The Mediterranean: Room without a view
In a famous scene in E. M. Forster’s novel, A Room With a View, its heroine – Lucy Honeychurch, a young Englishwoman – is touring Tuscany in a horse-drawn carriage. En route, the dark-haired young Italian coachman stops to pick up a girl, whom he introduces as his sister. Shortly afterwards, the alleged brother and sister start kissing passionately. The demure Edwardian maiden, with her strict moral code, is horrified and at the same time confused by the stirring of her erotic feelings.
The scene, faithfully filmed in James Ivory and Ismail Merchant’s screen version, illustrates well how northern Europe has seen the Mediterranean over the last century-and-a-half. To northern Europeans, the Mediterranean is a place that exists in happy indiscipline, at ease with carnality, impulsiveness and desire. In other words, a place where northern Europeans seek happiness. And they seek it in the metaphor that serves Forster for his title: a room with a view.
Literally, this is a room with a view in a tourist hotel or a private apartment. It’s the window for which you have paid a 7 per cent surcharge for a week’s board, a window facing the longed-for sun of the south, the window from which you expect to see the local splendours: the open sea, a chain of islands, the roofs of the centro storico or kasaba, or – in Forster’s case – the dome of Bernini’s celebrated cathedral.
But this “room with a view” is also metaphorical. The Mediterranean, as imagined by the North, is where you expect to “open a window” to erotic, tactile or – most crudely – alcoholic liberation. For several generations, the Mediterranean was rather like what Polynesia was to Gauguin: a place where people walked about unclothed and uninhibited, where all you needed to be happy was the sun and a handful of figs, a place where physical liberation met philosophy, ancient wisdom and civilization. This is the Mediterranean of Salvatore’s film Mediterraneo, a Greek island that resists even the war being waged around it. It is the Mediterranean of Renato Baretic’s novel Osmi povjerenik (“The eighth commissioner”) – an isolated island where a strange dialect is spoken, where the locals refuse to recognise any external authority, and where the protagonist finds refuge from the rebarbative reality of a corrupt and cynical Croatia in transition. It is the Mediterranean of Alexander Sacher Masoch’s Die Ölgärten brennen (“The olive groves are burning”): the beautiful island of Korcula (another island!), where the longevity of the olive grove and the wisdom of the ordinary man defeats Nazi evil. This is the Mediterranean sought, though frequently not found, by the heroes of great European literature and film. It is sought but not found by the two protagonists of Bergman’s The Silence, the sisters who spend their summer holidays imprisoned in a hot, airless room in a decaying hotel, with too much alcohol on their bedside table, in a threatening country that gives every indication of being a dictatorship. This is the Mediterranean sought by Morvern Callar, the eponymous heroine of Alan Warner’s novel, who “enjoys” her new-found freedom in the alienation of an enormous, dreadful hotel in Almeria. This is even the Mediterranean sought by Mr Bean, played by the British slapstick comedian Rowan Atkinson, who in Mr Bean’s Holiday sets off for the South of France in search of a Provençal idyll, a glass of wine in a bar, and the scent of lavender on the veranda.
Mr Bean is a typical European with respect to the Mediterranean, because it is just such a mythical South that hundreds of thousands of Europeans like to imagine. It is the dream of those who pay Neckerman or Thomas Cook for a week’s package holiday in Sicily, Dalmatia, Cyprus, Andalusia or Antalya. For their room with a view they put up with surly waiters, unfriendly locals, traffic jams, lost luggage, ignorant guides and “mistakes” in the bill. It is for that room with a view that drunk teenagers fall from the riva in Mykonos or Zrce on the island of Pag. It is in the name of that most stubborn of European fantasies that thousands of British and Germans have bought holiday homes in Mallorca and the Algarve. They yearn to spend a week under a trellis dripping with juicy grapes, they want to captain a yacht in the Korcula Channel, to drink Aperol, ouzo or pastis in a local bar where southern sages play cards and comment shrewdly on world politics. They want to head south, because that’s where – or so we’ve been told by books and films – the Captain Correllis live, good souls who play the mandolin and are incapable of evil. Down south, every old man is a Zorba the Greek, a bearded philosopher who throws himself into a Syrtaki without the slightest hesitation. There’s no industrial smog, no corporate discipline, no daily drudgery like in Krefeld, Newcastle, Essen or Sheffield. Even the fishermen are philosophers, and a neighbour’s wife a chef de cuisine; everybody knows how to cook with olive oil and thyme, every Marlboro Man quotes Béla Hamvas while baiting his hooks. The people are gregarious, generous and warm-hearted; and not because they are after our money, but because it’s in their very nature.
