I don’t know much about philosophy but I like to have a little ponder now and then. Maurice and I met in Syracuse in Sicily forty one years ago and we returned yesterday for our first visit since then. So it’s not surprising that Sophocles’ “long unmeasured pulse of time” has been on my mind. How could it not be so as we walked among amazing Greek ruins at Mozia and Selinunte, dating as far back as the 8th century BC? I felt as tiny as the snail I came across, making its trail over an ancient stone.
Diagrams showing plans of how temples and fortifications used to look like and the beautiful, huge stones arranged by archaeologists as we see them today, accentuated the passing of time for me. During our ten days, we also visited the towns of Marsala, Scicli, Noto and Ragusa – all devastated by the huge earthquake of 1693 and rebuilt in ornate, Baroque style. Maybe man felt he had to impose his mark on nature in a show of elaborate style?
Our final two days were spent in Syracuse. This is such an amazing place. Try and visit! We stayed on the island of Ortigia in a tiny loft apartment near the Greek Temple of Apollo (6th century BC) and overlooking the market, which came alive with colour and bustle rather early. But we didn’t mind. I won’t write about this amazing city here – how could I dare add to what Titus Livius, Plutarch, Cicero, Ovid (amongst others) have written?So, these days filled with such mind-boggling sights set me thinking about art and creativity, why we do it, what is the point etc. etc.?
I’m in Italy, so who better to borrow a quote from? “Develop your senses…” wrote Leonardo da Vinci. “…especially learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.” I write to try to connect, so I can see what he means.
Here’s a quote from an unexpected source: Sophia Loren has said, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love.” So, hopefully, if I continue to use what I’ve got, I may not end up looking like Sophia, but the passing of time won’t feel so scary and will have served some purpose. Our presence here is so fleeting. Do what we can to make the most of it while we can and maybe leave behind a tiny footprint, an observation, a piece of ourselves.
A final point in this jumble of thoughts. I was delighted to discover that the museum on the island of Mozia used to be the home of a nineteenth century Englishman. On the ground floor, amongst the array of exhibits of tophets, jewellery, funeral vases and pots, I spied an incongruous Victorian fire-surround – doubtless shipped over for this rich gentleman’s house. Joseph Whitaker was well educated and an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist. He bought the whole island and went about uncovering the Greek heritage of the island. His work continues today. That was his footprint.
Our visit was nostalgic. Lots has changed in the intervening forty years. Tourism is now a major factor in the island’s economy and that is good for Sicilians. When we lived and worked on the island, many of the ruins were unguarded and anybody could trample over them. We used to camp in Pantalica – the site of a deserted, ancient necropolis – and swam in a wild canyon, reached by scrambling down a sheer cliff path. Both places are now UNESCO sites. For a few minutes we felt selfishly disappointed that it was not the same but that was wrong of us.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus (534-475 BC).