Loving our treasures to death
Are you up for a visit to Choquequirao? Probably not. It’s hard to pronounce and even harder to get to.
Choquequirao is nothing but ruins now, but five or six centuries ago it was a fabulous mountaintop refuge for Incan royalty. They called it “The Cradle of Gold”.
It was — and is — an exclusive destination. To get there nowadays you have to fly into Cuzco in Peru, and then drive for four hours on potholed, hairpin-turn mountain roads (watch for flash floods). Following that, it’s a brisk 12 to 16-hour scramble along an often-terrifying mountain trail — and you’re there.
But all that is about to change. The Peruvian government has approved construction of an aerial tramway that will span a deep canyon, connecting the ruined city with a highway that is only 15 minutes away. They reckon when the tramway’s complete Choquequirao will be able to host 400 visitors an hour.
I have two words of advice for the Peruvian government: Please don’t. I’ve seen this movie and it doesn’t end well.
I’ve been to Venice.
The City of Bridges, aka City of Light, City of Water has also been around for six centuries. Its founders also thought they could insulate it from the rest of the world, not by going to the top of a mountain but by choosing a location surrounded by water.
Didn’t work. As a matter of fact, it’s water access that has doomed that most beautiful of cities. Because it is accessible from the ocean, monster passenger ferries and giant cruise ships can sail right up to the city limits and disgorge their cargo — human rubberneckers from around the world.
Sixty thousand tourists invade Venice every single day, unleashing an entire urban populace on the narrow medieval streets and lagoons every 24 hours.
Visiting Venice is not the soul-stirring spiritual experience it ought to be. It’s more like going to Disneyland on Discount Saturday.
Obnoxious Russians jostle with boorish Brits; tour leaders with amplified megaphones bray commentaries in French, Spanish and Italian. Children whine, flashing cellphones wave at the end of arms like clumsy daisies. Sweating hordes in plaid shorts and T-shirts mosey and meander and jostle disconsolately.
Funny how we do that. We love things to death. We poke and prod and tweak and facelift until whatever it was that attracted us is smothered, bloated and unrecognizable.
Not far from Venice, another exercise in historical revisionism is unfolding. Italian archaeologists in Florence are picking over some mouldering bones in Florence’s Santissima Annunziata Basilica. They’re looking for the skeletal remains of a little boy, the son of Lisa Gherardini.
You know the mother better as Mona Lisa, the subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous portrait. The archaeologists think that they already have her bones from an earlier grave robbing. They’re seeking a DNA match to confirm the identity.
Sylvano Vinceti, a burlesque art huckster heading the team of ... sorry, I don’t know the Italian word for ghouls ... says that if the DNA match is confirmed, the project will move on into “it’s most exciting phase — the reconstruction of Mona Lisa’s face.”
Scusi, signor, but that’s already been done. Perfectly. By a chap named da Vinci.
Why don’t you go down to Rome and play in the traffic?
Arthur Black is a regular columnist. He lives on Salt Spring Island.