10 August 2012

Is It a Fake?

One of my favorite rambles is along the Thames Southbank from London Bridge to wherever my feet get tired. From the London Bridge tube station you can pass through the church yard of Southwark Cathedral then into the Borough Market, which is always heaving on a Saturday. A market has existed here for nearly 700 years and you can still stroll past the fishmongers, cheesemongers, sausagemongers, vegmongers, Turkish delightmongers, and a whole host of other mongers, drooling all the way.

On the other side of the market you can turn down Cathedral Street and head toward the river. There, berthed at St. Mary Overie Dock just a short walk from The Clink Prison Museum, is a full scale replica of The Golden Hinde. So much history within so short a walk. I always stop and marvel at this ship because of Sir Francis Drake's Prayer which I first heard quoted by my friend and mentor Danilo Maffei in his speech at my class's graduation ceremony at Longwood Gardens. When I first saw the Golden Hinde, read the informational signage and made the connection between it and the prayer, the prayer meant even more and made Sir Francis's accomplishment all the more amazing. I mean, can you just imagine spending three years circumnavigating the globe in this!?


Well, one fine Sunday morning as I wandered along my usual route, I decided to stop and get a cappuccino at the coffee shop right next to the Hinde. It was early and the Thames Walk was nice and quiet, except for the two city workers busy putting up long garish banners in preparation for the Olympics and obscuring my view of the ship in the process.

Just in case all those Olympic tourists suddenly forgot what city they were in and during what calendar year?
Joining me that morning at another table outside the coffee shop was a father and son out for their morning walk. I'm always heartened when I hear a parent intelligently educating their offspring about the history of this fine city and such was the case here when the child asked about the galleon. Dad correctly informed his son that this was a replica of the original in which Drake had sailed around the world and in they went to order their coffee.

It's when they came out and continued their conversation that the problem started. Well, for me, anyway. As they sat down the son gazed thoughtfully at the ship before us and said, "So the boat's a fake?"


This comment set off a chain of thought processes that occupied me throughout the day, fed by the fact that I've been volunteering at a garden archaeology project intended to discover the original layout of an 18th century garden which will inform its eventual restoration. The kid's conclusion - albeit erroneous - begs the question: is a replica or historic recreation of something - however true to the original in materials and craftsmanship - simply a forgery to be dismissed without value?

The dictionary definition of the word "fake" is 'a forgery, sham, counterfeit, something intentionally meant to fool someone' whereas "replica" and "reproduction" are defined as 'a duplicate of an original work'. This impressive vessel makes no claim to be the original but can boast that it is in fact a fully functional recreation of the original, constructed to the original plans by traditional hand craft, is just as sea worthy and has, in fact, clocked more nautical miles than its predecessor and has also circumnavigated the globe, thank you very much. It is now used as a living history museum with tours, talks, and reenactments by impersonated swarthy sailors for the edification of the world's youth and young at heart. There is no intent here to fool anyone. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Is it a fake? I say it's not. A fake presumably would be unable to sail in the same manner as the original, which this baby does. Is it as valuable as the original? Perhaps also not in monetary terms, yet its value lies in the insight and learning we gain from viewing and experiencing something that's as close to an ephemeral original as we're going to get from a distance of 435 years. With the Golden Hinde, as with a restored period garden, you can walk through it, touch it, smell it, experience its scale and dimensions, and get a pretty good first-hand idea of what it's like to inhabit that space. I'd argue the same goes for the Globe Theatre just up the river. Though modern health and safety regulations prevented it from being a true reproduction, one can imagine experiencing Shakespeare just as the Elizabethans did (and if you're like me, you'll splurge and pay the extra bob for a cushion when you go). With a little imagination and fancy dress, you can take the experience a step further and transform yourself into a Tudor sailor, groundling, or gardener.

Is the boat a fake? The dad copped out and agreed it was which made me sad for the kid. Instead of appreciating the value that this masted marvel has to offer, he just dismissed it and probably went home and pretended to be Captain Jack with a video game rather than test his muscle on real rigging. And talk about a fail on the dad's part. The opportunity to enlighten his child was right there in front of him, large as life (though obscured by those gaudy, yet painfully authentic, banners). 

Were I brave enough, I'd steal to the dock in the dark of night and scrawl Sir Francis's prayer on the pavement for all to see. Since I'm not, I'll type it here. I think that father and son would have benefited from it that day.

Sir Francis Drake's Prayer

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

The Golden Hinde in Deptford c. 1581 (wiki). This is not a fake. It's a facsimile.

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