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Beautiful Upside Down Turnips

Septimus is the American self-made man. God had no hand in his make-up. He made himself. He has been to Europe, no doubt seen everything, including the Venus de Milo. ‘What, is that the Venus de Milo?’ And he turns his back on the lady. He’s seen her. He’s got her. She’s a fish he has hooked, and he’s off to America with her, leaving the scum of a statue standing in the Louvre.

That is one American way of Vandalism. The original Vandals would have given the complacent dame a knock with a battle-axe, and ended her. The insatiable American looks at her. ‘Is that the Venus de Milo ? — come on!’ And the Venus de Milo stands there like a naked slave in a market-place,whom someone has spat on. Spat on!

I have often thought, hearing American tourists in Europe—in the Bargello in Florence, for example, or in the Piazza di San Marco in Venice—exclaiming, ‘Isn’t that just too cun-ning!’ or else, ‘Aren’t you perfectly crazy about Saint Mark’s! Don’t you think those cupolas are like the loveliest turnips upside down, you know’ —as if the beautiful things of Europe were just having their guts pulled out by these American admirers. They admire so wholesale. Sometimes they even seem to grovel. But the golden cupolas of St Mark’s in Venice are turnips upside down in a stale stew, after enough American tourists have looked at them. Turnips upside down in a stale stew. Poor Europe!

And there you are. When a few German bombs fell upon Rheims Cathedral up went a howl of execration. But there are more ways than one of vandalism. I should think the American admiration of five-minutes tourists has done more to kill the sacredness of old European beauty and aspiration than multitudes of bombs would have done.

—D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature

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