I adore Mrs 23thorns. She is the light of my life and I will always remain true to her. But I have a confession to make. Every now and then, a small part of me falls in love with someone else. Someone special. Irresistible. Someone like this;
That, good people, is the delectable Ms Cecilia Gimenez, and you know her well. You might not know her name, or recognise her picture, but in the greatest compliment that can be afforded to any artist, you know her by her work. Yup. Cecilia Gimenez is the sweet little Spanish widow who looked at this;
And decided that it was looking a little mothy. So she decided to spruce it up a little. And she did. You know the outcome;
I want to abduct this woman. I want to scoop her up and take her home. I want to pop her into a quiet corner with some power tools and a Stanley knife and see what happens. I want her to be part of my life.
So what made me think of Cecilia Gimenez again, so long after her world-famous trick? It was the bloody Australians. They’ve returned to their colonial roots and stolen all our trees. Our Acacias.
They actually did so a couple of years ago, but I was reminded of their scandalous act of international botanical larceny today, and was reading up on it, while quietly grinding my teeth and cutting up a picture of the Sydney Opera House. I won’t go into the whole sordid tale right now. It would just upset you. Suffice to say that it makes the current US spy scandal look like a tea party. There were lies. Bribes were paid. Threats were made. Small children were bullied and puppies harmed.
To cut a long story short, our mendacious antipodean cousins have somehow managed to retain the genus name Acacia for their scrubby little wattle trees, against all the accepted rules of botanical nomenclature, while our noble, spreading thorn trees will have to be called something else.
This post isn’t about the Australians (although it will do you no harm to keep an eye on the shifty buggers). It’s about people like Ms Gimenez. Good and bad. People who, alone or in small groups contrive to destroy things of great age or value out of sheer stupidity. You see, while reading up about the imposing, iconic giants of the African veld that we used to call Acacias, I learned something interesting.
I learned about this;
That, good people, was the “Arbre du Ténéré”; a tree so famous that it not only got its own name, but was included in maps on a scale of 1:4,000,000. It was the most isolated tree in the world. Its nearest woody companion was over 400 km away. It wasn’t a particularly imposing tree, but it was the only one; a lone sentinel in a vast open stretch of the Sahara. It was a landmark for the passing Touareg caravans; a marker for a nearby well. They considered it sacred, and left it unharmed for generations.
And then, in 1973, some asshat drove over it with a truck. A drunken asshat. I strongly suspect him of being Australian, too. Now there’s just a statue of a tree there to mark the spot, which seems more than a little sad.
How do you be that guy? Ms Gimenez seems nothing less than sweet and well intentioned, and, because the gods sometimes smile on people like that, her little restoration project led to a mini tourist boom, helping her otherwise unremarkable little town weather the storm of Spain’s current economic woes. But that guy? There was something heroic about his achievement. It was the ONLY TREE FOR FOUR HUNDRED KILOMETRES! How drunk do you have to be?
He was, sadly, not alone. Earlier this year, two men were hiking in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah when they decided to stop for a little break and film themselves pushing over a giant standing rock. Which sounds like the sort of thing that drunken frat boys would do while shouting “Whoooo” and waving their hands in the air.
They weren’t frat boys. They weren’t drunk. They weren’t even Australian. They were boy-scout leaders. In a park named for its curious standing stones. “Their” rock had been standing there for OVER 160 MILLION YEARS. In a rather sad little twist to the tale, they seemed genuinely hurt when the world reacted with outrage. They had, they said, simply been doing their “civic duty”. Which was very thoughtful of them. They didn’t want anyone to get hurt if the rock fell over without the help of the boy-scout movement. Perhaps the park authorities can set things right by putting up a statue of the rock.
It was no accident that I fixated on the story of the Arbre du Ténéré today. I had been primed to do so. By the Germans.
Germans are generally seen as serious minded, rather anal efficiency-machines whose greatest joy in life is to see things done properly. Nope. Not all of them. Some Germans are unutterable morons. Specifically these Germans.
We don’t know their names. But we know what they did. During their holidays, while other, more sensible Germans wandered around the world’s beaches in socks and sandals laughing just a little too heartily, these prime specimens used the cover of Egypt’s current political turmoil to sneak in and deface the Khufu pyramid.
