Wednesday, July 18, 2007

When in Rome

Constance Bodurow, an urban designer/planner, compares civic life in Rome and Detroit, which has its own Campus Martius (and, of course, one should not forget that Detroit Metro Airport is in Romulus).

Also, Timothy Farrington's review in the New York Sun of Shadow of the Silk Road, in which author Colin Thubron gives an account of his journeys on the ancient trade routes between Rome and China. The closer:

In Mr. Thubron's depiction, the Silk Road provides a cautionary tale of mutual misunderstanding. Although tightly bound by trade, he emphasizes, Rome and China were deeply ignorant of each other. Goods made their way from one terminus to the other in "an endless, complicated relay race," and so "no Romans strolled along the boulevards of Changan; no Chinese trader astonished the Palatine." In the absence of direct contact, secondhand reports blossomed into myth. The Romans believed that silk came from a pacific kingdom free from crime, while the Chinese imagined a splendid city in the west governed by philosophers. The metaphoric lesson for the present is clear, but Mr. Thubron is pessimistic: On the Mediterranean shore, his journey complete, he sees that "to the west and east the sky was not the blue calm of my imagined homecoming, but a troubled cloudscape that swept the sea in moving gleams and shadows."

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