Friday, January 6, 2012

Belfast on Antiques Roadshow

Harlan and Wolff, Titannic, Canberra, and Belfast
6 Jan 12  Buster's bath.  Only tangentially relevant.
One of our treats on Public Broadcasting is hours of the original Antiques Roadshow.  Occasionally, these are more than usually interesting.  Not that surprising remarks don't occur on the American one.  Once a representative of a big firm, such as Christie's, said of a wonderful little picture of a cat in that complicated pose, which Leonardo da Vinci himself drew (and I think it's in one of the notebooks at Windsor) that unfortunately most people would be offended by the cat's being shown washing more than its face, and so the picture would realize much less at auction.  But what is more admirable than an elderly cat that, rain or shine, keeps its white underside as white as an albino rabbit?  And the posture is one of the miracles of nature.  So when I came home Friday afternoon, and saw Buster at work, I grabbed the little camera; he was so industrious, and the sun was so low at 5 pm, that 1/25 second couldn't quite stop his action, since the wonderful little camera correctly read its object as needing 4.8 for depth of field: Buster, my favorite model, was posing for Leonardo, no less.
Earlier this week, though, we had an hour of the UK Antiques Roadshow from Belfast, at the monument in the building site of the Titannic and her sisters.  To read even the Wikipedia article on the Titannic, you'd think that the iceberg, the loss of life, the passenger list, the lifeboats and all were the whole story.  This is to ignore the most important human and socio-economic side of this equivalent of an Empire State Building or, for that matter, a World Trade Center, though icebergs cannot be blamed of plotting.  As one after another showed memorabilia and recited recollections of their assorted relationships to Harland and Wolff, I realized that I had understood nothing much at all about the city of Belfast (and probably about Northern Ireland in general).  Here were the most modest and proud and devoted people you could ever dream of meeting and their sweet and unaffected children.  For almost my whole life I've known nothing, seen nothing of Belfast but the "troubles", which, of course, were all too real and tragic.  But here were men, women, and children quite unaffected in front of the camera and enjoying the occasion, too.  Their pride in shipbuilding was unforgettable, not least that of the gentleman whose pride was in Harlan and Wolff's last great ship, the Canberra, 1961 and not scrapped till 1997.  Shipbuilding is for Belfast what automobiles are to Detroit, steel to Pittsburg, filmmaking to Hollywood, but I have never seen a finer identification of a community and great industry than that evinced by the builders of the Titanic and their descendants.  They had given their all to shipbuilding.
And Buster, now somewhat arthritic, is unaffectedly doing what a clean animal ought to do.
I must go and see what the eleventh Britannica, 1910, for which I have three update volumes, has to say.