There is a saying I read somewhere several years ago, but which I cannot attribute to any source (believe me, I tried to find one today), which goes along the lines of:
‘Blessed is the country without a history.’
This is because when you look at the details in history, you usually find the four horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Famine, Pestilence and Death.
War is a big one. The Temple of Janus in Ancient Rome had doors that were only ever closed in times of peace. From the death of King Numa until the defeat of Carthage in the First Punic War, the gates were open for 400 years. They then were closed for 8 years, and then open again for 200 years. The history of my ancestral homeland for the subsequent 2000 years probably does not need any further illustration.
With due respect to the original inhabitants of Australia, who will probably disagree (and no offence is intended), the homeland of my birth is different, particularly since the peaceful commencement of the Australian nation at Federation 119 years ago. Our wars have been mostly far from our shores, although my visits across Northern Australia (Broome, Derby, Darwin, Cairns) have impressed on me that the air raids during the Second World War are well remembered.
The 20th Century, and the first two decades of the 21st Century, have seen much of the four horsemen. My parents were born in Italy in the 1930s during a Fascist dictatorship, and lived through the fighting around their villages, which they both could vividly recall years later.
Whilst my collection of books on Australian history includes many on the First and Second World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam, most Australian history tends, in comparison to what occurs beyond our shores, to be rather pacific – unless you count what happens south of Lake Burley Griffin (the writings of Alan Reid about the period 1967 to 1975 are most interesting).
To a large extent, we have so far effectively banished the four horsemen from our shores, at least compared to the rest of the world. I think my parents realised that when they settled in Melbourne in the late 1950s, and I think I inherited that realisation from them, which is why it took me until age 47 to make my first ever journey back to Italy.
Perhaps that narrow minded Italian Catholic conservative peasant from Footscray aspect to me is not as limiting as people sometimes think. People who are more broad minded are more likely to walk across the Global street without looking both ways.
Take for example an acquaintance of mine, someone with whom, to be honest, I share a mild, mutual, but civil dislike. I heard last year from mutual friends that this chap was tired of living in Melbourne, and was planning to up stumps and move to France, and had started taking lessons in French to facilitate this plan.
Apparently, he was sneeringly describing Melbourne as a ‘provincial’ city.
As someone born and raised in Footscray, who has spent my entire life living and working in Melbourne or its metropolitan surrounds, I did raise my eyebrows a bit at this condemnation of my home city (Melbourne is my home city, Footscray is my home town). After all, Melbourne is a city of five million people, with many parks, clean air and water, a very cosmopolitan and tolerant society, and the consistently highest liveability scores in the world. (To say nothing of the largest tram network on the planet!)
I might not have seen much of the rest of the world yet, aside from Italy, where most people, including in relatively small cities, live in five or six storey apartment blocks rather than in houses on decent sized blocks, but I am a bit skeptical about whether you are going to see a higher degree of sophistication in Europe than you are in a ‘provincial’ city like Melbourne. We have all the trappings of high culture here: opera, ballet, symphonies, theatre, art. We also lack the arrogance and chauvinism of much of Europe.
Nor has Australia suffered the direct threat or reality of totalitarian tyranny, the way that Europe has during much of the 20th century. (This is not by luck, it’s by the concerted commitment of Australian society to resist and defy tyranny – something that is an inherent part of the nature of our society.)
And right now, the third horseman, Pestilence, in the form of the Coronavirus, is running roughshod over much of the world, especially Western Europe. However we seem to have it mostly under control in Australia now (at a breath taking financial price, mind you).
So… how appealing does living in a city in France look to you right now?
Aside from which, my acquaintance lives off his dividends from a large share portfolio (I should be so lucky!). We don’t have Famine, but the second horseman has an accounting degree, and not only has the share market dropped, but dividends are falling due to the economic contraction caused by the Pandemic. To continue to live his semi-retired life of Riley, he is going to have to sell capital.
So I doubt this chap is going to be able to head off to live in Marseilles or Lyon or Nice anytime real soon. I feel so disappointed for him that he will have to suffer living amongst we Hoi Polloi in Melbourne, especially at a time when all the cafes, bars, and restaurants in Fitzroy are closed.