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 Losing history and culture quickly

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PostSubject: Losing history and culture quickly   Tue 26 Jun 2012, 23:49

Last year we spent a week in Malta and everywhere we went there were old yellow buses the Maltese were very proud of and which cranked us round, sometimes taking 90 minutes to get to Valetta, sometimes 30. And the fare varied every time. They had their own names and were owner-operated. We would make our way to the bus centre and there would be dozens of yellow, red and white buses to negotiate our way round.

From Our Own Correspondent

Malta was very soon changing its buses since EU membership required a safer more modern fleet. This seemed a shame to us. The Maltese buses were on all the tourist postcards and mementos and on our table used every day are two little salt and pepper shakers in the shape and colour of Maltese buses. (My son rather anxiously asked if he would like such kitschy things when he was older; we were able to reassure about this.)

But now a British company, Arriva, is running the Maltese buses. They changed last July, I think. Today he sent a text to say friends had been to Malta. There are new buses. There are no signs of the old buses, and they couldn’t find anyone to tell them where they could see one of the old buses. They seem to have been wiped out of Malta’s history . I know political embarrassments get wiped from countries’ consciousnesses – Japan is bringing back to its history books bits from the war it had ignored, the Turks seem to be able to insist Armenians were not killed in masses, and other little awkwardnesses are downgraded or made invisible, but I find this complete finito to the Malta buses odd and distressing. Are there other examples of this sort of thing that you know of?

I see wikipedia lists 20 advantages to the new buses, but they don’t mention the disadvantage of losing an aspect of colourful history.
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Nobiles Barbariæ

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PostSubject: Re: Losing history and culture quickly   Wed 27 Jun 2012, 08:29

It can seem amazingly arbitrary and even a little horrifying how quickly things which would appear to be a fundamental facet of a community's culture and heritage can suddenly lose relevance and be consigned to history (and sometimes even forgotten by history just as quickly).

I'm sure everyone is familiar with that sensation when one suddenly notices a new building on a well-trodden high street which one regularly visits and despite racking one's brains cannot remember what stood there before. Often it can be surprising to find that some cherished landmark has disappeared to make way for the new and that you just never noticed its absence.
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PostSubject: Re: Losing history and culture quickly   Wed 27 Jun 2012, 23:13

I never remember anything of what has been a feature of a place earlier. Can't even remember what colour the room we painted was. I think that's because I don't really care about or notice surroundings much. I know things are different but not from what.

We went downtown (well, that's a misnomer now - there's no town in the centre) in Christchurch a while ago and my husband and his brother, very familiar with the city, couldn't really see that they were looking down the main street. They thought that's where it was, but there was nothing left of the physical look of the street - the shops and businesses - to give them any bearings. It was just a bare space with rubble to me, but to them it was a most disconcerting, jerking feeling, where they didn't recognise what had been second nature to them. I think they did remember what had been there, but without any of it, the scene was almost dystopian and very confusing.
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PostSubject: Re: Losing history and culture quickly   Wed 27 Jun 2012, 23:44

That's a very revealing instance of how we construct our mental representation of space and place, how we find our way, by the physical process of moving though it aided by the cues of the material structures overlaid with memory and association and how we can be utterly disorientated when we can't locate ourselves by reference to those patterns of movement and landmarks.
I'm sure I could find my way from place to place much more easily using something like the Tabula Peutingeriana than with a modern map, in fact the motorway maps where the places are laid out in sequence rather than in geographic relationship are rather like that, but that's perhaps my female tendency to poor spacial awareness. Maps are fascinating though, I can spend hours in the online National Library collection, not least in the way they demonstrate the changing concept of landscape and ownership.

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PostSubject: Re: Losing history and culture quickly   Thu 28 Jun 2012, 04:48

Whilst change can be disconcerting, it is also part of the natural evolution. By witnessing change we are witnessing history.

