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Always the best who go?

There ought to be a dictionary of the clichés you resort to when you have nothing else to say

There ought to be a dictionary of the clichés you resort to when you have nothing else to say. When tragedy is couched in cliché, the result is tragicomedy. "It's always the best who go" sounds like one of those phrases they used to say at funerals in films: clichés that ring of sarcasm when the deceased was a crook, a murderer or a nobody. "Always the best who go" had become a vintage phrase that was only heard in stilted speech, or on Facebook, where the taste for funerals has made a comeback. Nowadays you seem to be at the funeral home one day and the next as well, and if you stay a little later than a reasonable hour you see how people's manners degenerate. Because people drink there, but in solitude, like people drinking at home in front of the TV. And these people are capable of the worst truculence. I have known lifelong friends who have fought in a disagreement about a dead friend - who, indeed, had left nothing to either of them, but had aroused their propensity for love or hate.

But to get back to the phrase "always the best who go." Under the pressure of the crisis it is living a second youth; it is back in circulation, with a new meaning. True, a high price has been paid for this rejuvenation. I would have preferred there had been no crisis, and the little phrase had moldered on the garbage heap where it belongs. The fact is, there is something about it that draws out our falsity. If in the past it was pronounced at funerals when the stiff had been decidedly second-rate, at present it is used by hobbyists of pedestrian sociology in reference to the young people who have had to go abroad to find a job.

I have known lifelong friends who have fought in a disagreement about a dead friend

"Always the best who go," they say. Well, no, not exactly. They are not necessarily the best; they are the ones who are able to go, because they have chosen exportable professions. Scientists go, because in Spain scientific research has been sacrificed to the need to square the budget, and this is a loss that will take twenty years to make up. But not all scientists can leave. Not all of them find a laboratory interested in their branch of research. Scientists do have an advantage: the world language of science is English - an English which requires a specific vocabulary, and not much excellence of style. A laboratory is a place where an Indian, a Mexican, a Spaniard and a German communicate in an English which, though limited and shaky, is effective. But many other professions, though requiring great talent, are not exportable. I remember a dinner where someone listed a number of Spanish writers who are just not exportable, beginning with Valle-Inclán (whose Spanish so highly idiomatic as to be impossible to translate well).

I was struck, and a bit saddened, by the exactitude of this remark. In all writers language is fundamental, but there are some whose genius is based on a unique way of saying things; who make the music of language their raison d'être. They are not translatable. Such is the case of actors, humorists, many poets, novelists, shopkeepers - all those trades that drink deeply of the ambience where they were born, and give the best of themselves when they can develop their talent in familiar surroundings known to them.

It is a good thing, no doubt, that Spaniards are now more in contact with the wider world. But not at the cost of those who cannot return home to practice what they learned abroad. It's not the best who are going. Those who can are going. I know many of them, and they are not entirely happy about it. And I am worried about the talent that stays here, unable to develop. I know quite a few of these, too.

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