Old and new

I sit on a bench watching the scene below, and another, older man stands beside me. We say nothing. We just stare down.

I see the crane swinging its bundle of wood from the ground to the top of a steel reinforced concrete building. I watch how it oscillates, and I cannot help but feel a little awed. My inner engineer cannot help but marvel at the path down which our knowledge has taken us. I think about where we were, where we are, and where we will be. I think that maybe innovation has caused us to lose some of the charm of the old life. I do occasionally wish to marvel at a master craftsmen of old at work. He seemingly effortlessly wields his tools until a work of art takes shape. Sword, saddle, dress, home, anything. All works of art with some of the craftsman imprinted in the work. Romantic, in a way. But then I look at our skyscrapers; they are not the work of any one person. Many architects and engineers worked together to create a behemoth jutting from the ground. Less personal, but moving nonetheless. I understand why many want to keep the old churches and houses and culture. They are more varied, certainly. They give each area some small bit of character. But to me, the power of us together is so much more incredible than the beauty of us apart.

So why do we worry about protecting the old buildings? They are already preserved in our cultural consciousness. We have postcards and pictures and movies. That is far more than can be said about the houses of our ancestors of ten thousand years ago. We have mere remnants, like a few cave paintings and burial sites. Do we ever lament that we can no longer experience the earth and stone dwellings of our distant ancestors? Not much, though they may have been just as quaint and meaningful to the people of the time as our old buildings are to us. In one or two or five hundred years, will our society be fighting to keep the steel and concrete buidings that we fight to keep away now? Then, when skyscrapers are pushing out the quant five story apartment buildings, will we still turn our noses in disgust at the apartments in favor of that tiny stone church?

But I suspect that the man staring down next to me did not share my thoughts. I take the guess that he was staring at the old church sandwiched between the new and newer. That tiny stone church is the Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angioli in Lugano, Switzerland. Consecrated in 1515, the church houses a fresco, pictured below, of the crusifiction of Christ by Bernardino Liuni, considered to be one of the great masterpieces of the region, and another of the last supper, also by Liuni.

Maybe the man thinks of that beautiful work of art. Will there be such beautiful works of art in those faceless apartment buildings around it? Probably not, but there could be. Is that what worries him? That old culture is removed without new culture added? We could easily remedy that by commissioning artists to record our times on the inside and outside of those buildings. Will we? I do not know, but I do know that we have pondered the arrival of the future and departure of the past for ages.

Nonetheless, he wordlessly asks of the tiny stone church “What will be its fate?”

“…Does it matter?” I silently respond. “No matter what stands there in the future, it will bear the stamp of all of us.” That I think is pretty cool.

Source, fresco and church info: Lugano Tourism


3 thoughts on “Old and new

  1. “No matter what stands there in the future, it will bear the stamp of all of us.”

    This is an awesome statement, and while I know you were applying it to Lugano, I wanted to know whether you think this idea can be applied to our Presidential Global Scholars program. It seems like everything we are doing will affect the future of this program, and our stamp will help shape this program as we make it our own.

    Amazing blog entry, and I really like the parallels you draw to the growth of cities in general and your major too!

  2. Thank you for that! I did not have in mind the program, but really it can apply to all we do. Why not celebrate our own actions for what they are rather than compare them against the actions of generations past? It can also be applied in the other direction. Our time in the villa and in Riva need not be marred by the mistakes of the students of past years.

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