Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vremya & Avrupa

After our visit to Ravenna, the ship stopped next in Bari. I didn't know a thing about Bari before planning our day there, but we were both pleasantly surprised. Among the places we visited was Bari Cathedral, also known as San Sabino, whose relics rest there. The current church was constructed on the site of the prior cathedral, and consecrated in 1292. Walking around in San Sabino, it's obvious that many bits of the older church were re-used, which emphasize how old Bari is compared to cities in the US.

Among San Sabino's visual treats are the remnants of frescoes which used to be much more comprehensive:

This fragment was particularly striking:

That looks like a child held by its mom on the left; I don't know who they are. To the right, I suppose that's Jesus being nursed by Mary. But what's interesting isn't so much those images, but the areas around them. My first impression looking at this fresco was that it had been vandalized. See all the diagonal white scratches in the outlined areas below:

But looking more closely you can see that the scratches aren't from abuse: such scoring enables a new fresco to be applied over an old one without sliding off. That is, the nursing Jesus fresco is newer, and lies on top of an older fresco. Part of what impresses is simply how many centuries of human effort have left their mark here: prior cathedrals built on the same site, possibly dating back to the 400s; the cathedral built in the 11th century and destroyed in the 13th; the present cathedral built using bits of the ruined church; and then assorted encrustations over the next thousand years or so, including frescoes atop frescoes, and later architectural features (some of which were removed in the last century to restore the church to a more original state). But also remarkable is how casually old stuff was cast aside, covered up, reused, or demolished without much ado. Time in Europe is so much older, more pervasive, more substantial than time in the New World. For example, when the Mississippi River last changed its course from the Atchafalaya Basin to its present route past New Orleans, there was probably already a cathedral church in Bari. And a cathedral is likely to be there still when the Mississippi returns to the Atchafalaya.

During the rest of the day in Bari I was percolating on the glacial pace of human time in Europe; and how to express a movement that may run more slowly than the Mississippi changes its course. Usually English has the right words; sometimes it doesn't. And the words that best told me what I grasped at in Bari were Vremya...and Avrupa. Vremya, время,  is the Russian word for 'time'. Avrupa is how the Turks say Europe. To say Time and Europe with regard to Bari's cathedral sounds too sleek, too glib, to express the scale of time that lies there, millennium upon millennium with such lack of fuss. Vremya & Avrupa suggest more primal concepts. They speak to the difference between my time-world, and a place which was civilized long before there were minutes and seconds.

Think of it as Catholic Time.