And when the fortnight of myth is over, when it’s time for the denizens of the North to return to their Dortmunds and Gothenburgs, the people who live on the other side of Forster’s window will stay put. Gaugin’s Polynesians continue living in paradise when September days start drawing in. Down south, you think, those people live the same kind of life even when you’ve gone, dispensing wisdom from a shady verandah, going out fishing in the early evening and breakfasting with a glass of wine, their skin tanned and their hair flecked with grey. Their world contains none of our fears; they don’t worry about the quarterly accounts, the wave of redundancies, the VAT form that has to be filled out.
But is that really how it is? Who are these people seen through a window with a view, tiny as ants at the foot of their vast cathedrals, castles and pyramids? Do they exist beyond our windows? Do they exist when, on the first of September, the God of Tourism calls a curfew and douses the lamps of the port? Do they have a life outside tourism, or are they a hallucination, extras in a enormous theatre production entitled “Tourist Destination”? Do we Mediterranean dwellers have our own lives, or is our life a grandiose show whose scenery is dismantled in November, along with the churches, the loggias and the bars? What goes on in the Mediterranean when left to itself, when Lucy Honeychurch has gone home, when the horizon is darkened by the Sirocco, the Gregale, the Mistral and the Bora, when the days of December grow short, and the wind whistles through the shutters of the freezing room, playing on them like an organ? Does this place called the Mediterranean even exist? Can it really be seen through the window of Lucy’s room – a window with a carefully selected view?
There is not one Mediterranean, but two. I’m not thinking of the familiar (and exaggerated) division between the European, mainly Catholic, Mediterranean and the Afro-Asiatic, mainly Muslim one. When I say that there are two Mediterraneans, I’m first of all thinking of that deeper, far more important difference that can be observed with minor variations in Italy, Greece, Lebanon and Morocco. The first of these two Mediterraneans is the one yearned for by Edwardian gentlemen on their Grand Tour, just as the guests of Club Med yearn for Santo Ambroggio or Biograd today. This is the Mediterranean of ancient temples on cliffs above the sea, of Renaissance artists, of polyptychs in island churches, of sedrvan fountains in Moorish courtyards. And it is, of course, the Mediterranean of scents – the smell of aniseed, rosemary, sage and prosek, of tomato salsa made by women on the streets of Bari or Kotor on late summer evenings.
The other Mediterranean is the one that reaches us through the screens of televisions and newspaper reports, like an annoying hum that spoils the music. The Mediterranean isn’t just Chianti, it’s also Camorra. It’s not just Greek feta, it’s also Greek debt. The Mediterranean isn’t only the rural tourist idylls of Provence, Tuscany and Istria – it is also West Beirut, the Gaza Strip, Mostar, Homs and Naples. The people of Castel Volturna who protested in support of the Camorra are the Mediterranean. The residents of Split who pelt Gay Pride parades with flowerpots and eggs are the Mediterranean. Naples and Makarska, with their collapsing waste disposal systems, are the Mediterranean, and so are Budva and Herceg-Novi, where in summer the water supply regularly dries up. The Mediterranean is the 30 per cent youth unemployment in Extremadura and Murcia and the 30 per cent female unemployment in Dalmatia. The two thousand illegal buildings in Sicily each year are the Mediterranean. Taranto, where the ILVA steelworks poison the population with dioxins, is the Mediterranean. So is Solin, where an asbestos tubing factory has killed thousands of local residents with its carcinogenic fibres. The extinct industrial colossi of Porto Maghere and Kastela, overrun by rust and scrub, are the Mediterranean. So are the millions of Greeks, Sicilians, Lebanese and Dalmatians who have spread all over the world, from Puerto Arenas to Brooklyn, Liège and Perth, fleeing hunger, wine clauses,1 phylloxera, the police, conscription or dictators. Franco, Mussolini and Berlusconi, the Blackshirts, the Ustasha and Primo de Rivera are the Mediterranean. Venerable literary languages doomed to extinction – Occitan, Sardinian, Cakavian, Venetian – are the Mediterranean. The PIGS countries with their budget deficits are the Mediterranean.
