May 28, 2014

On Past Civilizations and Marathons

Aregu warming up in front of the temple of Bachus, with the walls of the Great Court on the right.
Now that I highlighted a cultural difference, how about pointing out something on civilizations?
Last Sunday I drove to Baalbeck at 4:30 in the morning (best time of the day to drive a car in Lebanon; not a soul on the road) because the housekeeper, Aregu Sisay, was running in the First Half Marathon of Baalbeck that morning.  She had already gone up the day before and I was supposed to join her, but I got stuck on this boat, you see, so I had to drive up there early Sunday morning.
And off they went, 7 AM on a Sunday morning in Baalbeck
 I got there just in time to see the athletes warming up amidst an absolutely mind-boggling scene; 3,000 year old Roman ruins. Some 3,000 years ago, this town was a bustling hub in a network of trading routes. It must have been big and rich, how otherwise can you engage in a building project of this magnitude? The amount of workers, or slaves, involved in this must have been huge, and they all needed to be housed and fed. Farmers from all around must have been bringing in goods to feed the population of priests and worshipers. The stones and pillars they worked with are absolutely massive. Moving things of this weight without the use of machines is incredible. These people were able to coordinate and finance a project of these incredible dimensions.

It was a mixed event; men, women and handicapped all raced at the same time.
The Fun Runners also left at the same time. This made for a slightly chaotic start. It reminded me of running with the bulls in Pamplona.
And look what’s left? What a contrast between that civilization and our current one. Some 1700 years ago,  the Byzantine emperor Constantine closed the temple officially because his empire had changed religion. And from a region that was economically coherent and intellectually dynamic, we end up with a provincial little town, in the middle of pretty much nowhere, where the local police chief has a big belly, and we built ramshackle houses that won’t make it past the year 2050. From a once majestic metropolis to now; that’s a pretty big change.
The northern wall of the Great Court
When you look at the stone walls of the temples, our current civilization is no match for the previous ones. You could argue that we live in a civilization that has bypassed Baalbeck, and that the current one is much more advanced. Yet the town and region are as poor as the dirt they wallow in. Poverty is for me a sign of the demise of a civilization, and when you see the sharp contrast between what people were once capable of, and what they do now, then Baalback drew the short the stick.
Temple of Venus, in the middle of town

There were many speeches spoken after the marathon; everybody loves to give a speech in this place, in poetic classical Arabic, no matter that no one was listening, and the athletes waiting for the prize ceremony would rather have gone home and rest.
Had I been speaker, I would have  pointed out the interesting fact (I thought) that this marathon was taking place in a town that was once inspired by the very people that invented the marathon.
And the winner for the ladies is coming in

Unfortunately, every speaker reiterated ever more convulsively than the previous one on  how very much united we were as a people. The fact that you need to point that out so frequently however, is an indication of how very much we need unity, and how little there is at the moment.
Don't you love the look on that Chief of Police on the left?
nd so it was a sobering thought, to see these two civilizations side by side; one superior to the other. The old and quiet one in stone, the new one in concrete and empty words. And the housekeeper? Well, she won of course!
This picture reminded me of the Adventures of Tin Tin; "Aregu Sisay in Baalbeck"

She is getting a little anxious on how she is going to get all her victory cups back to Ethiopia; they take up a suitcase all by themselves. And the weight!! We hope someone at Ethiopian Airlines is going to be comprehensive.
More on Baalbeck here.

1 comment:

visnja said...

great post; wonderful pictures!I so hope to visit one day!and of course congrats Aregu! thank you!