I love a lot of things about Germany and France.
I have traveled to both countries many times, I have struggled to speak both languages, and I have been an absorbed student of their history and culture.
In England, we tend to think that Coleridge and Wordsworth invented Romanticism and that Austen and Dickens created the novel.
Now I am a fan of all these people.
I have wandered amongst daffodils and sensed that Wordsworthian joy, I have also felt that dreaded albatross around my neck as immortalized by Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and I know that novels of Austen and Dickens have even more to say than their revered television dramatisations.
And then there is Henry Purcell and Edward Elgar – where do I begin? Both composers, as English as red telephone boxes and red buses, hold a deep place in the soundtrack of my life.
Oh, and I haven’t mentioned William Shakespeare.
But let’s go back to France and Germany.
Romanticism without the Germans, Goethe and Schiller and the novel without the French, Hugo, Balzac and, my favourite, Stendhal? Well, you just don’t know about either tradition until you have investigated. They were mostly just names to me, or just Hollywood movies at least, until a few years ago when I decided that I needed to visit them first hand.
Well, second hand sadly as I mostly had to read them in English translations.
I can say though, with some pride, that I struggled and enjoyed reading the poetry of Goethe, Heine, Hugo and Baudelaire in those excellent bi-lingual books where you have the original language on one page and the translation on the other. These books used to sit in the smallest room in the house which became, in time, a centre of learning.
I am not demoting poetry if I say that it is ideally suited to this least glamourous of locations. Short, regular visits will do wonders for your bowels but they will also give you sharp, brilliantly focused insights for the rest of your day and beyond. Just as it did for an art historian acquaintance who learnt his stuff by hanging fine art calendars on the back of the bathroom door.
Those supreme Germans, Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven, I guess, need no special pleading, even if their French successors, Berlioz and Debussy do – well, to some unadventurous folk and to all those people who don’t listen to classical music.
I have loved the works of all these people, both German and French, and I have also relished those moments when I have been lucky enough to have time to drink coffee outside a Parisian cafe or to eat, in one of those wickedly outrageous Berlin beer cellars, a German sausage with German mustard enclosed in, what is for me the best of all breads, a German roll.
I am an innocent at heart.
So let’s hear it for the Germans and the French.
Yesterday, at those press conferences in London………
Whose side were you on?
One one side we had President Obama, all charm and ambition with his new friend, Gordon Brown, who is full of ideas even if you don’t warm to him….
Or, on the other side, Monsieur Sarkozy and Frau Merkel?
None of us should go in for caricatures, if we can help it but……
Who was lively, pushy and optimistic?
Who was sensible with a pronounced stiff upper lip?
Who was over-excitable and gesticulating?
And who was aggressive and humourless?
I know they were really speaking to their homeland electorates but did Merkel and Sarkozy really have to come on stage as the ugly sisters to Brown’s Cinderella and Obama’s Prince Charming?
They disagree with the main thrust of the G20 summit, which is to secure a rapid international agreement to put money into a massive stimulus to the World’s sickening economy. I hope they will all live happily ever afterwards when the G20 summit issues its final statement.
In the end, it is bound to be a love-in, these summits statements are always written up as success stories.
I guess they needed to stamp their feet to show that they were there when the real drama in London was going on between Obama and the Chinese and Russian leaders. Those meetings could go on to save the World’s economy by putting a load of money into the International Monetary Fund and, dare I even wish for it, bring an end to nuclear weapons.
I haven’t even mentioned any American, Russian or Chinese writers – it is far too easy, but it is definitely not cozy, to be provincial.