All of this is the Mediterranean. And what’s more: nearly all of this is the European Mediterranean, the one supposed to be more fortunate, the one that receives immigrants, the people from the boats that beach at Lampedusa, the people who jump over the wire at Melilla. Today, even the fortunate, northern Mediterranean is increasingly a place of losers, a place to leave, since one’s future is fragile. This is the Mediterranean marked by unstoppable decay, debt, violence, intolerance, anarchy, pollution and corruption. It is the Mediterranean aptly described by the Palestinian film director Elia Suleiman as “a region of unfinished business and unfinished houses”. Unfinished business is everywhere in the Mediterranean: the remains of terraced vineyards devastated by Phylloxera, of industrial zones wrecked by transition, deserted quarries, deserted rural settlements, villages perchés without inhabitants, empty shepherds’ huts, hollow roofed houses in the hinterlands, tourist megalopolises that nobody cares about any longer. And the unfinished houses – what is there to say about them? They all look similar, whether you’re in Ramallah, Beirut, Palermo or the suburbs of Split; built by poor people in the materials of poverty, cubes of cement with a metal rod protruding from each corner. Poking into the air, those rods are a tangible metaphor for the Mediterranean: an image of failed plans, ambitions that remain unfulfilled, just as that extra storey is never built.
This is the Mediterranean. A place with no present, marooned between past and future. A future postponed like a promise of progress never kept. And a place of the past – which the Mediterranean worships, celebrates and sedulously records, just as every society with an inglorious present us carefully cultivates its better past. That past is often the object of an unhealthy cult, partly because it’s a substitute for the present’s irrelevance and failure, and partly because it’s part of a commercial exchange. Today, the Mediterranean subsists by trading its former self on the market. It lives off its past because it has no present. And it has no present because it is all too dependent on its former self.
This “former self” came into being at a time when the Mediterranean was everything that today it is not: an economic, technological and innovative avant-garde, the cutting edge. In its time the pagan, Christian and Muslim Mediterranean invented phonetic writing, numerals, the lateen sail, the masonry arch, Roman Law, ontology, geometry, the cupola, the parachute and banker’s interest. If there had been a Steve Jobs in the Renaissance, he would have lived in Florence; in the Middle Ages he would have lived in Moorish Cordoba; in classical times in Athens, Ephesus or Syracuse. The cities of the Mediterranean rim – Athens, Alexandria, Cordoba, Venice and Genoa – were the biggest, most prosperous and, in terms of trade, technology and intellectual pursuits, the most developed cities of their time. They were frontrunners in trade, crafts, technology and applied arts; they had seafarers and engineers, architects, bankers and philosophers. They played the same role that Hong Kong, New York, Shanghai and Toronto play today. There is only one contemporary city in the Mediterranean that is a modern metropolis with respect to technology, planning, culture and its own vision of development, and that is Barcelona. The rest of the Mediterranean is like a train passenger travelling with his back towards his destination. The future is approaching him from behind but he takes no serious part in it and it barely makes an impression on him. At one time, the Mediterranean exported its technology and style all over the world – “export articles” that might as easily have been aqueducts as gotico fiorito, the alphabet as the Lombard banking system, faience ware and perfumes from Grasse. Today, the Mediterranean is a recipient of technology and style, a mere consumer of the future. The information revolution, the explosion of digital media, technological advances, economic, ideological and stylistic paradigm shifts have taken place elsewhere for over three hundred years, and all the Mediterranean does is to meekly and belatedly apply them.
This passive acquiescence when it comes to innovation goes hand-in-hand with a passive acquiescence in politics. It was with huge sympathy that those of us on the European side of the Mediterranean observed the people’s revolutions that ignited on its southern shores in 2011, as they swept away the obdurate despots in Cairo, Tripoli and Tunisia. Now that the southern, Muslim Mediterranean has, with a few exceptions, experienced its own 1848 (to use northern Europe’s eurocentric phrase), we might welcome, with a certain irony, the fact that that at last one part of the region is starting to take charge of its own affairs. Indeed, on the other side of the Mediterranean, things are quite different. For the most part, the European Mediterranean is a kind of internal colony, an area whose finances, corporations, legislatures and politics are run by the North, from Brussels, Paris, Milan, Madrid and Zagreb, from distant parliaments, ministries, managing boards and stock exchanges, far from our harbours, where the lamps are doused in September and the windows shuttered. Most importantly, that distant world generally (although not always) regards our home as a source of profit, a capitalist asset, the raw material for economic development, structured so that the growth of the wider community is paid for in kind – meaning that someone always pays with their homeland. In this new division of European labour, the status of the Mediterranean has been firmly established. Rather than being a place for innovation, the Mediterranean’s job is to be a destination. And if it wants to fulfil this touristic function, it must meet one condition: it must be old. And this is the point at which the Mediterranean as retrospective fantasy consumes the Mediterranean as place for contemporary life.
