Doomsday! Apocalypse! A Postscript
While many of the palaces of the maharajahs survived in India, it has been more normal globally to wantonly destroy the artefacts of other faiths. British soldiers may have chiselled genitalia from non-Christian statuary and smashed up the old Chinese Summer Palace, but they did it while singing of doing good deeds in God’s name. In Smyrna the sectarian violence continued beyond the destruction of the city, with the palatial villas of the rich Levantine families destroyed and replaced by factories and high rises. The ancient Christian churches were wrecked by children who had no knowledge of the liberal past.
But it strikes me that we Britons live within the wreckage and flotsam of the past anyway. Near my flat, the Copenhagen clock tower stands in a field alone, the building of which it formed a fine centrepiece demolished, the cattle market grounds now a bare-looking park. But at the park’s edges there’s something sadder – the black metal pillars standing at the end of each railing section were clearly once fitted with plaques and illuminated globes. Now they stand stripped and bereft of fittings, too little saved too late. Should they be torn down and replaced with something modern or left as a sad reminder of better days? The answer is academic as there’s no money to replace them.
The Apollo Pavilion is a perfect example of the municipal dither that surrounds Britain’s past. A bridge-like brutalist sculpture by Victor Pasmore still intensely hated by the public who live with it, the pavilion (if this blunt object could be referred to as such) could possibly look better if removed elsewhere, perhaps onto spacious private grounds where it would be cared for instead of being situated on a housing estate. The designer naively thought he was bringing art to the masses rather than building something the local kids could do drugs inside. He didn’t help matters by suggesting tearing the surrounding houses down (although they’re pretty nasty), but past and present could be resolved with a little intelligent thought. Instead it remains as a symbol of historical mistrust on both sides.
In London. Manchester and Newcastle there is no escape from the past; its remnants are tantalisingly there. London, bombed more heavily, is a patchwork of eras from pre-Roman to the present, although the patches are gradually becoming homogenous thanks to the dead hand of blank international design. Each apocalyptic event acts like fire on forests, generating regrowth, even if the new trees are not as attractive.
The city of Izmir, Smyrna’s replacement, is not attractive at all. It was not created by generations of wealthy Levantine families but by corporate commerce. The new London fights the same battle, and will always continue to do so unless it is changed by cataclysm.
See tomorrow, he said ominously.