Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Culture flow

I caught a moment at work to pause and flip through some of my pictures on various websites, travels from the past few years in America, Europe, and Australia. There was a picture in particular that caught my attention from the streets of Berlin of a monumental granite portico that tended stolidly to the sidewalk (http://community.webshots.com/photo/11019681/11020623pTUCnTcPOc). The portico had a stern, chiseled countenance of Karl Marx at its apex, heralding a legion of the faithful into the foreground from points of obscurity; one had a flowing flag, others had bayonets, and all were men. As they reached the foreground, they showed themselves triumphant and guided, yet obilivious to the suppressed at the bottom of the portico.
The suppressed at the very bottom were three characters strongly sculpted but hardly clothed: the first a kneeling, compressed woman holding a baby with large, skeletal hands; the second a mid-squat, muscle-bound man reaching skyward to the throng in a crucifix position; the third another rippling man on both knees with outstretched right arm skyward, as if hoping that the marching throng directly above would reach out and carry him into prosperity and oblivion. The words at the very top, next to Marx's image were the following: "Es Lebe Die Soziale Revolution, Es Lebe Der Frieden Der Vulker" [It lives the social revolution, it lives the peace of the people].
Besides the momentary lapse to remember nice trips, I reflected on the passing cultures that have advanced across civilizations in various modes. Such an impressive image reminded me of the vibrancy and passion of a political movement that still has strong proponents in most countries, even if few governments maintain an overall system tied directly to socialism. In the parade of sculpted men was the embodiment of the obscure faces of thousands of peoples from hundreds of years, passing phantasms through history. Now, such people have their events recorded in textbooks, oral histories, literature, landmarks, and other human marking points, but many more are still faceless and forgotten, obscure as a random portico tending a side-street in Berlin.
Forgotten as a via promenade in Giovinazzo in Puglia; stones pounded smooth by 2,000 years of pilgrimage from southeast Italy to Rome, a city finding prominence in the 11th century before the Crusades claimed all its men and left its influence in almost 1,000 years of waiting. Many of those men never returned to their proud city and left it as remnant to further obscure faces, more landmarks and history.
Even still, the residue of these events and stories remains in the various forms that salvage the memories. Our collective memory forgets most things, however well we think we capture them. It is our heritage to leave nothing of this experience but what we now can gleam from our days of expression and living. How fresh and exciting it can be, and yet how unoriginal. It is not for us to change the world - it will change with our assistance as it will change beyond our trivial control - but for us to seep into the culture flow.
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