As a child, I had a thing for Rhett Butler. I had come across him at 5 while keeping company to my grandmother who was a die-hard fan, before both these words even existed. Rhett was the first kind of man I met beside family members and I thought that his macho manners and his half-concealed big heart were ideal qualities to look for once I grew up.
Decades later, another world war, an economic boom and the surge of feminist writers slowly changed the perception of ideal qualities in a man and my chosen one became Colin Firth. Honest, sensitive, bright, decent. More suitable for these times.
(I chose deliberately a picture where he isn’t outrageously handsome).
Last week I realised we all have a dream man/woman AND a dream country. In the exact same way we idolise actors and characters from a novel or famous people we read of on newspapers we cherish in our hearts the image of a perfect country where we would be so happy and where nothing bad could happen to us.
I am always a little taken aback when I realise that country is Italy for an insane amount of people. Apparently, Italy for them has stayed in the 50s. A poor country rich of history and art and populated by gentle, warm-hearted and slightly chaotic people who love to dance and sing and eat. Something between Roman Holidays and The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Where many float on their little Italian cloud whenever visiting the Belpaese and indulge in cappuccinos outside a café while abandoning themselves to fantasies of a lazy day in a white shirt under a pergola, sipping real, actual espresso(not the Swiss sort) made in a Bialetti moka machine by a beautiful brunette with an accent, I found myself in the midst of my own dream last week.
Funnily enough I have never lived in England. While most of my uni friends migrated there to pursue Gordon Gekko fantasies and work in the European capital of finance, I thought Brussels was a more sensible option. I used to be a EU fan, after all.
England stayed somewhere between my brain and my heart as a magical place where I would never live but could visit often, inhabited by lovely people who liked birds, flowers and tea. They would have conversations about the weather and never, ever, lose their temper. They were brave and resilient but also incommensurably funny. England has always been, basically, the one that got away. The love story that I never lived and that was so perfect because of that.
So the joy was overwhelming last week when an English friend invited us to the most English event you can think of: Glyndebourne opera festival. I had been preparing for weeks. Listening to Carmen and daydreaming about the place.
It turned out it was even better than anticipated. Blessed with a fantastic weather and the most adorable little cottage found on the Internet, we spent the ultimate English weekend, hiking on the high cliffs from where you could vaguely get a glimpse of France and savouring perfect pub meals. I found myself ecstatically staring at a box of apricots at Waitrose. The label said: “Home ripening apricots”. What a smart way to say they have travelled half across the world and were picked long before they were ripe. So British.
Our English friend thought I was a total freak. He can’t see my own perfect England of course. He sees everything that is wrong with it, instead.
After my crumpets filled weekend, being home again was quite a shock. I needed a decompression chamber. I found my fix in the new Marks&Spencer shop which just opened in Brussels. I literally ran there yesterday and in the basement, surrounded by romantically named British foods, I felt at peace again.
Do you have a dream country? How do you feel when you visit?