I don't know why it should be that a thing makes me smile simply because it is old. I am interested in and pleased by the modern and futuristic, but on an aesthetic or intellectual level only. I admire our progress in technology, and the sometimes bold simplicity of so much of the machinery that supports our daily lives. The levers, knobs, and switches of hundred-year-old clocks have been replaced with transistors and silicon chips that for my part think on their own. Everything reduced; infinitely more complex but profoundly simpler. We feel safer despite being more helpless. A bent rod or uncoiled spring I can replace; a blank screen is to me as far beyond this world as any spirit gone from its corporeal prison. There is no apparent difference in its appearance, but something has changed that puts it beyond repair. The light goes out, and all that remains is amen.
The cafe in the V&A follows a gallery's worth of medieval European art--almost uniformly religious, and then of course uniformly Catholic. I spent a few moments standing before two back-lit stained glass windows from the 15th century, one depicting Maximilian I, the German king and Holy Roman Emperor; the other, his wife, Mary, Duchess of Burgundy and only daughter of Charles the Bold. If their portraits are accurate, I'll never know, but it was easy enough to imagine a person with her face, wearing her clothes. There she was, immortalized in glass, hanging on a wall in a British museum, farther away from her home than she ever traveled in life. It made me sad to see her.
I wondered what her thoughts were; if she lifted her skirts to step down from the pedestal she posed on, as the position of her hand suggested; and what was the first thing she did when she left the room. She had a husband and children, a home. The Empire was an accident of her birth, and I wondered if she resented the worry of it. I was most saddened to think that she was dead, and had been dead for half a millenium. What she knew, felt, and thought, all gone out of the world, and the world along with it. All that remains of her majesty is a likeness in two dimensions, all her court strangers who make her a subject, and appear in clothes they wouldn't wear to work.
She was an Empress, and that's her life in memory. Looking around the room, I realized how much better it were to be a god.
I count centuries now in terms of lifetimes--my lifetime--and when I see a headstone I count the number of times I could have come and gone since the dead man finally went. That number is how Time reckons me, and as it grows higher I become less. It is always growing higher.
I can see, therefore, the appeal of religion. To unite with God in an afterlife would make each of us eternal and take away our insignificance.
I don't know how strong faith truly was in people who lived in Maximillian's time. I don't know how deeply they felt it, or how far Jesus ever really got into their hearts. But five hundred years ago, the artisans depicted armored angels bearing shields and brandishing swords. Two thousand years have made shadows out of soldiers and miracles into parlor tricks. If the Virgin will deign to appear in a salt stain under a bridge, what remains for Gabriel? Or for me?
Our Progress and Reason have disarmed them, and that's good. They were never made for bloody work. It dismays us now, though, to see our angels' swords taken up again by lesser soldiers of another God, and Him no less than Mine.
There are two million Muslims in the United Kingdom, where some say the banner of jihad has been raised. Suicide bombers of course will share their hell with Inquisitors, Crusaders, and the like, but that's another place and time. I don't see why I should have to die to speed them on their way.
Bush, Bin Laden, and all their little devils. I wonder in what halls they'll hang five hunded years from now.
Written in a journal as the mood struck. Please note: I am a Jew, and so recognize that I have taken a liberty in adopting icons of the Christian faith. Also, no offense is meant to members of the Islamic faith. Just to extremists of all stripes.