They scraped off part of an ancient cartouche above the pyramid’s burial chamber. A cartouche which had, up until that moment, managed to last for four and a half thousand years.
So how do these formidable young men crack the nod for a list of people who destroy things out of stupidity? Surely this was an act of pure vandalism? No. It was an act of idiocy. Our intrepid pair were sciencing, you see. For science.
They are adherents of the rather curious and completely unfocussed theory, held by a large and varied group of morons, that long, long ago the world was far more advanced than it is now, and people could do really cool things like levitate rocks, build underwater roads in the Bahamas, and place rust-proof iron pillars in Indian town squares. Who knows where this knowledge came from, but sadly, somewhere along the line it was lost.
Perhaps someone left it in a bus station somewhere. Or maybe it was simply forgotten during an economic downturn when the ancients stopped moving rocks around for a while. The details are a little sketchy. As happens when you are untroubled by minor inconveniences like facts.
But there is one fact that these guys all agree on. There’s a conspiracy. Mainstream archaeology knows the truth about the ancients, but is hiding it. Quite why they are doing so is less clear. An elaborate joke? The belief that once they have rediscovered this ancient wisdom they stand to dominate the landscaping industry by moving large rocks around? They’re just a little shy?
Our intrepid pair decided to blow the whole conspiracy wide open. The pyramids, you see, are twenty thousand years old. Not four. The Egyptians didn’t build them; they simply repurposed them when they found them lying around in the desert doing nothing. I like their style; I myself have turned an old bath into a fishpond in my garden.
And how would our Teutonic supersleuths prove that the pyramids were 20 000 old? Easy. Carbon dating. All they needed was a sample to test. So they went to get one. And here’s the best part of the whole sorry saga. Using their almost superhuman powers of reasoning, the part they chose to chip off and analyse was a cartouche; a painted symbol. Referring to Khufu. The historical Pharaoh. Yup. They chose one of the most obviously repurposed bits of the pyramid. This would be like determining the age of Stonehenge by analysing the security fence that has been put up to stop hippies from stealing its vibrations. Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!
There pyramids are not the only parts of the world’s heritage that have suffered at the hands of fools. Take a look at this curious object;
It’s called the Intihuatana stone, loosely translated as the “Hitching Post of the Sun”. It is designed to act as an anchor-point by which the sun can be tied to the earth to prevent it from spinning off into the ether. It sits at the edge of a breathtaking viewpoint at a place called Machu Picchu, high in the Andes. And it is a rare thing indeed.
It’s a relic of the Inca Empire. And there aren’t many of those around; the invading Spanish made a point of destroying whatever they could find. But they never found Machu Picchu.
The U.S. publicity firm J. Walter Thompson did, however. They went there to film the Intihuatana stone in 2000, and proceeded to finish the work of the conquistadores. Yup. They broke it.
Still, it was an accident, and these guys were there to preserve for posterity the legacy of the Incas. Surely they were there to make a documentary? A well thought-out, insightful investigation into one of the world’s great lost cultures? Nope. They were filming a beer commercial.
Stories like this are truly inspiring. They belong in self-help books. They demonstrate the power of individuals, or small groups. Two men, working alone, can shift the rock of ages. A little old lady can rewrite the history of art. Two men can erase a mark in time left behind over four thousand years ago; a mark as old as history itself. Tiny crews of advertisers in cargo pants and Indiana Jones hats can untie the Sun itself from the Earth. And one man, one single man, can emerge from the far, empty horizon in a cloud of dust and whisky fumes like the boozy hero of a Clint Eastwood Western, rewrite the map of a continent by running over a tree, and disappear again, dragging his dust-cloud and his whisky fumes behind him.
If these few hardy souls can achieve so much with so little thought, just imagine what you yourself could achieve if you really fail to put your mind to it.
I myself have no such ambitions. Happily for me, the legacy of my own little world is intact. Our heritage is curious and fractured, but surely it is beyond the reach of the sort of people I’ve been writing about. I’m going to celebrate that fact this evening. I’m going to get myself a bottle of champers, and raise a glass to the sunset beneath the sprawling canopy of a thorn tree. Whose name I don’t know anymore. Bloody Australians.