Brexit shook Europe. Brexit has shaken London. If it only had one “positive” effect, it would be to get people from all over the world together to talk about Europe and what it means to them.
Monday 4th July. 8 pm.
Fifties music escapes from the bar below at Wilton’s Music Hall. We're in a part of London's East End characterised by waves of migration, and a suitably theatrical place to talk about Brexit. The table is laid with a spread of papers and souvenirs from around the world: Le Monde, El País, New York Times, The Irish Times and La Repubblica. Italian biscuits, a Spanish cookbook, a guide to the Edgware road. Around us gather guests from Italy, Puerto Rico, New Mexico, Texas, Ireland, Lebanon. Just one from Britain. Perhaps this mix is your typical table in London?
We asked, ‘What does Europe mean to you?’ so each one of us brought something explain our connection.
A photo of two girls posing together.
“This is my step-sister who’s half German. I’m Italian. Europe is a the core of my family and I can’t imagine countries from this continent being apart.”
A book bought on a trip to Iceland.
“My wife and I have been travelling all around Europe and each one of us would pick a book from a local bookshop in the country we’re visiting which would define the place or moment.”
“This is a cookbook I got from Barcelona while I was doing Erasmus. Erasmus completely broke all the prejudice I had with other cultures. It’s probably one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had in my life.”
A sixties travel guide to Europe (which still smells like the sixties). “It’s crazy that this book was published 50 years ago but the little tips about local customs and character of each country still bears true today!”
A business card. "This card holds the name of my 3 business partners, and we're from all over Europe. So without the EU, would my livelihood even exist?"
Pictures of a road trip to four European cities in four different countries within 11 hours (from a man who later proclaims he's only ever been on one holiday, Jorge Mendez). “Discovering such a variety of architecture in such close proximity was just crazy.”
At its best, Europe is about experiences that define us, inspire us and fill us with joy. Brexit feels like a divorce in a way, but one we didn't see coming. Will Britain cut its umbilical cord with Europe? Hopefully not. The 'mixing' is too deep, at least in London.
In the wake of the referendum, Time Out London, probably the most widely read magazine in London, wrote: “Our city has not changed. It remains a place that cherishes human beings of all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. So, people of Europe and people of the world, thank you for making our city your home. No, let’s rephrase that. Thank you for making YOUR city your home.”
The whole Brexit affair has come as a ruthless shock, but reading the words from Time Out was heartening. The kind of warm feeling you get when you head inside after hours in the cold. Perhaps there’s little we can do now a decision is taken, but the our conversations helped : talking about Europe and the interplay of cultures with people from all over the world.
Text © Nastasia Basil, Images © Cristina Salvi
Nastasia Basil is a Lebanese engineer and founder of the LondonY an online magazine for London's Y Generation. She has studied, lives and works in London.