At this point it is worth returning to Mr Bean, because often the silliest products of a culture unerringly point to its pathologies. On his journey to Provence, Mr Bean is continually frustrated. He travels through the globalized, anonymous world of railway stations, platforms, restaurants and hotels, never encountering the fantasy south that, as a tourist, he expects. But suddenly, he finds himself in a tiny Provençal village that seems to fulfil, even exceed, all his hopes: a haywain, sage peasants sipping wine, a tavern and a charming square with mulberry trees. However his delight is short-lived – it soon transpires that this is film set for a brandy commercial.
This scene is a perfect illustration of how the economic dynamic of tourism perverts identity. If it is to be successful, a Mediterranean community must cleave relentlessly to its own constructed identity, its own branding as a destination. This is by no means a one-dimensional and uncomplicated dynamic. Mediterranean society must not change too rapidly or too comprehensively, lest it be regarded as inauthentic, a destination for mojitos and pizza wedges. At the same time, it must not become fossilized, because a destination that is petrified would have no local inhabitants and thus cease to be authentic. Like King Midas, who transmuted all he touched into inedible gold, tourism acts like the kiss of death. At a certain point in time and space, the globe-trotting elite discover somewhere authentic, unspoiled: Provence at the fin du siècle, Greece in the Sixties, Sardinia in the Eighties, Istria in the Nineties. But as soon as they do discover it, it becomes likely that others, people like you, will discover it too. And both you and they will mention it to a third person, the third and the fourth will hype it up, and very soon what was once authentic transforms before our eyes, adapts to demand, becomes a theme park. Tourism seems to confirm Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics: simply by observing something, you alter what is being observed. This wasn’t something that Lucy Honeychurch thought about when, in Tuscany in 1908, she asked for a Room With a View. Lucy doesn’t realize that a view in itself can produce effects.
And those effects have changed over the decades. During the era of mass tourism, the “view” or “gaze” produced a pornography of identities, a fake confected under cover of a tourist spectacle – flamenco nights in a package holiday hotel, fado in a restaurant hired by a travel agency, dervishes whirling at a railway station, Emperor Diocletian’s “Nights in Split”, choreographed battles between corsairs and Romans, evenings with fishermen in striped tee-shirts unloading frozen fish from their wooden barques. In more refined versions, in the emancipated enclaves of modern tourism, this trade in the exotic takes another form and becomes “branding through identity”: olive oil routes, truffles in Istria, Italian “cooking and walking tours”, agritourism in Slovenia… The fine membrane between the lives we actually live and the lives staged for the benefit of the outside gaze becomes insignificant, even to the locals: as the gaze’s object, they must participate in a mimicry of their selves. The more convincing this cultural trompe l’oeil, the more they forget that it exists and the more they ignore its external, voyeuristic framework.
These are the cultural consequences of the colonization of the Mediterranean. But even more lethal and dangerous are the territorial consequences. Why? Because the Mediterranean of today, the Mediterranean governed by the North, can only serve the North as a source of profit when it is spatially unexpended, or incompletely expended. The contemporary Mediterranean has therefore developed an economy that, among the wide range of unsustainable economies the twenty-first century has to offer, ranks as one of the most unsustainable. It has developed an economy that is built not on the sale of knowledge (like the Anglo-American one), nor on the sale of labour (like Asia), nor on the sale of raw materials (like Russia and the Middle East). Instead, its economy is built on the sale of the most valuable commodity in the Mediterranean – the view through a window, i.e. space. Space is to the European Mediterranean at the beginning of the twenty-first century what oil is to the Arab Emirates.
