Hey, About Those Ruins….
I don’t understand the idea of ruins.
Take the Acropolis, for example. It’s famously been sitting there atop that little bluff for centuries. Tourists go there and get their pictures taken standing next to it. They marvel at the workmanship of centuries-old architects and craftsmen and builders. Somehow it all became a big pile and they just decided to leave it that way. But how does something like that happen?
One of my favorite teachers was my high school History teacher. He stressed upon us the idea that history wasn’t just names and dates, but that it was real people, and that these people were more like us than they were different from us, today. He gave us an appreciation for context, too, the idea that nothing happens in a vacuum. The idea that there were people for and against whatever it was we were studying and the events of the day grew out of the events of weeks, months and even the years that came before.
So, with that in mind, I try to imagine what circumstances would lead a city like my own to leave, say, a shopping mall in ruins if a tornado leveled it. Just leave the wreckage there. For months. For years. For generations. For centuries. How does that happen? Who thinks that’s a Good Idea?
We had a fire downtown several years ago. The fire department was there almost immediately and put the fire out within a few hours. The building was a total loss. After several inspections and a lot of insurance paperwork, a crew came in a completely removed the bricks and hardware and the melted merchandise. A couple of weeks after the fire, the site of the business was an empty lot, with grass sod on it.
Not long after that, developers swooped in, as developers are wont to do, and… well, they developed. The address looks entirely different now. Another new business is there today. You drive by there now and you cannot see any evidence of the fire that totally consumed the old business and the old building. I cannot imagine circumstances that would allow a pile of rubble to remain there long enough to become a tourist attraction, you know? Let alone some kind of an historic landmark.
There must have been meetings. There must have been an outraged citizenry. “When are we finally going to clean this shithole up? It has been three years now and nothing has been done!” And… ever nothing was. And I imagine after sixty or eighty years someone must have brought it up again. “Hey? Is anyone ever going to clean up the mess from where the old Acropolis was? I mean, it’s just a pile of rocks, man… we could open that up for housing or goat grazing or parking or something, you know?” But again, maybe they needed to have environmental impact studies and economic impact studies and bond drives and all of that and it all failed. I don’t know. A hundred years later, “Are we seriously not going to clean this up, guys?”
I just have a hard time seeing how they could just leave something like that. Forever. You know? At some point, yeah, it does become a kind of an historic thing. I wouldn’t advocate putting a housing development or a shopping mall there, now. I wouldn’t want to see it all cleaned up and replaced with a wind farm or anything like that today. It’s attained the status given to “bad architecture and old whores” according to Jerry Garcia. It has become respectable, now. It has become an attraction in and of itself.
I just would love to have been in on the story of how they decided to leave it all like that. Because somewhere along the line, they absolutely must have decided, “No, we’re just going to leave it like this and… see what happens”.
I’m glad I didn’t know about this when my mom was telling me to clean up my room, you know?