Asked by a reader what I miss about the UK, I say it without thinking – and therefore sincerely – about the proximity of other countries. After some self-reproach (“You weren’t so rootless when the forms of naturalization were gone”), I realized that I would have said the same thing if I had come from France or Germany. The nation is not the point. The regional glories are.
This season more than most, Europe’s geographical concentration of sublime and distinct places tortures those who no longer have them at hand. Copenhagen for a test, San Sebastián for a meal: I only know Southeast Asia to compare in its density of wonders. By reference, a one-way flight from Washington to LA is an hour longer than a return trip from London to Rome.
This characteristic of European life is quite particular as it is. There is reason to think that it will become completely definitive.
For most people, the event promises fewer and fewer trips by air. The public health codes of the day have little to do with it. If most or even many business trips happen to Zoom, this is a valuable subsidy for the economy class seats gone.
At the same time, except for a few eureka moments in electric aviation, the green case for higher taxes on flights (or even direct flights) is being built. It is inactive to speculate on the price of a cross-Atlantic ticket a decade later. But if we don’t come to consider 2019 as the most democratic moment in the history of air travel, it will bring some fantastic innovation in the coming years.
It’s the best plausible scenario. Here’s the catch: the area they can cross without flying will win everyone’s vacation options, except the wealthy, almost all the time. How varied and interesting its immediate region will be will be important in a way it has not done since the dawn of the jet age.
It is at this point that Europe stands out in the world. Yes, Brazil, America and India can claim as much internal range – ethnic, topographical – as the continents. The Indochinese peninsula embraces about 250m people and, on Samuel Huntington’s provocatively crude map, three civilizations.
Yet, with 40-ish nations, nearly as many as official languages and half a billion people in an area close to the United States, Europe is hard to match for pure compression of stimuli. And it is first to add for its non-air modes of transport: meteoric trains, spiritually level roads, North Sea, Baltic and Mediterranean shipping routes. Only if the continent had a river the size of the Nile would snakes for him be better suited for a world of downhill travel.
Mercifully, this regionalization of travel is not ordered. New demand from Asia’s growing middle class could change the economy of airlines as much as the loss of old business flyers. As for green taxes and flight rationale, voters are bound to talk about a good game until an eternal station destiny calls.
But if this is to be the way of the future, however, then a small continent, rich in treasures, littered with railways and asphalt, will enter into its own right as a place to live. And – I say this as an “Ode to Joy” —Remoling Warrior — it is true with or without EU membership.
That friction there is over post-Brexit spending on the continent is like nothing against raw proximity. Two and a half hours in Paris is still two and a half hours in Paris. “A continent we will never leave,” is how Boris Johnson described Europe at the strangely poignant end of his resignation note as foreign secretary. What lacked its originality point has replaced it with geological truth.
In the end, the less air fares become wild, the higher the flyers will save on other things. I’m just wearing a green belt and I’ll even give up a case or six of Pommard to feel the humid heat of Bangkok. It is moreover the vast middle class that will be based on ever more expensive cells. Life in one region over another would offer him a kind of rebuke. Against a winner who takes all of the United States, modern Europe is often sold as the best place to be average. What was a strictly economic advantage could become a geographical one.
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