The Past Is Still With Us

On the last day of 2012, self:

  • Bought plants from Home Depot.  It was bitterly cold.  The men lining the parking lot, looking anxiously every time self rounded a curve, breathed frost.
  • Watched a bitter, painful movie named “Margaret,” in which a nymphet played by Anna Paquin uses her charm to distract a bus driver who then hits a pedestrian and kills her.  Charming stuff.
  • Tried Five Guys Burgers and Fries, the new burger place next to the Century 20 in downtown Redwood City.  When we entered, there were only two other customers in the place.  But in the next 20 minutes, almost 30 people came, and by the time we left to watch our movie (“The Hobbit” —  the best movie self could possibly have picked to while away the waning hours of the old year.  Which does not mean to say it is a great movie.  But it is the kind of movie that lets you sink completely into the characters.  If you are not fitful.  Like the poor young woman to self’s right, who clearly was there only to accompany her boyfriend, and who kept moving restlessly in her seat)
  • Read further about the desecration of the Parthenon by 18th and 19th century British scavengers (Lord Elgin among the most egregious) in Sharon Waxman’s absorbing Loot:  The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World. Here’s a fascinating passage, about how the Parthenon marbles, now housed in the British Museum, were scoured white (The originals were “highly colored,” according to “archaeological evidence”) to please a wealthy patron named Lord Duveen:

When Sir Joseph Duveen, a millionaire art dealer, offered to donate money for a new gallery to properly house and display the Parthenon sculptures, the British Museum gratefully accepted.  But Lord Duveen had his own ideas about how the marbles should look.  In step with contemporary standards of beauty, he wanted them whiter . . .  Incredibly, Duveen’s workers were given free access to the marbles.  It was not until September 1938 that the director of the museum, John Forsdyke, passed through the sculpture department and noticed a group of sculptures being cleaned with a number of copper tools and a piece of coarse Carborundum, a hard substance usually used for grinding steel or polishing granite . . .  The effect of the method employed in cleaning the sculptures has been to remove the surface of the marble and to impart to it a smooth white appearance.

Continues Waxman:  “The Duveen Gallery was meant to open in the spring of 1939 . . .  Europe was about to go to war, and when it did the Parthenon sculptures remained out of sight until after the end of World War II.  By the time they reappeared in 1949, few remembered exactly what the sculptures had looked like before being taken from view.”

Then, in 1999, the British Museum, in an attempt to patch relations with Greece, “convened an international seminar on the damage.”  Unfortunately, “the conference further inflamed tensions between British and Greek scholars.  After tense days of discussion, the closing reception was held in the Duveen Gallery, where wine and sandwiches were served.  A museum official invited the scholars — who had been handling greasy sandwiches — to touch the sculptures for themselves, a gesture intended to demonstrate that the patina of the sculptures had not been harmed by the cleaning.  But the gesture had the opposite effect.  The Greek delegation was incensed and stormed out.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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