Fair Europe, fare thee well: my love letter to a continent

In over half a century of travels, I’ve felt European: buying left-hand-drive cars, learning enough of several languages to talk football with taxi drivers. But now I’m no longer a citizen …

London in the 1950s and 60s was an ebullient, technicolour time. But it was also an era during which most of monochrome Britain regarded “the Continent” as a place of “rabies and intellectuals” – as New York Times journalist Roger Cohen, raised in north London, put it in a book about his mother.

I didn’t care about rabies, and wanted to meet and emulate the intellectuals. When I was in my mid-teens, fuelled by the uprisings of 1968 in Paris and Prague, the world – my life – began when the ferry pulled out of Dover. Clutching my blue SNCF rail ticket, watching the cliffs recede with a sense of liberation, across the choppy Channel to dock in Calais, transferring to the Paris train, traversing the capital to Gare de Lyon and boarding an overnight iron horse to points south. Destinations: Provence, or Italy, or Austria, or the then-turbulent Basque Country and Spain.

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