Rhys on Wednesday. Interesting debate on preserving the past, instead of "out with the old and in with the new."
Obviously in eras of forward thinking a lot of the world's cultural heritage has been lost. There have been times in Britain when beautiful Tudor mansions were demolished to make way for Victorian monstrosities and then the Victorian stuff was demolished to make way for concrete and glass. Practicality has to be balanced with the romance of history.
I remember once being with Jane F in Yorkshire and seeing an advertisement for a stately home on ten acres with oodles of bedrooms etc. And the price was amazingly reasonable. I said in astonishment, "I could afford this!" to which Jane wisely replied, "Yes, but could you afford to heat it?"
Those of us who grew up in rambling old British houses can tell you how romantic it is to lie in bed at night when the draft sweeping down the hallways is so strong that it makes the doormats flap up and down and the thought of leaving the warmth of the covers for a trip down half a mile of hallway to a bathroom makes one decide never to drink anything after three o'clock. Or to sit in a thirty five foot drawing room, in which one only those two feet from the fire feel warm. Old houses are wonderful but central heating is better. I was really sorry when ours was pulled down to make way for the M25 ring road around London.
A couple of amusing stories on conservation v. progress. For ten years I taught at Dominican University here in California. The mother house of the Dominican sisters was an impressive, Victorian rambling wood structure, complete with turrets. One night it caught on fire. You'd have thought the sisters would be devastated that the heritage of their order was gone. Not at all. They were jubilant because they could now have a practical, warm, pleasant place to live without going up and down all those steep narrow stairs.
Of course there was no hint that they helped the fire along... but in the case of the Benedictine Abbey where my husband went to school in England, a fire also broke out one night and the Abbott could be seen dancing around, redirecting firemen and generally getting in the way with the result that the outmoded dormitory wing burned to the ground before the hoses could put it out.
With regard to preserving history: I write about turn of the century New York, and I am always so thrilled to find so much of New York exactly as it was in 1900.
My heroine lives in Greenwich village which is completely unchanged. So is much of the lower East Side, around Mulberry and Hester Streets. If you visit my website (only not this week, it's being renovated) you'll see my photo gallery with pictures of those same tenements and cobbled streets, unchanged since Molly's day.
I have eaten in taverns that Molly wouldn't have been allowed to enter (saloons were for men only), and last year I received an email from the man who now lives in Molly's house. He sent me photos of the interior and back yard as they are today, and I have to say they look very much as I imagined them in Molly's time.
The fun thing about New York is this blending of the new and the old. Look hard and you'll come across a nineteenth century building squeezed in between two sky scrapers. Luckily these old brownstones and tenements are highly prized as residences so they are being beautifully preserved and restored.
The new residents are getting modern central heating, skylights, fantastic loft rooms and the old exteriors are being preserved as they were. Truly the best of both worlds.