Javier Gomá Lanzón, Spain
Joan Manuel Serrat: Mediterráneo (1971)
It was voted the best Spanish pop song ever written: Mediterráneo. For Javier Gomá Lanzón the feelings evoked by this song changed over time - as did the message it carries regarding the EU.
When in 1971, Joan Manuel Serrat’s album came out, “Mediterráneo” , containing the legendary song of the same name, there were still four years left to go until the death of the dictator Franco. And, nonetheless the energy in the rhythm, the lively voice of the young singer-songwriter and the lyrics that bring back alluring images –bright blue ocean, red sunset, touches of salt on your skin, your first love, the fooling around, wine, the singers’ grave one day between the beach and the sky– instilled hints of the freedom that was to come. And not because it spoke about freedom, like so many other singer-songwriters did at the time, but because it was something much more real: It was an unapologetic song and a very beautiful one. It still is even 50 years later. During this century, it has been named three times –in different contexts– best Spanish pop song and can even be considered best Spanish pop song ever written.
And to think that it only talks about the sea. At a time of extreme nationalism, like in the case of Franco’s dictatorship that worshiped the country, Serrat dedicates an anthem to this foreign space known as the Mediterranean Sea. He dedicates it to those “thousands of people” that spread along the shore from “Algeciras to Istanbul”, in other words from one end to the other of what the Romans used to call Mare Nostrum.
Very well, but what does this have to do with Europe?
There’s a historian that gave Europe a birthday: December 25th of the year 800 to be exact. Up to that moment the Roman empire, which extended from East to West along the great sea, had been mainly Mediterranean. On that winter day, Pope Leo III crowned Charles the Great and thus the old horizontal axis of ancient civilizations extended up north, and Europe was born. It was built around the North/South axis, adding for the first time the Germanic element to the existing Latin one. Our European Union is only the latest example of this first Carolingian synthesis.
The Roman Empire was Mediterranean; the European Union isn’t. However, it embraces much of the old Mare Nostrum beaches between "Algeciras and Istanbul". A song makes us feel different things depending on when we hear it. In 1971, Serrat's song brought us words about a warm friendship with our neighboring countries in the future. Now, with the same melody and lyrics, it reminds us that the voice of the South still has something to say to the North because it has seen one too many "red sunsets". There is a Mediterranean wisdom that comes from the experience accumulated by so many people who lived and died there. There’s still plenty to learn from the Mediterranean because, as Serrat says in his beautiful song, “a fuerza de desventuras/tu alma es profunda y oscura" which translates to “by force of misfortune/your soul is deep and dark ".