Shadows of the Past

Rond-Pont des Arénes, Arles, France

I was drawn to this image first by the shadow of the ancient Roman Amphitheatre projected on to the street front. The obvious symbolism of the shadow of the past came to mind, followed by the steeple of the church positioning Christianity in opposition to the paganism represented by the unseen Roman building, casting its shadow of unknown, unstated, or forgotten influences. The street conveys a sense of the journey travelled. I thought too that the Fuji Film and Kodak signs added a nice touch. They give us the opportunity to distinguish the explicit and the obscure influences; the tangible references to more recent loses, within the memory of many, while the shadows acknowledge ambiguous influences from the past, beyond our memory.

As a North American walking through this space, I cannot help but be left with some sense of awe by the depth of history on display. That many of these artifacts were hewn by the hands of people 2000 years ago. As I walked down Rue de la Calade in Arles, my mind travelled back to imagine the travellers along this street in Roman times when it was named Decumanus. How many caesars walked this path? Canada offers few such sites. Our history beyond a few hundred years ago is more often available only in the abstraction of anglicized place names: Toronto, Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, etc. But these lack the tangible index of a physical remnant.

Place, as a physical manifestation of a culture, is a trigger of remembrance offering the warmth and stability of continuity; it represents an important component of the local identity. The French have done a particularly good job of protecting, and maintaining their heritage, and cultural artifacts. American author Elisabeth Becker observed in her book Overbook: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, that France’s eminent position in tourism started with a program to entrench and revitalize their culture suggesting the strong link between culture and tourism. Culture is, of course, more than its physical manifestations. It includes performances, traditional trades and practices, style of dress, among many others.

Culture is often contextualised within more widely-held philosophies and concepts. The French culture is a significant contributor to the broader Western Culture. While I share in this Western Culture, when I visit Europe, I see the distinctions at the local level. These can be attractive, and in some respects is a motivator for many tourists. Yet these differences — language, tipping, dress, various protocols, etc. — create a distance between the local resident and the foreign tourist. These can be a source of tension or as the French say vive la différence.

Roman Amphitheatre, Arles, France


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