Somehow when you travel, unless its to an island, you become an avid student of culture, visiting museums and galleries and holy sites. The very places you would never waste time at in your home country. You go there and stand before paintings of a minimalist black square and say intelligent things like, "Oh the realism in this work is striking. The Artist's tremendous anguish really permeates the whole room. In those dark brush strokes you can visualise him battling his inner self doubt while conceptualising life metamorphosis ."
These are the kinds of things I heard in Europe. It sounded impressive when people interpreted art in this way and so I looked again, but all I could see were old wrecks. Ok, Europe has been around for a long time, and of course there would be some wear and tear on stuff, but almost nothing was in great shape. It was mostly smashed out of shape.
We went to an ancient library in Athens, which was built thousands of years before. From the gates outside I looked down upon what I thought was a cemetery. No building had a roof. In fact there were no buildings. There was a wall here and there. Pieces of wall, I mean. The whole thing was surrounded by a tennis court fence. And as you stood at that fence, next to other tourists, and gazed in for free at the wreckage and broken pieces of old stone, you thought, why, will anything be served by paying two euros to enter now?
The ascent to the Acropolis involved climbing over wreckage and broken rocks strategically placed along the way. All that was missing was a burnt out car. It was a jolly pleasant morning hike with a few obstacles for fun. Up top was the famous Acropolis with a few idle cranes resting nearby that suggested everything would be up and running perfectly just as soon as you arrived home. There were also dogs and cats. Now why on earth were they there? They drifted around, relieved themselves shamelessly, and slid in and out of nooks and crannies off limits to everybody else.
And yet the tourists loved this old junk and wreckage. They couldn't get enough or of it like they had been craving it their whole lives. Or pay enough to go and see it. The Greek politicians must be scratching their heads and saying, now why can't we do the same with our bonds, fellas?
In Italy you found yourself corralled towards museums, galleries, and cathedrals. Places that house smaller pieces of wrecked stuff rather than buildings of it.
The tourists generally loved it. One lady at a museum was either an archaeologist or a CSI. She entered each room with her camera, religiously took a photo of every picture or piece of art that was in there, and moved on. I'm just glad she didn't ask to see the bottom of my shoe or ask for a swab of my mouth because I hadn't showered or brushed my teeth.
Another few people were not as excited as her, even though I thought they were looking at the better stuff. In a Florence gallery, a man went into an exhibit room with a stroller, glanced at the pictures for a nanosecond, and then turned his stroller right out. "Ahh, just another annunciation in there," he said to his wife. While I was in a very impressive Cathedral, that had all its four walls and roof intact, and its ceiling nicely painted, an old lady stormed out. "This just isn't grabbing me," she said to her companion.
A lot of the stuff, the statues especially, were wrecks. They had hands, or noses, or penises missing that made you wonder, now what gesture would this gentleman be making if I could see all of him? Hardly any statues were intact. My original thought was that over hundreds or thousands of years, there must have been erosion or vandalism. But then I realised that in hundreds or thousands of years, there had been a lot of moves. I have moved house fifteen times in only the last ten years. And even I know whenever you have to move something awkward like a door, or perhaps, say, a statue of naked David, there are so few things that a hand can really get a good grip of.