Home once again after a dizzying nine weeks and I have had a few days to let the experience consolidate and settle.
This year we were once again blessed with the presence of some of the indefatigable ‘class of 1965’ and not suprisingly this brought our legacy into focus. How different, if at all, are the students of the 21st century from those from the groovy days of the 1960’s? Is what we are doing considered as important or valuable compared to how it was viewed back then? Do we reflect or attempt to shape the culture?
In the 1960’s air travel was considered either a luxury or a military necessity, most people travelled by train and very rarely to anywhere more exotic than Greece. Morocco was for the hippies and bohemians, India was for the hippies and seekers and the thought of hopping on to a flight to Las Vegas for a Stag Party was utterly inconceivable. Italy was still a country celebrated by EM Forster in his memorable novels, particularly ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’ and ‘Room with a View’ where the British dreaded and hoped to be freed from post-war rules and conventions (meet someone completely unsuitable and find love) or Fellini’s La Dolce Vita where we were mesmerised and baffled by a series of extraordinary set pieces that celebrated or/and critiqued Italy’s love-affair with the American Dream (echoing Britain’s fascination with the same).
In Britain it was considered the height of ‘Continental’ to have a candle stuck into an old straw-wrapped Chianti ‘ruffino’, whether in one’s flat or in a Soho Italian restaurant. Spaghetti came in those yard-long packets and the chances of finding fresh parmesan cheese in Northampton was zero, let alone getting a decent expresso any where west, east, north or south of Frith Street.
And if you went to Italy as a student you knew that you were absolutely on your own. A letter would take a week to arrive, money had to be carefully planned and dispensed, with no ATM to access, no online banking, no phones (unless in an emergency – and emergencies and the consideration of them has changed with the instant communication available via emails, social media and cellular technologies)
What I am trying to say is that the teenager of the 1960’s experienced the world in a significantly different way, through a lens that is virtually alien to that which even I viewed things at the end of the 1970’s when I was a student on the course. There was no TripAdvisor to pressurise hotels and restaurants with, the instant gratification that today’s culture affords us and the teenagers of the early 21st century. Many of us have become ‘clients’ and that has skewed the way that many of us consider the ‘provider’.
Which makes the students of this year even more exceptional. The fact that all teenagers have at their fingertips the ability to communicate with their ‘friends and followers’ in micro-seconds, with all the potential for distraction that that offers, is now simply a fact. The ability to nip home (to England) for the weekend and to speak languidly about continuing one’s ‘Gap Year’ thousands of miles away, getting there in a few hours is almost incredible to me but without wonder for today’s traveller.
So what is it that draws a thread that connects students from the 1960’s to those of 2017? Of course, a part of the reason is the place. To be able to spend six weeks (or more fifty or more years ago) in the singular city that is Venice is an exquisite experience in itself. To be thrown togather in a small and intimate hotel that is nestled in the warm heart of this city is also a memorable and bonding time to savour, to be exposed to the brilliant thoughts of all of our lecturers is thrilling and in some memorable cases, inspirational but I think that there’s more and that is some unknown but acutely sensed element that is something that my father added to the mixture.
From observing the students of 2017, 2016, 2015 and beyond I discern something that connects us all and that is the almost instinctive understanding of the legacy that we are a part of. In 1965, on the first day of that first course the young man who is my father bounded up to announce to the students, who probably had as much idea about what the course would be as this year’s did, that “You are this year’s course” and handed to each one of them the metaphorical keys to the car.
The rest was up to them. When the class of 1965 assembled and bough the class of 2017 a glass of prosecco I noted the recognition of that. At our final lunch at the Ristorante Sibilla in Tivoli I felt that.