Alexander McCall Smith: Time to wake up and smell Europa’s coffee?

Europa rides Zeus in bull-form, but in Alexander's dream she was in a Brussels cafe insisting he had some rather delicious coffee (Picture: Michael Steele/Getty)
Europa rides Zeus in bull-form, but in Alexander's dream she was in a Brussels cafe insisting he had some rather delicious coffee (Picture: Michael Steele/Getty)
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Alexander McCall Smith recalls a strange dream involving the ancient Greek goddess Europa, who looks a lot like Angela Merkel, and the emergence of a new nation state.

Our dreams, no matter how vivid and surprising, are usually of scant interest to others. It is best not to talk about the creatures of the night, and how we engage with them, other than with one’s psychoanalyst and, at a push, one’s more tolerant friends. The absurd world of dreams is neither here nor there – which is why the memory of our dreams fades very fast.

Of course, there are exceptions. The dream recounted by Freud’s Wolf Man still makes for entertaining reading, and any dream we have of seven fat cows and seven thin ones should be perhaps be mentioned – just in case. But, in general, dreams are a private inconsequential business best kept to oneself.

So, it is with considerable hesitation that I mention the dream I had last night. It is, I think, a dream that others might have had. It could be, in a Jungian sense, a manifestation of some collective unconscious. That is perfectly possible, indeed probable. Having reiterated the self-denying ordinance of not revealing dreams, I hesitantly write about it here, knowing that not many people read my column anyway, and so this is virtually a private reflection.

In my dream I was in Brussels. How did I know that? Well, the dream was preceded by one of those images that they use in film to signify location. A London scene is usually preceded by an image of Big Ben, or possibly Trafalgar Square. Passing double-decker buses may remind the dozier members of the audience of the milieu to which they are being transported. Paris is easy: the Eiffel Tower is spotted in the distance and there is French accordion music. But Brussels? In my dream there was a large road sign that said Bruxelles. That made the location of what followed quite clear.

It being a continental dream, there was a pavement café. I looked for a table, but could find none and was about to turn around when the waiter summoned me to offer a seat at a table where a large woman in a voluminous blue dress was already seated. In the normal – or the normally abnormal – dream, Freudians would unhesitatingly tell you that this figure is your mother. Of course it is. Except in my dream it became immediately clear that she was in fact Europa, wife of no less a personage than Zeus. We do not hear much from Europa these days, but she is there, deep in our mythic consciousness, often riding on a white bull. Every so often she surfaces.

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Europa was very welcoming, and offered to buy me a cup of coffee. I asked for decaffeinated and she said that this would be perfectly possible. I should not think of her as a threat, she said. If you want decaffeinated coffee, you can have it. But then she added, “But you must have coffee.”

I was a bit taken aback by this. Could one not sit at her table and not drink coffee? No, she said. That is not possible. That is a fundamental demand.

My coffee arrived. It was delicious. “There,” she said. “See.”

Now I must add another detail. It is not important, but it did give texture to the dream. Dreams with texture are generally better than those without. In this case, the texture-conferring detail was this: Europa looked terribly like Mrs Merkel! That, I think, is purely co-incidental, and would be of no interest even to the most symbol-sensitive dream analyst. There are plenty of women who look like Mrs Merkel. Some people even have mothers who look like her.

As I sat there with Europa, I felt a certain sense of embarrassment creep over me.

“I must say how sorry I am about all this business,” I said. “You do know, don’t you, that Scotland behaved differently?”

She nodded. “I’ve heard as much,” she said.

“And I wouldn’t want you to think that Scots voted that way largely because we rather enjoy voting the opposite way from that in which the Government in Westminster tells us to vote.”

Europa smiled. “Of course not!” And then added, “Perish the thought!”

“I liked the coffee,” I said.

She smiled again. “Good. And please don’t feel in any way awkward. No damage done. Or not too much. You’re going to vote again, you see.”

I thought I should clarify the situation. “You mean a general election?”

“Oh no,” said Europa. “Another referendum. You’ll vote again and voilà, a different result. You can’t leave, you see. Look at history. The consolidation of states prevents that. Germany used to be a whole lot of little entities, as did Italy, France and so on. Look what happened to the kingdom of my son, Minos. Existing countries become passé. That’s what’s happening here, you know. We are witnessing the creation of a new state. And every such creation involves birth pangs, and one or two protests. We’re feeling those at present, but everything will be all right. Reason will prevail.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Perfectly,” she said. “You’ll see.”

I have no idea of the meaning of this dream. Even as I write about it, its memory fades. I mentioned it, though, to a friend. He smiled. “Fake dream,” he said.

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