Sunday, 30 May 2010

why I am fascinated by the classics

in a word – exoticism.

I am, and always have been fascinated by the classical world in much the same way that I love going to to Asian supermarkets and looking at packets in languages that I cannot read. And also in the same way that I love Persian and Indian minatures, Turkish and Moroccan rugs, and am always more than happy to have a bowl of pho for lunch.

It is a fascination for the exotic, the different. In much the same way that once France was fascinating and exotic because the cars had yellow headlights and everywhere smelled of black tobacco and dodgy plumbing, I am fascinated by the classical and early medieval world as a window into somewhere different.

Increasingly the world is the same everywhere. Globalisation has brought benefits but it has also made the world more uniform, more bland.

So I’m seeking a different world, one of colours and differences. An explorer journeying in time.

And the thing is, there are always new things to fascinate. Like Pausinas’s off the cuff comment about how traders from China avoided Bactria and Parthia and walked over the Hindu Kush and down into the Indus valley.

Which of course is why Alexander went there and why we have the periplus of the Erythrean sea – it was a better safer trade route.

Or that the Romans had a silk works on Cos. Or Pliny’s story about Roman soldiers on the Rhine encountering a man in the skin boat from over the ocean.

Or, despite my complete lack of religious belief, feeling my spine tingle when, at an archaeological site somewhere in the hills of western Turkey, the guide casually mentions that there is a record of St Paul preaching on the still visible podium in the forum of a ruined city.

And it’s the same urge that makes me want to try a green tea from Vietnam, because the packet looks interesting, rather than the tea everyone else drinks.

Not rational.

But it’s my kink and what makes me who I am. It’s also what I enjoy about living in Canberra. The old guys talking in Greek and Italian in the market, the fat Chinese schoolgirls giggling in Cantonese while doing their music practice on the bus home, and the pouty Indian teenagers looking on, waiting for someone to buy them a Lexus. And the shops full of jars and packets labelled in Thai, Macedonian, Russian, Chinese and Korean. The Vietnamese grandmothers scolding their daughters for picking up vegetables that are not absolutely fresh. I enjoy it all.

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