Sunday, 27 February 2011

Petra - A Rose Red City Half as Old as Time


by John William Burgon (1845)

It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
By labor wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
Eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
Where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
That crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
That first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
Which Man deemed old two thousand years ago.
Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
A rose-red city half as old as time.

We visited Petra in December 2009. I guess things have changed  there since J W Burgon wrote his famous sonnet over a century and a half ago. It is now a World Heritage Site with tourists from all over the globe, and legions of local people anxious to make a living out of them. And who can blame them. I would not have missed the chance to see this amazing place, but I would not go back there. Not a cool beer to be had for one reason, and the overpowering stench of horses' urine for another.  For the local entrepreneurs make a good living out of the visitors with pony traps which race up and down the siq - the steep gorge that leads down to the city. I didn't manage to get a photo of one of these poor creatures, but there were others:

Anyway, we were delayed somewhat by an impressive cavalcade of black limousines making its way towards the entrance, with heavily tinted windows. The guide muttered something about it being members of the Jordanian Royal Family, and very probably he was right. Those guys were being guarded, and how. But I suppose now they are watching their backs a little, after the events in Tunisia and Egypt.

Friday, 25 February 2011

A Memorial in an Irish Village

I enjoy travelling to Ireland and have a particular affection for the south east of the country, especially County Wexford. But I was mildly surprised, not to say uneasy,  to see for the first time last summer a new addition to the many signposts directing visitors to the various tourist attractions.
            It read “Campile – Scene of the German Bombing 1940”
            Now, Campile is a small town, or more of a village, rather less than 10 miles south of the larger town of New Ross. I had long been aware that it was the location of a tragic incident in August 1940 when it was bombed by an aircraft of the Luftwaffe. It has been pretty well concluded that, as Ireland remained neutral in WW2, that the bombing was an unfortunate accident and quite possibly the result of the crew of the bomber having “lost their way”. Three young women died as a result of the bombing.
            In recent years a memorial has been erected in their memory on the main road, close to the site of the old creamery where the women were working when the attack took place. The women were three of perhaps a dozen or so civilian citizens of the Irish republic killed in the War as the result of direct, though almost certainly unintentional, action by the armed forces of the Third Reich.
            It is entirely right, of course, that these women be remembered, and the memorial in their memory should have been set up. But to my way of thinking there is something strangely inappropriate about its being advertised (the sign posts) as a sort of tourist attraction. One reason is, of course, that it might not be regarded as entirely in good taste by the many German tourists who visit the country every year. English visitors might be somewhat bemused, too, in view of their own experiences in WW2 which were vastly different to those of neutral Ireland.
            Very close to where I worked for 30 years as a doctor in London there is also a memorial to civilians killed in a single incident in the Second World War. On the 25th November 1944 occurred the most devastating V2 rocket attack in the entire conflict. The missile detonated in a Woolworth’s store in New Cross. 168 people were killed, the youngest aged one month and the oldest eighty years. 161 people were seriously injured. They were but a small fraction of the 60,000 + civilians killed as a result of enemy action in the United Kingdom in WW2.
            There is not a single signpost, so far as I am aware, directing curious tourists to the site of that appalling devastation (now redeveloped as an Iceland food store). Is it because the English would think it in less than the best of taste? Or should they have simply expected those losses for having stood up to Hitler’s tyranny, or in fair retribution for so much destruction wrought in Germany by their own armed forces attempting to bring that terrible conflict to an end?