European Diary

Time and Tide

I should like to live in a different time.  Not in the sense of being corporeally present in an earlier epoch, with all its physical plant, its local color, and a bustling mise en scène, but in that metaphysical sense, akin to tempo in music, which previous epochs never neglected to set.  Our own time does no such thing.  It just flows at the speed of a cataract, hurtling us toward some Stygian, tone-deaf, stone-dead sea.

Not that I’d say no to the physical plant, of course.  Just the other day, in our flea market in Palermo, I came across a carpenter’s brace made in England in the 1830’s, a wondrous contraption of polished ebony and brass, as shiny and workmanlike today as it was when Victoria married Albert.  Just to hold it my hands, reading the maker’s mark—Hibernia: Wm Marples & Sons: Sheffield—was a privilege.  It occurred to me that the carpenter who once owned and used it was at one with the time of Christ, even though some 18 centuries separated them; whereas the carpenter of our day, with his Black & Decker EPC 18, is as removed from his predecessor as an alien from outer space, even though there are merely 180 years between them.

Please don’t tell me that I’m wrong, and that every epoch sets the tempo in a way that is audible only to future generations.  Every previous epoch, possibly;...

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