Monday, September 17, 2007

column 19; wonders

To begin at the beginning. A long time ago, never mind how many years ago oh my Best Beloved, there was a place called Oldupai. Oldupai was filled with all sorts of beasts in a great basin, and all sorts of plants grew there. One of those beasties was an ape, and it was known by the other beasts as Thinky. Thinky was a special ape because he had a highly developed telecephelon and an opposable thumb.

So perhaps I shouldn't be a children's writer. But Oldupai is a real place, in Tanzania, and it's where we humans started out. It's a nice gorge, good location, plenty to do, nice place to raise a species. It's also a World Heritage site.

UNESCO, (that is the United Nations Entirely Sizable Conservation Octopus) maintains a series of places on the planet that are important. Some are important for their natural uniqueness, some for human uniqueness, and some few are for both. They're up to 848 monuments and sites that are set aside as the most important and significant places on the planet. Today they decided which batch of monuments is going on the list.

Of course the first batch was the most prestigious. The Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, all those good things. As time went on things got less and less impressive. But this year there are two gems: The Sydney Opera House and the Red Fort. Of course everyone knows the Sydney Opera House, it's that concrete armadillo monster overturned on the harbor skyline. The Red Fort, in India, was the capital fort since 1648 in Dehli by the Mughals, and withstood the Persians and Brits.

I get excited by these developments. Since 1997 I've been advocating people to vote for the New Seven Wonders: a program that is designed to, by popular consent, chose the wonders of the world. You remember the story: there were seven wonders of the world, of which only one now remains: The Pyramids. As the saying goes 'Man fears time, but time fears the Pyramids'. The problem with the list was that is was very Aegean-centric, since two were Egyptian, two Turkish, two Greek and one Persian. So the Medieval folks made another list, new wonders, more tourist dollars. All of those are still around, incidentally, except the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing. That, of course, was struck by lightening in 1801 and subsequently destroyed by war and general lack of conservation. The city of Nnajing has decided to rebuild the tower, though.

And you didn't even know there was a Porcelain Tower.

But the list didn't end there. Oh no! Modern architects came up with their own seven wonders, the feats of modern engineering. These aren't nearly as much fun to look at, though. The Chunnel is just kinda dark, the Itaipu Dam in Brazil is, you know, a dam. The Protection Works in the Netherlands are undoubtedly handy, and much needed in other places in the world, like, say, certain southern bayou states, but are also, alas, not very pretty. The only pretty one on the list is the Golden Gate Bridge. So there.

But now you can decide. Go online. Vote for 7 out of the 21 contestants. The contestants are from all over, Mali to Chile to Australia. (None of the modern wonders are on the list, incidentally. Proving the point once again that looks mean everything.) You have a week. Of course only seven will be chosen, and UNESCO has over 800, but you know. Symbolism. Symbolism and Principle. Two very dangerous things. But very useful, when speaking about Humanity and Civilization.

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