arcadia

The home for the old-aged near Mowbray, where I lived during the 1980s and 1990s, was called Arcadia. It was situated on an unusually windy stretch of the Main Road that had suffered badly from the type of development which characterised the middle period of the last century. After Arcadia came the graveyard, and after that Groote Schuur Hospital.

105 pouissinI have often wondered whether there was a bitter irony involved in the choosing of the name Arcadia, or whether it had been chosen with the best of intentions, perhaps with the idea that this classical reference might cheer up the inhabitants. Pouissin’s famous painting shows shepherds examining a tomb on which the words Et In Arcadia Ego are carved. The motto, taken to mean that death exists even in the earthly paradise, was a popular one at the time and earlier, when Memento Mori with miniature skeletons secreted in the bezel were worn as wedding-rings.

106 ring bwIf we can accept as readily as Pouissin or Sir Thomas Gresham, the English financier who gave the ring shown in the picture below to his wife, the dictum that even paradise is shot through with death, then it becomes easy to see Luitingh’s Guest Farm with its flowering trees as Arcadia, an earthly paradise. Everything there was marked for death – the old ladies to be taken by pneumonia, the crops to be harvested and consumed, the insects to be sprayed, the guinea-fowl to be hunted, the fish to be caught, the stock to have their throats slit, the vehicles to break down, the sheds and buildings to rust and decay, the pets to be shot in illness or duress, the snakes to have their spines broken on sight.

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