Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Things Past


(above: 19th-century mill at Sweetwater Creek, near Atlanta)

#19 -- "In Ruins" by Christopher Woodward

As is probably apparent, I'm a sucker for ruins, destroyed buildings, empty shells, fragments of past establishments leaking through into the future. So I'm not sure why it took me so long to read Woodward's book; I've been casting a lustful eye on it for about two years now, but only this past week, got around to reading it.

It's both a meditation on the importance of ruins, and why they appeal to us. There's some fascinating bits about artists and writers that depicted their societies (usually London) in states of ruin; I'd never heard of Gustav Dore's "The New Zealander" (and I can't find a working online image), but it's captivating. He also talks up some ruined communities that I've never come across myself; Nimfa (which I may have spelled wrong -- I can't run up any online citations, but don't have the book handly) in Italy, top of the list. And the section on the Colosseum as a ruin is fascinating.

There's also a considerable bit on the 18th century English habit of creating fake ruins ("follies") themselves -- a bit much for my tastes, since the legit ruins are so much more fascinating. And sometimes there's a bit of presumption on the thoughts of past writers; ruins get cited as their major source of inspiration, even when they say otherwise.

Still -- Woodward's love of the ruins shines through, and he sounds like he'd be great fun as a travel partner. Learned, and passionate. Good stuff (even if he ignores Croatia's ruins.)

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