Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Marking time

It's barely twenty months since the main building site excavation started, and in that time a huge complex of buildings has risen in the city centre. This morning was the last of the 'four topping' out ceremonies which have taken place marking progress in the reconstruction of the city's new main shopping area. First the new library, next the John Lewis Store building, then the extensions to the existing St David's Centre Mall, now finally SD2 itself, with its Grand Arcade snaking over five hundred yards in length from north to south. Apartment blocks rise on both the East and West flanks of the Grand Arcade. For this constructors' ritual of reaching the structure's highest we were positioned up on the sixth floor of the of the East side apartments, with a handful of speech makers press and photographers overlooking us from the seventh floor.

We assembled in the foyer of the CIA to be kitted out with safety gear, gloves, goggles, wellies, hard hat and hi-viz vest, before being led, in a long flourescent crocodile, across the road past the job centre, and into Hills Street, where an opening had been made in the security fence to bypass the delay of getting 120 plus visitors through the security check-in gates. Then there was the long climb to the sixth floor, about a hundred feet above street level, to assemble for speeches, the unveiling of a plaque, and the capping of a pillar with a few shovels full of fresh cement, to make the occasion something more than words.

After the chief project engineers had made their thankyou speeches to the team leaders, Council Leader Rodney Berman added his own words of appreciation, and then joined Mayor Kate Lloyd on the floor below for the plaque unveiling and topping out rituals, photographed by the press and scores of others with cameras - you can see my photos here

On the way down from the roof, we stopped off at the first floor level to view the Grand Arcade from the inside. The scaffolding has all been removed from the northern section of the Arcade, so that its impressive scale could be appreciated. Ground and first floors each span two storeys, so that the retail areas on ground and gallery levels have upstairs areas, for display or storage. After discarding safety gear back at the CIA, there was a festive drink in the hospitality suite. A time lapse video made up of webcam taken of the demolition and reconstruction up to date was playing contrinuously in the background. Project workers gathered to watch and sip their Bucks Fizz, expressing their amusement and fascination, seeing the evolution of the project unfold before them at high speed - quite awesome in its way. "The only thing missing is the rain" someone joked.

I wasn't able to hang around at the party for long, as the annual Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration followed at noon up in City Hall, and I wanted to be there in good time. The Mayor and the Leader and a few others also made the journey to share in this sombre act of commemoration, again attended by about 300 people, including Archbishop Barry this year. I found this occasion more painful and perplexing than I have previously, it being overshadowed by the past month's events in the Holy Land. Sorrowful mention was made in the service of post Holocaust genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, but the public open wound of Gaza was not mentioned.

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs delivered a profound 'Thought for the Day' on remembering the Holocaust on the BBC this morning. He didn't mention Gaza either. The BBC is being pilloried over its refusal to broadcast the DEC Gaza appeal, yet its fair and balanced reporting, and heart wrenching story telling will do much more than any short promotional film to move hearts to generous compassionate action - providing listeners listen, or read the news blogs.

Yes of course the mention of Gaza in today's event would have been embarrasingly contentious, risky for our fragile community cohesion, even if all faith leaders present had taken counsel and agreed it was necessary not to avoid mention. I don't know what if anything went on behind the scenes beforehand, but everything went smoothly, without a hitch. Addition of anything new to the pain this occasion recalls, didn't happen. The cruelty and violence of war reduces people of good will and intent to silent impotence. I came away from City Hall feeling sorry and ashamed, that we couldn't unite in protest against the iniquities committed by both sides in this latest power struggle in the land, which is holy to three great world faiths. It's no wonder so many modern people are writing off religion as liability in the struggle to be and become human.

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