I've not posted about this article for several days - it has sat with others I think about making a thread about, on my desk top. It could fit in international news, or general news, or politics, or pets and gardens. But I finally chose art, because landscape architecture is an art, and this garden would be a example of the art's coalescing of meaning and place; K. Gustafson is a well regarded landscape architect in practice now. (I like her work for other than the Princess Diana thing.)
Sorry, now that I've kept the link for a few days it's in my webachive and I don't have the general link and don't know how to find it again on Bloomberg.com (tried) -
so, showing the text -
Beirut's Forgiveness Garden, Slated for 2008, on Wartime Hold
Aug. 17 (Bloomberg) --
Now that Hezbollah rockets and Israeli bombs have momentarily stopped falling, I thought again of the 3.5-acre pit that zigzags between three churches and three mosques in central Beirut. It had been in the process of becoming Hadiqat As-Samah: the Garden of Forgiveness. It might now be seen as the landscape of a shattered ideal.
I was touched by the design for the garden, unveiled in 2000. The visitor would enter a walled, lushly planted outdoor vestibule -- with a reflecting pool like a traditional paradise garden -- and then move down a ramp through a series of planted terraces. The ramp would descend among columns, walls and fragments of paving that remain from the 3,000 years the site has been occupied, surviving through Christian and Islamic historic periods from the Phoenician to the French Mandate.
Landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson and architect Neil Porter had intended to install planted areas in the rooms traced by ruined walls. The shrubs and trees would not disturb the remains, but their colors and scents would evoke the shared memories of people intermingled over millennia -- as in the nearby shrine to Nourieh, Mary the mother of Jesus, prayed to by both Christians and Muslims.
The garden was the inspiration of Alexandra Asseily, 69. Her father grew up during World War I and lost a brother; her mother was a refugee of the Russian Revolution. She was born in Malta and moved around with her father, a British naval officer, while World War II raged.
Vengeance and Violence
With her husband, she lived through the Lebanese civil war. In her work with refugees and international aid organizations, she questioned how Lebanon -- ``a land of milk and honey and of kind, warm, hospitable people'' she wrote -- could be transformed ``into a jungle of dozens of militias.'' She became a psychotherapist and focused on the way vengeance drives cycles of violence.
Forgiveness, she has concluded, is an individual act essential to ending age-old enmities. Central to religions the world over, forgiveness releases the ``sting'' in grievances that results in violence, she claims.
Asseily has left Beirut, and I reached her in London.
``The garden came out of the pain of the last war,'' she explained over the phone. ``It evolved as an attempt to break these cycles of war. There are a lot of peace gardens, but you don't get to peace without forgiveness.'' She regards the garden as akin to ``an acupuncture point in the psyche of the nation, something to make people think.''
Can a garden do what endless fighting and diplomacy have failed to accomplish? ``There's still a reason to build it even if people are not now in a mood to forgive,'' she replied. ``The emphasis will now have to change from internal forgiveness to external forgiveness.''
I spoke by telephone with Gustafson at her home on Vashon Island, Washington. (Her firm, Gustafson Porter -- famous for a memorial to Princess Diana -- is based in Seattle and London.) Solidere, the Beirut redevelopment agency, had begun the painstaking construction in 2003, she said, and many of the enclosing walls are now done. ``But now, everything's stopped. It hurts. This is one of the most moving projects I have ever worked on.''
Can a designed project like this actually affect those caught in the enormity of such violence? ``People of every religion have been very supportive,'' she said. ``One park will not change the world, but you might change a nanosecond of someone's thinking, and that accumulates.''
So far, bombing has spared the garden site. But Gustafson worries that reconstruction throughout Lebanon will put it on the back burner. (It had been scheduled for a 2008 opening.) Still, she says, once hostilities cease, ``I'll be back there as soon as possible.''
Asseily sees the need for the garden as ``more urgent than ever.'' Research is beginning to show, she says, that we keep old wounds not just in memory but in our genes: ``We don't have much time -- that's my feeling.''
For more information about the Garden of Forgiveness, see http://www.solidere.com/garden
. For more information about Gustafson Porter: http://www.gustafson-porter.com
(James S. Russell is Bloomberg's U.S. architecture critic.
The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this story: James S. Russell at [email protected]