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Monuments and antiquities
September 6, 2012 - Stephen Browne
I just came across an article in the Jewish online magazine "Tablet: a New Read on Jewish Life," on Herman Melville's visit to Jerusalem in 1857.
Melville took the trip at the urging of his wife, and the financing of his father-in-law, because he was severely depressed at the reception "Moby Dick" was getting. Melville thought it was a masterpiece, and eventually the world agreed, but we forget that it bombed big time in his lifetime and was only rediscovered a generation later.
Melville was severely disappointed with mid-19th century Jerusalem. It was dusty, poor, and the antiquities were badly cared for and in terrible shape.
I haven't been to Jerusalem, but I have been to Athens and took a bus trip from Athens up the coast to Bulgaria. The monuments in Athens are well worth seeing - see the Parthenon by moonlight before you die by all means. The Hill of Mars above the agora where St. Paul preached has been worn by the feet of so many pilgrims the granite is like polished glass and dangerous to walk on.
But... throughout Greece the lesser-known antiquities are not very well cared for. If they're not bringing in tourists with money, the local people aren't much interested in them.
I also remember a documentary years ago when I was a teenager. It was about a flood in Florence, Italy, when a great many of their classic paintings and other works of art were damaged by water and mud.
The documentary, narrated by Richard Burton, described how the crew went to Florence to film the Florentines heroic effort to save the Renaissance masterworks that were the ornament of their city.
Well, turns out what they found was the Florentines didn't care a flip for their art but were more interested in preserving the value of their houses. The work of saving the art was done by a bunch of hippie backpacker volunteers who descended on Florence from all over Europe.
The lesson that I've had my nose rubbed in over the years is, people who grow up and live amidst the monuments of the past, generally don't appreciate them. The same way city people are the most ardent lovers of nature.
Last week I drove through Montevideo for the first time, and was impressed by how many lovely houses of the late 19th early 20th century style there were, in good repair and still lived in.
In Marshall we just lost three houses of that era. I understand they had to come down. They had decayed beyond repair and restoration from years of neglect, and being subdivided into apartments is generally the kiss of death for old houses of that kind.
Still it seems a pity. There is such a thing as character that towns and cities either have, or don't. And character seems to have a lot to do with how many old things there are around still cared for.
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