for dinner at their home. The Venetian had some Austrian, Spanish, and Moroccan blood, the Londoner originally came from a Polish-Jewish family, and the Roman was of Armenian-Welsh-Cornish descent. All three were Europeans to the core.
While the meal – a Sicilian dish – was simmering in the kitchen, the hosts and their guest sat in the living room, chatting in an English interspersed with Italian words, and an Italian with the odd English expression slipped in, listening to a Bruxellois singer on CD, and sipping wine from Luxembourg. A smooth, silky, golden, elegant Riesling with a twinkle in the eye. It had been sent courtesy of a newly-formed acquaintance who was not only very knowledgeable about classical music but – all three agreed – clearly a connaisseur of good wine.
There was a strong difference of opinion regarding the absence, in English grammar, of gender for nouns. The Venetian argued that this lack made English colourless. The Londoner insisted that there was no logic in arbitrarily deciding that a chair was “she”, a book “he”, or vice-versa. The Roman expressed outrage that animals should be referred to as “it”, as though they were inanimate objects, then went all sentimental when mentioning that in Russian, белка – squirrel – was feminine.
“Why? Don’t they have any male squirrels in Russia?” the Londoner asked.
“In Italian, scoiattolo is masculine,” said the Venetian.
“So are all Italian squirrels female, then?” the Londoner enquired.
Nobody answered his questions and, during the brief pause in the conversation, the Roman brought in a steaming bowl of pasta with Sicilian caponata, into which she had stirred some creamy French goat’s cheese. They all tucked into this dinner, the ingredients of which had been thought up by Jews, Chinese, Normans, Arabs and North Americans – in other words, a European dinner.
As they ate, they discussed travel. It’s only an hour’s flight to Amsterdam, or Paris, or Hamburg. You’re an hour away from Dutch, French and German. Here, we don’t fly for hours and hours and still hear the same language when we land. Because our small continent is like the colourful pattern of Harlequin’s costume, with lozenges of different, contrasting colours, all sewn together. Over the centuries, we have complemented one another, enriched one another, challenged one another’s comfort zones. Foreign winds have blown new seeds onto our lands, and sprouted into new fruits, and our winds have carried our seeds abroad. We have destroyed any dams that threatened to turn our limpid, gurgling rivers into stagnant, smelly ponds. We have knocked down fortresses that imprisoned people within their walls and restricted their human rights.
“Oh, look, there’s still some Luxembourg Riesling left,” says the Roman, toying with her napkin, wondering what she’s going to do with all the food left over despite everybody’s triple helpings.
The Londoner picks up the slender bottle and pours the remaining golden liquid into the three glasses in equal measures. “What shall we drink to?” he asks.
“To this wine – from a country none of us has been to – for bringing us all together this evening,” the Venetian suggests.
“To peace and unity within this dear Old Continent,” the Roman adds, raising her glass.