Living in a new country can mean many things depending on where you lay the stress. For English painter and writer Adrian Stokes it signified a second birth. Entering Italy via another birth canal, the Mont Cenis tunnel, he had the impression of a world bom in the same instant. He saw 'bright rectangular houses free of atmosphere, of the passage of time'. All history seemed to gather in the present: 'the sun shone, the sky was a deep, deep, bold blue'. In contrast with murky London and its nameless childhood horrors, there was in the Mediterranean a clear and perfect fit between words and things, inside and outside: the mensa of dreary Latin classes was transformed into a piece of furniture, decisively casting shadows.
Stokes laid the stress on living. But the new vitality he experienced in the south was inseparable from its novelty: the peculiar zest he attributed to certain architectural milieux sprang from the sense they gave him of astonishment, surprise, of being in a state of permanent apparition. To be fully alive meant finding one's fantasies projected outwards and stabilized in stone. The novelty of Italy was proportional to the freedom it offered him from his old self. Impressed by the outwardness of Italian life, a quality as much aesthetic as temperamental, Stokes found the strength to turn his own psychic life inside out The new country did not erase the old one - 'Rapallo could not oust Hyde Park' - but it did supply a position from which to speak, to begin again the laying down of habits.
Stokes's experience is so momentous, both emotionally and in terms of his life's work, that it is natural to regard it as uniquely personal. It therefore comes as something of a surprise to find his contemporary, the composer William Walton, reacting to the first sight of Italy in exactly the same terms: 'the train went into the tunnel, and when it came out on the Italian side they found the most marvellous sun. He never recovered from this moment of revelation, the shock of seeing such brilliant light. . .' It seems that the newness of the new country is both more subjective than Stokes imagined and more objective. The revelation of light belongs more to the mode of arriving than to the place reached. At the same time the revelation can be shared and, it may be argued, characterizes a particular social milieu - that of the Sitwells and their artistic protégés.
The novelty of living in a new country refers less to a place than to the manner of arriving there. The Berkeleian solipsism of imagining a country springing into existence as one sets foot in it, as if it were not already inhabited and did not harbour psychic (and other) monsters of its own, defines the motivation of the migrant: the power of identification with his new surroundings expresses an equally powerful desire to forget, to put the past well behind. But, as Stokes realized, this is not easily done or even perhaps desirable. Any orientation to the new environment depends initially on finding resemblances between it and the home left behind. The clarity of light (and life) here may throw the muddiness of one's former existence into clear and critical relief, but the very possibility of comparison implies a conceptual vocabulary that can be transported from one place to another. ..............................................