As my cousin Tonio and I strolled through the beautiful city of Milan, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the ancient Roman structures around the city situated amongst modern architecture. The visual contrast sparked conversation about time, art, and quality of life. As we rounded a corner, Tonio pointed to an old Roman Arch and explained that the reason why something like that could never be build today is time.
Today, the prevailing ethos is to get things done as quickly and cheaply as possible. Not only do we expect buildings to be constructed quickly, but it is unheard of for a person to spend multiple years apprenticing under a master to learn a craft. In our current, fast-paced world, there is no time to learn, no time to envision, and no time to reflect. Because of this, everything becomes disposable.
The Romans built monuments during a time when the prevailing ethos was to build beautiful structures that stand the test of time, stunning pieces of art that magnify beauty hundreds, even thousands of years into the future. These monuments are the opposite of disposable.
My father, an Italian born master stone mason, explained, “When I am gone, my work will still be there. It is stronger, it is beautiful, and people enjoy it.” He was right, and whether a person creates a exquisite monument, painting, poem, opera, or other piece of art, the same idea prevails. It is about taking the time to learn, envision, create, and reflect.
I remember a particular time my dad and I were building brick stairs for a woman’s house in a nicer part of Los Angeles. My dad was slinging mortar onto the bricks with his trowel and carefully placing each brick in a balanced, and beautiful way. Each movement of his hands was smooth and timed as if it were a dance. As he worked, an old man with a grizzly white beard, sun blasted red face, and construction calloused hands stopped for what seemed like ten minutes to watch. After taking it all in, he looked at me and said, “You don’t learn that in a day” and walked away with a smile.