Birthdays are funny things. I often resent the pressure to find 'the right gift' for someone and I am never happy to just buy the first thing that I see so shopping for presents is not always an enjoyable experience. I think also as you get older you care less about the gift and value so much more the thought behind it - which of course only adds pressure to the gift buyer - it makes for a less than enjoyable celebration all round... so in our family we tend to focus on having a day out or a special meal or some other way of marking the day, the making of memories to keep rather than the buying of presents.
In the past we treated my father to a family picnic with all of us wearing period costume from the year he was born, complete with wind up gramophone, stripey blazers and cloche hats, we looked like extras from The Great Gatsby. Once when our children were young we took packed lunches (which of course included birthday cake) to the zoo and wearing animal face masks we sat in front of the chimpanzees having our own 'tea party'. There was the time we made a stage and with hand puppets, performed a play - just for an audience of one very small, enthralled birthday boy. These are the birthdays we remember.
And so.... my birthday treat this year was the Roman Museum in Merida. We have been to Merida lots of times but never into the museum and I always wanted to go.
L. P. Hartley who wrote 'The Go Between' in the 1950's begins the book with the words 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' A sentiment I always wholeheartedly endorsed but this time I was very aware of how things in Roman times were not so different from today.
How civilized they must have considered themselves just as we look at ourselves and think of how advanced we are and somehow we feel that our lives are better than theirs would have been. Yet they had all the trappings of a sophisticated life. The fabulous buildings they constructed, many of which have defied the ages. I wonder if our fabulous buildings will last as long? The glassware, the jewellery, the metalwork... the statuary, the mosaics.... Oh my, I could talk for a long time about the stunning mosaics.
Of course there would have been downsides to living in Roman times. The medical care - perhaps not what we are used to, but in spite of the major advances in medical science we too have death and disease. What else was prevalent in Roman times? War? Slavery? Refugees? Poverty? Civil unrest? mmmm I have seen all of these recently in the news. We do have some uniquely modern horrors, terrorism I suppose being the first thing that springs to mind but ultimately it's just another form of violence and death and those horsemen have ridden alongside us since time began. Perhaps the past is a foreign country but I think it's one we are very familiar with.
My goodness it looks like I had a rather thought provoking birthday and not perhaps nice thoughts at that. But no, it was thought provoking but I did really enjoy my day. But it was a reminder that as much as we have striven to improve our lot, there is much that we haven't changed at all. Change can never be successfully imposed on others, it's a process that begins small, with oneself and as my school report often said 'Jane must try harder' and I think I will.