Funny things, obsessions. Some of them last so much longer than others. Some wear off and are gone quite quickly. Some come and then go away for a while and then return. And in some cases it seems that the obsession is pursuing you, rather than the other way round.
And so I return to my mild, yet ongoing and very possibly expanding, interest in obelisks. I’ve written about them a couple of times before on this blog but I keep seeing them as a walk through the world, and this seems in some oblique way significant.
On the one hand obelisks may be seen light coming down from heaven and being focused rather precisely. On the other it’s seen a phallic symbol of male power. I really have no dog in that fight – although as phallic symbols go it seems a bit hard-edged. And when I see them on my travels I’m not sure I think of them as either. For me it’s more about variations within a definite form, as with the martini.
Towards the end of last year I was in Chicago. I didn’t go there looking for obelisks, I didn’t expect to see them, and yet Chicago seems to be Obelisk Central.
They’re all over the place. It has a lot to do with Frederick Law Olmsted who designed large chunks of the city, including parts of what’s apparently known as the "emerald necklace.” But it’s not restricted to that area.
And taphophile that I am, I went to the cemetery named Graceland (no Elvis connection) which I’d read about on Atlas Obscura, and which I think they rather over-sold as featuring “magnificent opulence.” I’ve seen opulenter. But for me it was just the biggest cluster of obelisks I’d ever seen.
And then once I arrived in London I went to Brompton cemetery and there are lots of obelisks there too, though not nearly as many in Chicago:
And then in the deer park in Richmond
And on display in the British museum, which wasn’t really all that surprising
But there are also a couple tucked into corners in the Museum’s Great Court, which doesn’t seem very respectful.
And there were some in a shop window opposite the British Museum – I guess if you can’t sell an obelisk there, you probably can’t sell one anywhere. That's the image at the top of this post. I bought one, naturally.
And then in Battersea Park at the weekend I saw a set of them by children’s zoo, unnoticed by the passing afternoon strollers.
This is by no means a complete list of recent sightings. But here’s a thing; as I walked in the cemetery in Chicago I saw this:
And as I walked in the Brompton I saw this:
Walkers get everywhere, and most of us know a memento mori when we see one.