Counting Teeth

In his memoir of travels in Namibia, Peter Midgley writes that “Where Parisian flâneurs provide direction simply by conjuring up the name of a rue, Namibians use their monuments as points of reference.”

There are statues at the one end of Independence Avenue and statues at the other end. And in between there are monuments and statues in Zoo Park and other places. Namibia has more statues and monuments per capita than any other place in the world. There are South African colonial statues, German colonial statues and memorials and, since independence, an increasing number of new statues to honour the heroes of the Struggle. “At the kudu statue, turn left,” the people of Windhoek say, “Head along Independence Avenue until you see Curt von François in front of the town hall …” And so on. Heaven forbid that a landmark should move. What chaos could ensue!

Midgley’s trip into Namibian history and his Namibian past certainly demonstrates that there is no shortage of memory to commemorate. From the cross marking Bartolomeu Dias’ landfall at Dias Point in 1487 to the battlefields of the War of Independence, Midgley’s trip traces the impressions history has left across the Namibian landscape.

Toronto certainly isn’t a place where memorials make an impression – a colleague who moved to the city recently commented that Torontonians always give directions in terms of cardinal directions, not landmarks. In fact, I have a hard time imagining people here ever using memorials (as opposed to buildings, like the CN Tower) as a proxy for locations. There’s no shortage of history here, really, but I suppose it’s not a pervasively present history. In Toronto, contra Faulkner, the past really is past.

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