Updated: Feb 16, 2020
Our family recently arrived back home to Rotterdam after some four weeks on the road.
“The road” was France and Italy. Our home was a camper caravan, an inexpensive tool in order to get to Paris and Rome.
(Some folks camp because they consider it fun; enjoy sharing washrooms with the masses; relish gathering up dirty laundry in ripping plastic bags; appreciate cooking in cramped quarters without the forgotten utensils; get a-kick-out of driving with albatrosses in their rear-view mirrors; don’t mind parking as close to other campers as possible; and revel in reading the long list of campsite rules several times over.)
We camped out of necessity.
As a lover of old stuff Italy was incredible. I often lost myself sitting along-side a forgotten well in a village square, surrounding by homes built of 17th century brick. Forget the large cities like Rome and Florence, Pisa, Venice . . . the gold is in the villages and town. The wonder is in the narrow lane-ways between the leaning 15th century buildings.
Except for the cars, Italy has largely ignored the 20th century . . . after the war the Dutch, Germans, Swedes rebuilt . . . parts of France and Italy never much bothered. The world comes to Italy to marvel . . . my guess is that the Italians figure that that is good enough for them. If they want to get organized like the Germans, they’d moved to Germany (many have actually.)
Some 300 years ago, some 500 years ago, cities, towns, even villages spent their time, energy, their very fortunes on the communal centre. It was there that their hearts turned, their spirits were lifted, their minds wondered. As our caravan moved from town to town we were privileged to witness this 18th century attitude . . . often we’d stop (and the kids would groan) to appreciate the communal.
I’m talking about the village-centred church.
In the smallest town, we’d walk into this damp silence, and discover extraordinary workmanship, curved wood, shaped stone, dark paintings, gigantic marble columns, mosaic masterpieces to the smallest detail. A century to build, centuries of pride . . . places where people brought their best, their very best.
Perhaps all that was politically motivated. Perhaps superstition or fear, manipulation played a role, feudalism . . . but ultimately their homes were merely adequate when their churches were their castles, were their community.
Today we still invest in our castles . . . but our castles are our homes by-in-large.
When we do invest in the communal it’s with half the enthusiasm that we devote in our own enterprises.
We bring our art home. Generally-speaking the best of our hearts and minds are reserved for home and family. I guess capitalism, personal freedom . . . consumerism have changed our minds about communal investment.
We are a modern people — successful, educated, light-years beyond the poverty of the 18th century. I’m grateful. There are several toilets in every home, computers and phones, running water, televisions, furniture, vehicles . . . individually, we have much, social safety nets for individuals who stumble.
When future generations look back to the ‘modern age’, I wonder what they’ll find built in our communal centres?