Cry for Palmyra, not Paris?

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Far be it from me to wish people would shut up about Palmyra and cry for Paris instead. For one thing, Paris isn’t anywhere near as close to death as Palmyra and other archaeological sites in the ISIS cross-hairs. But for all the indubitable importance of such digs and the pre-history they uncover, Paris is more important. It is more beautiful and its beauty makes far more people happy. People from around the world visit Paris. Palmyra? Not so much.

But anger is not a zero-sum game. You can be angry at what’s happening to Paris without diminishing anger worth expressing on behalf of Palmyra.

So I am going to indulge myself by reprinting the extraordinarily moving first paragraph of a  piece by Mary Campbell Gallagher on this theme of why cry for Palmyra but not Paris. She is founder of the International Coalition for the Preservation of Paris. It first ran on my blog (“We’ll always have Paris?“). Here it is:

When the masked thugs of ISIS swing their sledgehammers through Iraq’s museums and dynamite Palmyra, the world gasps and screams. But what if the vandal is a chic Parisian woman wearing high-heeled boots and talking like a visionary? What if her target is the world’s most beloved and most-visited city? Does the world gasp, or does it not even hear what she is saying? … Doesn’t anyone get what Paris is doing to itself?

Gallagher certainly is brave. She called Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, a vandal. Gallagher said Hidalgo is targeting Paris. Her fashionable garb, high heels and visionary rhetoric are mocked by Gallagher. She compares Hidalgo to ISIS. Is there anything out of bounds in these passages? No, not by the standards of punditry today. In my opinion, the lady handled Hidalgo with kid gloves. Hidalgo, not Hillary, deserves to be thrown in jail. (Now that’s tough, I suppose, right?)

Is the mayor of Paris a shrinking violet who requires the protection of gentlemen, male or female? No, certainly not. She is one of the big boys.

So she can take it. She seems to think that her political stripe entitles her to destroy Paris. I believe she is mistaken about whatever bright lines she may think she sees in the subject of what buildings should look like.

In fact, architecture is not a commodity that breaks down easily along the lines of political faction. Liberals may be more associated with modern architecture and conservatives with traditional architecture, but there are many issues in architectural discourse where the normal political fault lines are crossed and recrossed frequently. Traditional architecture is more sustainable, for example, and modernism is the brand of the 1 percent.

Yet you’d think that whatever their stripe, lovers of cities and beauty would be bipartisan in their support for Paris.

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About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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