Above is a photograph I took of Voltaire’s chateau in Ferney-Voltaire. I took the photo using my new (and already much loved) possession, a 10 megapixel digital camera. Unfortunately, I had to position the camera between the uprights of a iron gate. A notice on the path which led upward from the road announced that the chateau was closed for restoration and would be opened at an indeterminate date in the future. Unable to resist the urge to stereotype, I reflected that only the French could have written this although it did not mean they no longer venerated one of their greatest writers and thinkers: inside the Office de Tourisme back in the town were copies of the first edition of Candide and some ancient printing presses.; a poster outside a shop announced forthcoming concerts in the grounds of the chateau.
Different countries and cultures seem to have different attitudes to property and the preservation of old buildings. In Britain we go to absurd lengths to preserve the artefacts of the past, from country houses to Stonehenge. I have to admit to a personal liking for ruined castles and a highlight amongst my past school trips was a visit to Fountain’s Abbey. In many parts of Asia, the past is, or has been, demolished to make way for new buildings. My daughter described China as not so much a developing country as a country under construction. The building process seemed never to stop, loading the air, with particles of dust. Japan, on the other hand, totally re-constructed its buildings so that they bore little relationship to the original: Osaka Castle provides an oddly modernistic shell in which to display shogun momentos. I visited there one Sunday as rival pop groups loudly competed for airspace, watched by knots of girls in Gothic make-up and clothes. Such categorization is anathema in these post-modern times with their distrust of meta narratives, but it has provided me with an excuse to reminisce about past holidays now that this one has come to an end.