There would have been a time when the old Maltese buses were a new addition to the island, and people were probably moaning at the change from donkey or whatever mode of transport that went before. Now the once new buses are seen as another tradition that has sadly been lost, and I wonder how many years it will be before this newer version of transport will be affectionately viewed as a quaint tradition?
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PostSubject: Re: Losing history and culture quickly   Thu 28 Jun 2012, 05:17

This is a special time where I am living, earlier on this year a Finnish ship sailed into and to some extent crushed the railway bridge over one of our fiords, thus excluding the rest of the country from rail transport with us.

The company that owns the grounds and station buildings had long ago planned that they were going to change rails and stuff over the summer and there were going to be heavy delays anyway.

The people dependent on public transport apparently now are getting used to buses (question as to how many s's are needed in busses?), and those among us weak at legs, operators of perambulators and rollators, or dependent on wheelchairs are raising questions as to why, as they are re-juvenating the stations anyway, they don't make access possible for us.

I mean how is, say, a mother going to get a pram with an infant inside hoisted up some four or five steps within a train?

The company claims that such a thing is not being done now as it isn't in the budget and wasn't planned, anyway.

One local mayor in a town have gone public, saying that she made objections to that problem back in the 1990'es.

So a good mud-slinging match is being had by everybody.

Those of us 'who know better', i.e. everybody not directly involved, shake our collective heads and are generally having a good time watching how the mud clings to some and not to others, remembering that next year this country is having local elections.
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PostSubject: Re: Losing history and culture quickly   Fri 29 Jun 2012, 11:23

The was something of a furore in Jersey a few years back. Made headline news locally, and the case even went before Privy Council. Janvrin's Farm, a well known 17th century farmhouse, had been scheduled for listed building status when it was abruptly purchased by a property developer and demolished (so abruptly that, IIRC, the gas hadn't even been turned off). The developer was successfully prosecuted by the States, but the judgement was overturned on appeal - because the farmhouse had only been scheduled for listing, not actually listed, he hadn't technically broken the law. I'd like to think the law has been changed and buildings under consideration for listing are now safe from development until a judgement has been made, but I'm not sure.

Elsewhere, many museums are struggling financially, not just because of the currently general financial situation, but because of cuts in funding (a significant proportion of the Heritage Lottery Fund has been diverted to the Olympics, for example).

Another round of regimental dissolutions and amalgamations are coming up, and once again the loss of the associated heritage is being lamented. Of course in this case it is an unavoidable side-effect of practical considerations (though whether the changes are necessary or even wise is much disputed!)

On a more positive note, other aspects are showing much better prospects. Some of the ancient offices, which would seem obsolete, are doing well - the Royal College of Arms, for example, is thriving and still churning out new Grants of Arms in addition to their other duties.

Some historic buildings which have not merited preservation in their existing form have, of course, found new leases of life. This hasn't always been done sympathetically, sadly, but often works well. Historic but redundant churches have been converted into community centres or museums; a surprising number have been turned into homes. In Jersey, the multiplicity of coastal defences have in numerous cases been revived. Several of the Round Towers (late 18th/early 19th century gun emplacements) have been incorporated into houses, whilst other defences are used as self-catering holiday cottages for hire - either proper conversions, or simple as 'stone tents'. One fort has been sympathetically converted into a house (with the dry moat now a lovely garden). The largest, the mighty Napoleonic-era Fort Regent, houses a leisure centre and concert hall. Even some of the German WWII defences have found a new life. Some have been restored as museums/heritages sites (the most famous being the War Tunnels, formerly known as the Underground Hospital), but some for more modern purposes - one observation tower is a weather station, one bunker an explosives store for fireworks, and so on.

So it's not all bad news.
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PostSubject: Re: Losing history and culture quickly   Sat 30 Jun 2012, 00:35

Shelley got it right in Ozymandias. Trying to preserve what is worthy of it is like trying to gather ball bearings scattered on glass. With a poll showing that half of UK youth think that Churchill is only a nodding dog selling insurance then you'll get my - and Shelley's -drift. As for places then it's nostalgia v worthiness of preservation. Life is layer cake as ferv knows in her science and we are ever in overload. Progress has given us the opportunity to record things in so many ways to counter loss but keeping pace is not easy and historians are having to move at a lick to do so.

Not sure if any of that makes sense -to someone else that is.
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