My friend and former colleague at the Providence Journal, David Mittell, has sent me a timely guest post about Ukraine. He speaks of the beauty that could arise in rebuilding Ukraine after this awful war. His post brings to mind the statement of Prince Charles, who in 1987 said, ″You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe: when it knocked down our buildings it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.″ Mittell urges Ukraine not to repeat the error.
I say timely above because we (our family) has decided to re-cover our dining room chair seats, one of which serves (upstairs) as my desk chair. They were taken away on Tuesday. So I am sitting on a very uncomfortable foot stool, the only seat that could be carried upstairs. It serves as a disincentive to writing.
Ukraine the beautiful
By David A. Mittell Jr.
Politicus No. 1,456
What do Athens, Lisbon and Venice have in common? The answer is that each was flattened by an earthquake. Survivors were left with no choice but to rebuild, and their embrace of beauty is the main reason we know these cities today.
The underlying lesson is that ordinary people, acting freely, are good and reliable creators of public beauty.
If you take the sleeper train from Lviv, Ukraine – itself a beautiful city – to the national capital in Kyiv, as I have done several times, you will not be in for a good night’s sleep. Western Ukraine is dotted with train stations where men and women of all ages wait on platforms, seemingly patiently, for the return of their beloved.
Are they still alive?
Have they survived Russia’s cruel and mindless bombing?
One prays they have survived, but will never know.
Awakening after a couple hours of fitful sleep, this passenger notes that the train has reversed its direction. The way forward is now the way backward! We are in the northern suburbs of Kyiv and wend our way through a seemingly endless progression of urban sprawl. Beauty is not to be seen. Finally, we pull into the since bombed (in 2022) railway station in Kyiv.
But from this account of Russia’s cruel and mindless bombing arises true hope. If those who have survived the bombing can be free to create beauty where sprawl has heretofore ruled, the world will be enriched.
By this I do not mean a diktat from on high. That is what we, whatever our nationality, are against! What I mean is if there are, say, 10,000 buildings that have been damaged or destroyed, they should be catalogued, then turned over to their former residents to design the buildings’ future beauty as they conceive it.
“As they conceive it” is the key. Does this mean that what we will call “the house next door” will be different from “our house”? It does. Ours is a seemingly radical idea that from Duxbury and Jamaica Plain, in Massachusetts, to Llandudno Junction, in Wales, has informed every beautiful place this writer has known.