Monday, December 22, 2008

What's important?

The biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere is about fifteen kilometres down the road from my place. It is an emporium on a vast, Mephistophelian scale. It has a sign at its entrance (which, symbolically, is directly across the road from the biggest crematorium in the southern hemisphere), that proclaims "You haven't lived until you've shopped here".

It is impossible to overestimate the level of pride I have in my countrymen's perspicacity when I see, as I'm driving past, thousands of cars turning into the place and making a beeline for the gargantuan underground car-parks, from which their occupants will emerge to stroll along the leafy boulevardes of the centre, which is hermetically-sealed, of course, and capable of withstanding any of nature's challenges ... er, like rain.

So dauntingly impressive is the sheer physical scale of this place that it has its own postcode - it is a suburb all to itself. I forget the figures I read about it in the local rag, an organ of biblically slavish regard for the god of mammon, but there are something like five billion acres  under one roof, two or three billion separate shops, etc. etc. You get the picture. It seems we have inherited the Texan philosophy of "bigger equals better".

Now, I must disclaim that I have not, myself, personally, under my volition, actually entered this sumptuous pleasure-dome, but just the sight of it on the horizon, as I drive past on my way to a gig, fills me with a Coleridgean longing. 

Through twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers girdled 'round...

Apart from the hugely satisfying architectural splendours of this behemoth, apparently one can, if one is so inclined, purchase every single appurtenance necessary to the maintenance of the modern lifestyle at this one place. That's so gratifying a concept that I am at a loss as to why I have not, myself, personally, set foot inside the joint. I will never know the pleasure of using the labour-saving "travellators" that effortlessly shunt the shopper through the emporium without the need to use any muscles in the body except those that are required to shove ice-creams made from pig-fat into the mouth as one gawks and marvels at the cornucopia of earthly delights on offer.

Leigh and I were pondering this place as we drove out of the crematorium after attending the funeral of Leigh's sister-in-law, and my friend, Rosalie, last Thursday. Rosie was a woman that everyone would have been proud to call a friend. Strong, but gracious; intelligent and funny, she had come across this world and become a child of it. She and her husband, John, had not so much built a place at Misty Mountain, out in the Colo wilderness, as grown it. Their little house was lovingly assembled, mainly from the natural features of the landscape. Rosie had made gardens, sandstone walls that would make a mason weep with joy, paths and tracks through the bush, places of solitude and contemplation.

Rosie existed on tea and happiness. She was the exact opposite of the shopping dullard - fit, energetic and completely satisfied with simplicity. "Things" meant nothing to her. Her greatest extravagance was to go to the Bluesfest every year with us, where she and John would spend five days revelling in wonderful music. Like the damsel with a dulcimer, she was the true Coleridgean. Nature, with its beauties and fascinations, was the world; a butterfly landing on her shoulder in the glow of early morning, up there at Misty Mountain, was a day's worth of pleasure.

As we drove from the crematorium and passed the shopping centre, I wondered what Rosie would have made of the sign over its entrance. I think I know.

1 comment:

phil said...

Nice piece again, Laurie. No insights apart from the fact that my son recently moved to your city and occasionally goes to the great pleasure dome on a Saturday to get some appurtenance or other, inevitably gets lost inside and then calls me - 2000 km away - to tell me he's lost.

Actually, I think most of us are.

Merry Christmas!