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  • Totalitarian Trees June 22, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback






    Beachcombing learnt today, from his daily graze across the newspapers, that Colonel Ghadaffi of Libya has adopted the Italian village of Antrodoco near l’Aquila [Italian article]. For a moment Beachcombing felt lyrical about the eccentric Colonel and about how much MG has brought to the study of the bizarre – it almost makes the ruination of a wealthy Mediterranean country worthwhile. (Well perhaps not…) But then, deep inside the cavernous bone cave that passes for Beachcombing’s head, the word ‘Antrodoco’ began to echo. Where had Beachcombing heard that name before? He looked down the page and saw a picture of the village and suddenly he remembered…

    Half an hour later Beachcombing had the manilla envelope in his trembling hands. It had been secreted in the rusting filing cabinet next to the bidet: the one with ‘Twentieth Century, Stupidity’ written on the top drawer in tippex. Scrawled on the envelope were the words ‘Totalitarian Forest Japes’. No arguing with that.

    Now totalitarianism is supposed, like the beer Heineken, to reach the parts that other beers/political systems cannot. Great dictators would like not just their people but their people’s pets, the street lamps, the road signs and, yes, the trees to bend to the iron will of the iron state. But here totalitarianism runs into a problem: trees, at least, just aren’t that interested…

    Most totalitarian systems have had to let trees off, being too busy convincing their people to eat less and invade pacific neighbours. But some mid-twentieth-century European totalitarian states – the world leaders in the field – got to grips with the problem and had their trees grown according to totalitarian rules.

    And here Antrodoco steps proudly forward. In a surfeit of Mussolini madness in 1939 – no-one would have bothered two years later – the forestry school from nearby Cittaducale planted pines on the mountain side above the town in the shape of the letters D-U-X. Dux is, of course, the Latin for ‘leader’ (from which English gets duke) and a calque and more easily written version of the Italian DUCE, Mussolini’s preferred name among his supporters. The letters remain a much-loved local landmark and it seems that many Antrodocans were irritated when recently some provincial-level politicians tried to get rid of the offending letters.











    But if you want forest fever, Beachcombing can present an even more extraordinary example of totalitarian tree policy gone badly wrong. The next picture was taken over a woodland near the village of Zernikow to the north-east of Berlin. In the mid-late 1930s, with Hitler in charge, a swastika of larches was planted in the midst of a pine forest. For most of the year the larches are invisible, but, in the winter, when the larches change colour the swastika stands out (for anyone who happens to be flying in a plane). Was Zernikow trying to corner the airmarket in Nazi sychophancy?

    On a more serious note Beachcombing knows that the German Republic has very strict rules about reproducing the sign of those  times. But he hopes that Angela and co will let him off. Especially given that he has scores of loyal readers across Germany. Well, there is Max in Wittenburg, an old university friend in Berlin and there will soon be a civil suit from Zernikow…

    Surely other totalitarian follies with a vegetative [sic] flavour survive? Beachcombing would particularly like to know about any communist attempts to bend organic nature to its will. Stars in the glades of China? Sickles in the coconut groves of Cuba? Beachcombing can but hope. drbeachcombingATyahooDOTcom