August 25, 2002
There is a Guyanese version of the old saw, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,’ to wit, ‘All politics and no culture makes Guyana a dull place.’ It might be added that it also makes it a frustrating place, a tension-filled place, an historical place, an unaesthetic place and an uninspiring place, among several other possibilities. One hundred years from now who will want to remember the various party spokesmen and their dreary pronouncements? Who will care what the PPP said about the PNC or vice versa? Who will give a crapaud’s croak about the casuistic obsessions of (what are now) the two leading parties in the nation? If posterity plays out true to form, all the carping and cant will mercifully be swept away by the neap tides of history.
But if our descendants will be unconcerned about the political diatribe, and will have forgotten the names of most of the protagonists, they will certainly be concerned about the cultural inheritance which has been passed down to them. And they will be particularly concerned if some aspect of a cultural inheritance which should have been passed down to them, has not been. The destroyers of monuments get their names in the history books every bit as much as the architects and builders of what in due course becomes the material heritage.
And the opprobrium stays down the generations. Take the Catholic Cathedral, for example, which was consumed by fire in 1913. The story of why it burnt has been told for almost a century, and the carelessness of the hapless worker who took his coalpot into the tower will never be forgotten.
As we reported in this newspaper a few weeks ago, the decorated (partly) plaster ceiling of the Parliament chamber is under threat. Designed by Cesar Castellani and erected, no doubt, with considerable input from local artisans, it is to come down because the beams to which it is attached are rotten. It would appear that the Parliament Office is of the view that local skills exist to remove it and then replace it. Most people in this country have probably never seen the ceiling in question, but those who saw a colour photograph of it in our edition of July 21 (page 16), will recognize that there is a distinct possibility that the skills required to undertake all the aspects of a job of this kind - more particularly as it relates to the plasterwork - do not reside locally.
Before anything is done to the ceiling, the Parliament Office needs expert advice both on the composition of the plaster, what is involved in its removal, the kinds of skills which would be required to replace it – and, it must be said, restore it, since it has been repaired in the past with varying degrees of skill - and the likely costs involved.
We understand that the contract for the project has already been awarded, and that the work is about to commence. Surely, however, that is premature in the absence of a forensic study of the plaster, at least. (The replacement of the wooden portions, one would imagine, is not a problem.)
Is it beyond all human imagination to think that culturally sensitive Members of Parliament from all sides of the house could come together on this single issue? Could not a group of MPs representing each of the Parliamentary parties write the Parliament Office expressing concerns about the preservation of a ceiling under whose flourishes they have debated for so many decades? Could they not just forget the politics in this lone instance, and ask for a moratorium on the execution of the contract until expert technical advice has been sought on the matter of the plasterwork? Perhaps it will be found that the contract specifications are adequate; but then again, perhaps not. The point is, at this stage we simply do not know.
With matters of this kind it is better to be cautious and ensure that all potentially relevant information has been obtained, than storm ahead blindly and risk permanently damaging the ceiling and securing the wrong kind of mention in the history books of the future.