Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Indifference of Monuments




I've lived in Italy on an off for about 7 years. I love Rome and while Milan didn't have the same sense of beauty, it was still a lovely city. Rome's greatest display of architectural wonder is the Vatican, followed by the Colosseum. There are a multitude of other gorgeous buildings, constructions and works of art to admire and it would take months or years to see and enjoy everything.

I originally moved to Rome in 1996 and stayed until 1998. Then I moved back in 2008 until 2010. Something that I noticed was that not much had really changed. The billboards didn't have posters for analogue mobile phones any more and you couldn't buy 2 stroke petrol from gas stations any more. Apart from that, things were much the same as 12 years previously when I'd rocked up with a backpack and an EFL teaching certificate.

The Colosseum is nearly two THOUSAND years old and while it now resembles a half eaten wedding cake with exhaust fumes up the side, it is still a staggering achievment of skill and design. My only problem was, in the 144 months since I'd last seen it...it had the insurmountable temerity to look exactly the same.

I move through life ever conscious of new wrinkles, grey bits in my hair (I have one small patch on the back of my head. Didn't see it until I got my hair cut and the stylist cheerily showed it me in the mirror) and new ways to keep up my energy levels as I move into the middle of another decade in life.

Monuments show no compassion to my ever changing visage. I watched The King's Speech a while back which has our current Queen's father, King George VI, talking to the crowds from a balcony at Buckingham Palace. An infant Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret play with dolls and stand by his side. This is the exact same balcony where Prince William stood after getting married in 2011.

About 100 yards from my apartment is a hotel that Queen Victoria stayed in as a little girl. This visit was what earned the town of Leamington Spa, the prefix "Royal." Very close to this hotel is a statue of Victoria that is one inch off centre from its supporting plinth, as it was moved by the shockwave from a German shell that landed nearby in World War 2. 

Queen Victoria is the great, great, great, great grandmother of Prince William's son George.

Part of me wants to imagine that Queen Victoria was never a little girl and always looked like the vinegar faced frump that we see in the majority of images of her.

Every time a James Bond movie is re-released in a new format, they dig up former Bonds and former Bond girls. James Bond is meant to be immortal, born in a tuxedo aged 35 and never getting older than 45. Seeing decrepit old men waxing lyrical about how things have changed and giving their opinion on Daniel Craig, does nothing to improve my mood and my fear of my own mortality. The 1960s and 1970s Bond girls kill any desire to get aroused watching love scenes from Connery or Moore's tenure, as they sit there looking like extras from The Walking Dead and saying how much a gentleman Cubby Broccoli was.

But I digress...

Through a life that I know will not only be short but will remind me of my advancing age by putting lines in my face, grey in my hair and a gradual increase in my optician's prescription....monuments remain impassive and aloof. They don't care how much I fear aging and dying. They just exist, indifferent to the seasons birth and death and the emergence one day of the reaper.

Peaky Blinders on BBC is a beltingly good show. One thing that freaks me out watching it though is the knowledge that every character in it, including the baby born in season 1, would now be dead of old age. These strong, young, even handsome and beautiful characters with a lust for life. With emotions and arguments and marriages and drunken brawls...would now be long gone from this world. The houses they lived in however, are still there.

I went back to my old house in Kenilworth 3 years ago and knocked on the door. Had a chat with the woman who answered who was happy to talk about the place and intrigued that me and my family had once lived in her home. Thing was...she had never heard of us, or the people who came after us. In the last 21 years that house has been bought and sold three or four times. We lived there from 1979 to 1994 and there is no memory of us being in the property. The house continues to exist, indifferent to the forgotten memories that happened within it.

Monuments are bastards. They don't have the good grace to age a bit, and have the odd bit of brickwork fall off as I walk past. Just to let me know they sympathise with my unstoppable journey to the end of my life. They carry on for decades, centuries or millenia, not caring a jot.


Nothing will remind you more of your own fragile existence than the unchanged longevity of a building constructed way before you were born that will be around long after you're dead.

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