Beatrix and the Venetians
Like it or not, Time has plans for us
The Circling Fin
When I was little, my mother’s godmother gave me a ceramic bowl, decorated with scenes from the animal tales of Beatrix Potter. Worth a pretty shilling, this treasure was immediately put away in a locked pantry, safe from little fingers. I didn’t see it again until I was a parent myself and the dish was produced … only to be immediately put where my own young ones couldn’t get ahold of it.
But what is the point of a dish ringed by scampering bunnies if kids can’t use it for their chicken noodle soup?
What is the point indeed of those first-edition books whose pages have never been cut open and thus whose words have never once been read?
What is the point of an unplayed flexi-disc, now forty or fifty years old and stalked by collectors, whose grooves have never known a stylus and whose music has never been heard?
The point, of course, is to stop Father Time in his tracks. There may be no pause button on the bathroom mirror but you can at least try to stop Time chipping and breaking and wearing down your most precious things. Seal up your treasures, just as the Pharaohs did, and you might dodge – or think you’ve dodged – Time’s Tireless Bullet.
But how about taking the opposite approach and letting the elements at it?
In the grounds of our children’s school, there lies a whalebone the size of a sofa, left on a grassy bank for the kids to see on their way to and from classes.
Not so long ago, the rule would have been to lock such a remarkable object away, if not behind glass, at least a ceremonial rope. But how much better it is to let boys and girls see natural artefacts out in the open.
If we could afford to, we probably would put the ancient and marvellous city of Venice behind glass or a ceremonial rope. Winter on winter, the Adriatic flooding becomes more extensive and deeper. Once the seat of an imperial power with fleets at her command, Venice has become a practically unrunnable settlement, its palazzi undone by the inexorable rise of damp and rot, its emergency services permanently astray in a warren of streets and canals that confound GPS systems, and her mother nation, Italy, too broke to help.
There is no pantry big enough to lock Venice away in, no dry-dock sufficient for the dehumidifying of the centuries. And so, in the end, we have to resign ourselves to losing what we would normally consider precious, just like Atlantis and Chernobyl’s cities and the abandoned villages of Achill: you cannot keep even the glories of human achievement alive if people are unable to keep daily life going in them.
So fetch out that Beatrix Potter bowl: We’re having Old Father Time over for dinner, and, as usual, he’ll eat all before him.
Fin Keegan is a writer based in Westport. This column is based on his weekly radio essay, heard on WRFM radio, and online at thecirclingfin.com.