In the Fifties and Sixties – the early, headlong era of mass tourism – the selling of space was reckless and en gros. This was the Benidorm period: thousands upon thousands of hectares of coastal plots in Spain and Turkey were transformed into cities of tourist tower-blocks, and a culture that for centuries had survived in the hinterland on sheep, carob and figs descended to the beaches of Murcia, Antalya and Makarska to service that massive machine. This primary consumption of territory had its own industry, but it also had small-scale manufacturers. In the eastern Adriatic, in Mimice, Brela or Podgora, the locals had lived for centuries on the slopes of the mountains, in constant fear of pirates. But in the Sixties they realized that they had land next to virgin pebble beaches. It’s an irony of history that, in patriarchal cultures such as these, the plots were usually owned by the unmarried or youngest sisters, since they were seen as the worst quality land. In that fateful decade, these parcels of coastal land, covered in fig, carob and olive trees, suddenly became as valuable as Tolkien’s ring. Families discovered an elixir that would transmogrify chronic poverty into material security. Thousands of Croats, Montenegrins and Greeks constructed three-storey marvels on their grandmothers’ land, their façades painted in every shade, in front of which hung that mythical sign that would characterize the Mediterranean for the next three decades: SOBA CAMARA ZIMMER. The territory was absorbed longitudinally, the buildings snaking along the shore and the road in a narrow strip. In contrast to Spain, the tourist industry on the Adriatic was extensive and amateur, and both investor and profit remained local. In the Dalmatia of my childhood, everyone had a vikendica, a weekend home, and doctors, engineers and judges also rented out beds to tourists. One generation built houses and accumulated profit, the next learned foreign languages and educated its children in the towns.
The result of thirty years of consumption of space is visible everywhere on the European Mediterranean, from the Antibes to Montenegro, from Andalucia to Rimini. In Croatia this phenomenon has acquired the title betonizacija, or “concreting over”. Over time, both of its faces turned out to be monstrous. To the upper-middle class, the tourist cities of tower-blocks became repellent: latter day Lucy Honeychurches no longer want their room with a view to be on the eighth floor of a gated resort. At the same time, the Adriatic economy, where the landlord or landlady rented out an upper floor, also ran up against its limits: at the end of the Nineties, experts in tourism started arriving in Croatia, intent on halting this atomized use of space. It was taking up too much space, they said, for too few beds. There wasn’t enough consumption, too few lobsters were being eaten for dinner, too few cocktails drunk at the beach-bar, and too few tickets sold for the foam party.
By the beginning of this century, betonizacija had become a dirty word, an insult. The planning polices of the fledgling republics had learned not to repeat the “Spanish mistake”, as it had come to be called. At the same time, cheap flights were shaping a new, dynamic middle class who travelled more frivolously and frequently. The postmodern economy has created a class of people whose work can be done from a laptop just as easily in Lisbon, London or Istria. The population of the Mediterranean littoral is increasing continuously and the infrastructure – communications, energy, water – are struggling to keep up. At the same time, the Mediterranean countries have been attempting to limit the spread of new construction – especially those that emerged from war and transition, which were able to construct their land-use policies from scratch. This has meant that the pressures of the market have been trained on existing built-up areas, channelling money into small, limited communities like into a pressure cooker.
When the real estate market collapsed in 2007, this process reached had its temporary zenith. I myself came to feel the effects in the case of my father’s family, which came from the island of Hvar – not from its western, touristic, urbanized part, with its historic Renaissance communes, but from the rural interior, where people had farmed their vineyards in anonymity for centuries. In the 1890s, the Phylloxera epidemic dispersed them all over the world; today the family is scattered from Perth to Los Angeles. Only one elderly aunt remained on the island, to they collectively gave an old stone house in the mid Fifties. And why not? At that time, the villages in the interior seemed to be at the world’s end, somewhere to escape from as soon as you could. In 2008, I read in the local newspaper that one of the British royal princes had sailed a boat to my grandfather’s village. A founder of Microsoft and a Saudi prince also holidayed there. That autumn, my relatives on the island called together the entire family to formalize the deed of gift that had been hastily typed on a sheet of paper over half a century ago. One square metre of a habitable house on the Adriatic now cost two-and-a-half thousand euros, and in Dubrovnik five; the ruin that yesterday nobody wanted was suddenly worth a fortune. And since it literally was a ruin, the only reason it was worth so much was its location. The same summer, the Croatian press had published an investigation into how a foreign investor had spent millions of euros bribing local politicians in Hvar to re-zone a bay in the village of Bogomolje so that it could be developed for tourism. Bogomolje has a population of 350. Imagine a village of 350 inhabitants, a village where the bar closes in the winter and where the newspapers arrive at eleven in the morning. Then think what it’s like when unconfirmed rumours, reliable stories, accusations and tales of untold millions echo through the empty stone alleys. This is the real Mediterranean nocturne, a small-town noir reminiscent of Henri-Georges Clouzo’s Le Corbeau.
