Monday, June 06, 2005



Frederic Mistral: not a name I was familiar with. A friend said she was keen to visit this summer's 50th. anniversay of Felibrige in the Perigord: not a festival I knew anything about. Volunteering to look up some information on where and when, we struck up a conversation about culture. I suggested that we in the UK had retained less of the old traditions. Anyone who has been to France or Spain sees pretty quickly that the old ways are still celebrated grassroot.

In these places there is a richness and variety of culture we learn about and admire: perhaps one could use the word density. Being a biologist, the ecological / evolutionary analogies and metaphors spring to mind. Habitats. Ecological niches. In different regions different ways have evolved to the degree that a small village has a set of traditions which is absent from the next, ajoining one. Why this should be so in France, Spain and maybe Germany, say, but seemingly not in Britain is interesting. The point is there are a few cheese rolling and Morris Dancing rituals in some parts of the country, but these few scattered remnants - disjecti membra poetae (Horace) - are nothing in comparison to the great everday cultural richnesses of other European countries.

The homogenisation - British culture in the organic, bottom-up sense - is explained traditionally by the Enclosures Act: what amounted to forcible removal of the peasant from the land and his exodus into the factories. We would certainly been a different country if the man who ploughed his master's furrow and had a few pigs and a cow (while the wife did her spinning and weaving) of his own for the lean times when there was little work, had continued to have such 'freedom' up until the beginning of the 20 century.

What I am talking about it not that there is not a richness of culture in Britain but that it is historical, whereas the French, Spanish and Italians, for example, live their traditions in minute detail in the present, religious or no-religious. A white village in the Sierra de Nieves in Andalucia has a talcum powder throwing day - purity? - just as tomatoes are thrown about in Italy. All have roots in something significant and meaningful to the participants. They take time and effort to take part in annual festivals. And yet this does not produce espcially super-cultured (in the intellectual sense) peoples: they admire us for our few genius poets and playwrites more than we admire them for their buckets-full of painters and theologians.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Site Feed