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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, January 24, 2008
    Peace and long life
    A great journey today - from the Dingle Steps to Liverpool Town Hall, with the partial assistance of Merseyrail, and in the company of Janette Porter, an artist whose work I've featured here before and whose studio is the environment in which she walks, talks and gets others talking to each other, whose work she describes as 'a continuous conversation that aims to empower people'. I'd have loved to have made a morning with Janette a stage on my M62 walk (City Centre to South Docks) but she was elsewhere at the time. Today she surprised me by taking me to an exhibition which I would otherwise have missed: a unique, hugely moving display called Respectacles.

    Here's a picture of Respectacles, taken in a mirror and reversed. All that glitters beneath the Town Hall chandeliers is not gold: it's glasses, six thousand pairs of glasses, spread across the dance hall floor, some stacked up, some in parallel lines suggestive of railway track - each pair there (on the occasion of Holocaust Reminder Day) to represent 'a life which should be respected'. It's a wierd exhibit but powerful: the specs were donated by Liverpool people, some of them labelled with the thoughts and prayers of the donors, all of them displayed with Auschwitz in mind.

    The Town Hall also had various other equally thought-provoking displays on the Holocaust theme: most notably for me many photographs and films of Liverpool Holocaust survivors. One which looked initially like it may have bordered on the exploitative actually turned out to be profoundly moving. A man who I presumed to be the son sat by a very elderly lady seemingly in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's and incapable of speech or much other communication. He was telling her survival story to the camera. It was moving in itself, including the incident where she heard the voice of her missing-presumed-forever sister just behind her in the death camp queue, and made more real by seeing her reveal the concentration camp badge tattoo on her frail bony arm.

    But the most moving thing was at the end of the story's telling, when the son looked at her and prompted her to respond, show some recognition, hopefully some approval, of what he'd been saying about her. She did respond, with an expression which did affirm his faithful words. And the deep love and devotion between them became strongly apparrent. "Shalom," he said to her, this aged frail demented woman who had lived so fully and dramatically through the 20th century's darkest moments and brought a family into the world, "Shalom," he said again, "Peace and long life."