That’s how the charming, northern Mediterranean looks at the beginning of the twenty-first century, at the dawn of a new era, an era of backpackers, City Breaks and postmodern nomadic “creatives”. It’s a Mediterranean where enormous amounts of money arrive in tiny places and explode under the pressure like a gas canister; a Mediterranean where someone buys up someone else’s house, garden and ancestral land simply because they take a fancy to it and because they can. It’s a Mediterranean where the number of inhabitants of old Venice, the Venice of the lagoon, has dropped from seventy thousand in 1960 to forty thousand. In which the Montenegrin press reported at the end of 2011 that 60 per cent of the country’s littoral was owned by Russians. In which in one week a single attorney’s office based on the Caribbean island of St Kitts and Nevis bought five apartments in the Palace of Diocletian in Split – the historic heart of the town the size of two football pitches. The same summer, the local press in Dubrovnik published a panic-stricken report about how the primary schools in the old city centre had enrolled no more than five new pupils. I was in Lisbon that winter, and in Alfama – the oldest and most beautiful quarter of Lisbon – and saw the same scene that I have seen in the eastern Adriatic. Angry members of the local community of Freguesia, decimated and exposed to buy-outs, had hung up a banner bearing the slogan Não a extinçao (“no to extinction”). Graffiti on the walls said estas ruas a nos (“these streets belong to us”) and activists had stencilled the slogan aqui podia viver gente (“people could be living here”) on the empty premises of abandoned shops and houses. I found it touching to find this scene, far in the west, in this steep, labyrinthine quarter of steps and fortresses that so reminded me of my own city of Split. It reminded me of similar graffiti in Dalmatia and the interior of Istria: Ne prodati djedovinu, ne prodaji svoje (“don’t sell your granddad’s inheritance, don’t sell what’s yours”). You will find this slogan in Croatia where the ferries to the islands tie up and by the bends in the country roads in northern Istria. In this Quixotic struggle, it’s hard to distinguish where narrow-minded nationalism ends and class consciousness begins.
However, in today’s world – and particularly the world after the 2007-2008 economic crisis – no amount of stubbornness on the part of the inhabitants of Hvar, Perast or Alfama will be of help to the Mediterranean. Overburdened by debt, without the financial mechanisms that might allow them to become competitive, and lacking the right to protect their own economies by customs duties, the Mediterranean countries find themselves in an economic cul-de-sac. Asia has taken over industry, the North technology and innovation, their national budgets are choked by repayment obligations and their economic development is on ice. In such conditions, Mediterranean politicians are keener than ever to carry on doing what they always have – paying for development by selling space. When growth is at a standstill, investors are seen as holy cows, and investments in the Mediterranean generally take the shape of 3D simulations and models of holiday resorts, of time-share apartments and bungalows in a pebbled cove, overgrown by wild cabbage and juniper. Having lived for decades from small-scale tourism, from the little rooms advertised with cardboard signs, the locals suddenly find that they are neighbours of the corporate Moloch, which they cannot defeat and which will not even leave behind the crumbs. Their home, their land, will be taken and used against them, in the form of planning, used to drain the last bit of income from local communities.
This, then, is the battle being fought on the Mediterranean’s northern, European coast – the last, desperate and hopeless struggle for the only thing of value that remains – space. It’s a battle being fought on every stairwell and every street, from Caravaggio’s Venice through the centres of Dubrovnik and Kotor to Ferguesia and Sao Cristobal in Lisbon. It’s being fought in every island cove where the Lilliputs of local tourism are waiting for big business to wipe them out, as Coca-Cola wipes out the local fizzy drinks company. It’s being fought over each concession for a beach, for the right to fence off land, the right to charge for parking, for access to the sea and for mooring rights. Tourist berths fight against fishing ports and operators’ docks, big-game fishermen against locals; summer visitors to Tuscany, the Balearics and Hvar rub shoulders with the natives, in a bizarre new looking-glass world, in which an impoverished local postman might live in a property worth as much as a street elsewhere and still be poor. Every time a district council permits charges and restricted access to a beach, every time a small craft is forced to make room for yachts, every time a coffee in a local bar costs the same as one in London or Vienna, the Mediterranean loses another, small battle. With every defeat, the Mediterranean becomes a fraction less authentic and a fraction more illusory, a stage-set, a cardboard cut-out whose purpose is to complete the scene observed through the window, with its 7 per cent surcharge.
This is the drama played out each time a Lucy Honeychurch opens her window. Every day, the Mediterranean becomes for its inhabitants less of a prestigious place of public gardens, beaches, quayside promenades and squares, and becomes a place of staffrooms, kitchens, warehouses and cement suburbs. For its people, the Mediterranean steadily becomes a room without a view, without a prospect and, most importantly, without a future.