Newspaper article International New York Times

Tangled Ties Complicate 'Brexit' Vote

Newspaper article International New York Times

Tangled Ties Complicate 'Brexit' Vote

Article excerpt

Britain's links to the Continent predate the bloc's establishment as a huge trading zone, before the first British Austins ventured across a choppy channel.

With a blend of rose-glow nostalgia and incredulity, some baby boomers of a certain vintage here recall vacations in Europe long ago when the sight of a rare British license plate on the arrow- straight roads of northern France inspired much waving and tooting of horns in mutual recognition.

In those times, they will say, Britons emerging from the gloom of postwar austerity discovered a land of pungent cigarettes and fine cuisine, vin ordinaire and menus du jour that titillated palates grown stale on bland and rationed British fare.

There were time-consuming border crossings, too, and sharp-eyed customs agents; currency controls; carnets de passage; and coupons that permitted outsiders to purchase gasoline, sometimes in villages with hand-pumps that recalled much earlier technologies.

Decades later, Europe has ironed out many of its idiosyncrasies. No one waves anymore. Border controls have largely disappeared. The clothing chains offer the same brands in London, Paris, Madrid or Berlin. With the possible exception of military veterans visiting the erstwhile battlefields of loss and glory, the novelty of returning in peace to the loci of war has faded.

Yet, as Britain prepares for a referendum on June 23 on whether to remain in the European Union, it is perhaps worth recalling that its ties to the great landmass beyond the channel long predate the bloc's establishment as a huge trading zone, creating bonds that will not easily dissolve.

Long before the first British Austins and Morris Minors ventured across a choppy channel to joust with French Citroens and Renaults, British artists and poets -- Turner and Keats, Byron and Shelley -- drew inspiration in Italy, France or Switzerland.

In the automobile age, well-heeled travelers in their elegant touring cars sought out the bright lights of Paris and the gambling tables of Monte Carlo.

Even earlier, in Nice, the Promenade des Anglais, an elegant walkway along the Mediterranean, took its name from Britons wintering there in the 18th and 19th centuries. …

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