Monday, October 13, 2008

Everyday codes in Orvieto

When I took this photograph, I just thought the random groups and spurned statue ("Hem. Look at me! Please!") were an interesting juxtaposition.

Then I realised that so much of what we see is actually code, albeit stuff most of us have learned growing up. Although we probably don't even notice any of it any more, if we were with someone who'd never encountered the various cultural civilisations that created each of these codes, they would be nonplussed, and probably amazed at our instant ability to draw out apparently minute specific data from what they can see, but not understand, like a Watson to our Sherlock Holmes.

First the clocks. You need to understand base 60 and 12, an analogue display, and the concept of two runs through a day. We may remember the 'when the little hand is pointing...' Most of us can also 'count' (a code) and count in Roman to XII as well as Arabic, the names spotlighting the two distinct civilisations' gifts we have in everyday use.

Then the roadsign. International standardisation has come a long way, and pictograms often make easy sense, but like the Rorschach inkblots, sometimes you may just not see it. You cerainly won't get this one unless you've seen a Richard Scarry tow-truck, that's a fact. 'I don't think we are in Busytown anymore Dorothy.'

A lump of shaped stone can probably be identified by most humans as a representation of a human, but it could be fine deduction to state that the person represented here is an Apostle of the Christian religion, probably John the Evangelist...

Clothes tell a lot, both what we intend and what we don't. An extreme is the archaic dress of most religious orders - a part of humanity who don't worry about 'what's in' this season, just this millennium. Those that are up on the threads can probably place that nun more precisely than Holmes would by the mud on your toecaps. D'you think her friend is really a Breton fisherwoman?

Then there's the tourists. We like to play a game of nailing the nationality before we hear them. Most Americans are like shooting elephants - too easy, but then there's the other ones, the stealth Europhile who blends in, like a stalking lion. This group are sending mixed messages (baseball cap and manbag, sir? Not quite in harmony) but the white trousers? I reckon she calls them pants. Sock colour is a 90% litmus test.

Oh, and that large building to the right is covered in stuff that archaeologists call 'for ritual purposes'. Don't look now, but I think there's a Duomo around here somewhere...


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