Wonders Brought to Life

Imagination is joyous. Free and free-ing. Oh, and bloody hard work.

I’m spatially challenged: Seeing what is no longer there is beyond me, for the most part. But that’s OK: There’s an app for that, at least for selected “ancient sites and wonders”. There won’t be a skill-testing question, but I encourage you to click on the twxxt and then we can meet–as the TV interviewers say–on the other side.


I can’t pick a favourite: I think it’s a tie between the Colossus of Rhodes and the hanging gardens of Babylon. Why hasn’t someone recreated those? But they’re all amazing, yes?

Yes, fersure. These are also amazing:

  • The effort it took to establish with reasonable certainty what these sites looked like in their primes
  • The effort it took to develop the expertise to recreate them virtually so that others could see what the historians and engineers and software developers could “see”
  • The generosity of the impulse to do so, given the effort required

It made me think. Even in our little lives, we are so much more than that which can be seen in the moment:

  • Old people were once children: wacky, bouncy, curious. Playful, at their best.
  • Old people were once young adults: strong, eager, beautiful. Fearless, at their best.
  • Old people were once middle-aged: adept, learned, prudent. Helpful, at their best.

There is no easy way to see all of another person. There is no app that brings the whole person to life, not even across all their dimensions and roles in *this* moment, never mind across their entire timeline.

That takes an act of imagination, fueled by an effort to learn and by an impulse of generosity.

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10 Responses to Wonders Brought to Life

  1. JL Whitman says:

    Isabel – why the Colossus of Rhodes?? According to Wikipedia, “it was constructed to celebrate the successful defence of Rhodes city against an attack by Demetrius I of Macedon, who had besieged it for a year with a large army and navy.”
    To a civil engineer, constructing it after the fact seems like a waste of time, materials and energy unless it improved the citizens’ morale.
    That time, material, and energy might better have been spent on the city’s defenses before Demetrius I came along IMHO, so I guess whomever ruled Rhodes was just as naive as today’s western leaders/politicians.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – Why the Colossus? Because it’s stunning. The defence of Rhodes not being my responsibility, I’m free to indulge artistic whims. 🙂 But I agree with your point: First defend the borders. Then build cool stuff.

  2. Judith Umbach says:

    Ahh, reality isn’t always what we dream it to be. I saw the hanging gardens of Mumbai, an inspiration to all who visit. Or not. I thought the plants and features would be literally hanging – high up to down low, but alas the name refers to a lovely park built over a reservoir. More like cantilevered than hanging. Thus English vocabulary leads one astray.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – 🙂 I’d think that “the cantilevered gardens of Mumbai” would bring people in too. No? Oh, well – who are we to argue with the marketing-communication types?

  3. Tom Watson says:

    Both the Colossus of Rhodes and the hanging gardens of Babylon are stunning, Isabel.

  4. You seem to have traded your “iconoclast” hat for one that’s “traditional.” I still find it difficult to pull myself away from such eye taffy yet I find some of the art far from cool. At the age when I saw some of these wonders, I heard from lowly guides to the monuments the answers to some of my questions about how those wonders were constructed and at what human cost. I began to question the hegemony of European art influences on the Canadian educational experience, for example, the cathedrals I studied in Art and Architecture demonstrate the European rationale for building extravagant edifices to overwhelm popular consciousness with the power of the Church over their immortal lives. The period of iconoclasm when radical Protestants damaged those cathedrals’ statuary art was (to my mind, misplaced) antagonism towards the handwork of those “little” people who contributed their individualism to the massive ecclesiastical statement.

    is the ivory tower
    enough to keep the mind alive?

    the ivory hardens to cement
    and spire tipped pinnacles
    consolidate their stones
    into the cruder form of fortress

    architectural finesse
    has ribbed each pillar
    with the fragile bones
    of starving children

    The Cathedrals of Europe
    November, 1970

    Inspired by my first view of Canada from the plane on my return home, I dared to believe that we can build differently.

    Return to Canada

    I caught the victory of the day
    upon a bank of flaming trees
    where all the flatness of the summer’s green
    had met the frost’s challenge
    and surrendered life for glory
    miles above the air
    tasting Olympian fare
    I had forgotten
    how burnished leaves shook on a mauve heaven
    a restless coronet on the brow of a sleeping god
    whose frame ripples towards the shimmering horizon
    and shall I waken all this primal strength and stretch
    to a seraglio of European capitals?
    festooned with frail artifice
    filigree molded and reworked

    waken him?
    where but in his sleeping dream
    exist such brides?

    September, 1965

    My son, trained in architectural and landscape design, raised the same concern yesterday, as to how the practice of engineering channels the wealth of nations that is generated by the many and accumulates in the tastes of individuals at the top of a financial pyramid.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – You raise the eternal question, I guess: Where are the power and the money in this cultural expression? They’re not very often with the poor, that’s for sure. Our own sports arenas are as nothing compared to these ancient wonders, and yet there are significant voices raised against public funding of them.

  5. barbara carlson says:

    When my father was 91 and in a (final) Home, my sister and I put a framed photo of my dad when he was 50 something in his room. A real scamp look in his eye. But we didn’t need to remind the wonderful staff of my father in his prime, for they treated each of their charges with care and devotion, as if they were their their own children.

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