Owing the Taliban

In recent history, anger and revolution have destroyed a number of great monuments to the work and beliefs of mankind. The Cultural Revolution comes to mind, and its destruction and defacement of a variety of religious monuments, including some of the early Buddhist temples along the Silk Road. The book burning in Nazi Germany is another example. The symbolic burning of Old Glory to support a specific cause is an example of representative destruction, as was done during the Vietnam War. The Taliban and their destruction of various non-Muslim religious spaces is another example.

But all is not lost with these acts of violence. The monuments that were destroyed are often held in even more reverence at later times. The calls to destruction can attract new attention to significant historical locations and even sometimes lead to renewed study and preservation concerns for the past. Take the recent discovery that Buddhists near Bamiyan used oil-based paints in the 7th century for example. If the Taliban hadn’t attempted to destroy the caves and the two Buddha statues outside, conservationists would have been reluctant to study the composition of the painting materials. From restoration processes after the Taliban’s reign, we now know that people in the area were using oils centuries before the advent of oil painting in Europe.

What debt, then, do we have to those who attempt to destroy culture and end up preserving it even more firmly? Does it say something more about them, or about us, that we study only those things that are most endangered or at risk. What does it mean that a high percentage of the archaeological study taking place in North America only happens as a result of land development? What does it mean that we only have the resources to discover the past when the physical presence of that past is threatened?

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Sunlight makes things better

I have recently made a commitment to myself to try and observe more of the world around me on a daily basis. It’s true, that I live in an old city, so there’s built-up infrastructure and concrete everywhere, but even the ugliest part of city life can have redeeming qualities.

Today for me it was the snow remainder. I don’t mean the still-white patches that were glowing in the sun, or the gentle drip of the melting eaves of houses. I mean the gross stuff that’s been churned up from the streets liberally coated and mixed with motor oil. It’s the kind of big messy piles that you really hope you don’t even have to walk across for fear of contamination. When the sun hits them just right, the icy surface places refract like crystals, like strange geodes embedded in a duller, more sullen rock matrix.

It made me think about the sun in general – how long-ago peoples, my ancestors, worshiped its return in spring, dancing or singing or otherwise recalling it to life and vigor. It reminds me of the way grass looks greener in the afternoon. It reminds me if I want to paint color, I should do it in the afternoon, when the angle of the light reveals the world at it’s richest. I don’t know the principles of why this is true. Like the flintknappers of the past, I don’t know the physics of the thing, I just know that if you hit the rock here, it will carry the force through to there, splitting and cracking along a certain plane of force.

When I wake up in the morning now, it’s still to a vague dawn light. It makes me want to crawl back under the covers again. But by the time I’ve gotten ready and stepped outside to walk to the bus stop, the sun is up and smiling. It puts a little jig in my step.