Taking off into a perfect sky, they were soon reabsorbed into a dreamy blue-and-purple world

Waldorf was surely right to question their thinking when it came to the whole question of “point-of-view.” When they’d talked blithely about “pictures” they’d somehow imagined that highly stylised graphic posters would magically appear and make themselves known to the whole wide world. Posters like the Art Deco ones the P&O liner company produced. Big blocks of bold colour. The Parthenon, say, in pale grey against a lime green or yellow or blushing pink sky. Background hints of a town somewhere in the twilight. And above, the Lindbergh plane, in silhouette, pitched at a rakish angle. Done well, this sort of image might have a subtle power, conveying a notion of glamour and modernity but also the feeling that an aeroplane could be seen as the harbinger of a new version of history.

A simple yet powerful message: The aeroplane, if you let it, would create more ruins. A world of ruins.

But of course no such posters would magically appear and make themselves known to the world.

All they had with them was a little lightweight camera and a few rolls of black and white film.

Details, details. What mattered most, surely, was Charles talking to the press. After all, a Charles Lindbergh quote was worth a thousand pictures.

Tellingly, though, the fact that they hated the press was another small detail they’d sort of overlooked. When they landed in Italy, having flown rather daringly right over the Alps, they were met at the aerodrome by a handful of reporters. It was hardly a mob; but almost by instinct now they pushed through without saying a word and they contrived to escape further attention by having their car pull up to a side entrance. They were tired, they were hungry; the press could wait another day.

And yet, when they returned to the airfield the next morning, to begin in earnest the first official leg of the expedition, there was no-one there. Not a soul. Not a single reporter. Not a single flashbulb.

But Rome was a hotspot compared to further afield. Carthage, for instance. A hazy afternoon, they weren’t even sure they’d flown over the right ruins; but when they landed at the new airstrip outside Tunis, there wasn’t a single person to meet them. Not even any ground crew. One hangar and two single-storey buildings whose windows hadn’t even been fitted with glass yet. All deserted. Luckily one of the telephones was connected. “Pronto! Pronto? Prego? Francaise? S’il vous plais, Embassy, Etats Unis?”

So it went. They criss-crossed the Mediterranean in search of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The thing was, though, that with every day that passed, their sense of mission seemed to drain away. They were aware this was happening, of course they were; and they did their very best, their damnedest, to keep the flame alive. Yet it was also true that some sort of enchantment was working upon them. A mythical power. Or, who knew, perhaps even some sort of primeval force.

Each day, as they took off on a new leg, with a new target ahead, they were more easily distracted. They were more easily intoxicated by beauty. It was almost as it they had become initiated, without quite knowing how or why, as disciples of a new aesthetic. First thing, not long after dawn, they’d take off into a perfect sky and were soon reabsorbed into a dreamy blue-and-purple world. The blue of the sky was darkest directly above, becoming paler towards the horizon; the purple of the mountains was deepest, brownest, along crinkled coastlines, shading out into distant mauve; and everywhere beneath them, the seas were a deep purply blue. From right up under the ceiling of the sky they could barely make out any sign of human activity below them, save, here and there, for the faintest threads of white left in the wake of sailing ships. An overpowering sense, from up here, that the Mediterranean was just one great puddle at the centre of an ancient world. But no sense at all of the ruins of that world.

And yet, though they drifted, though they gathered wool, they never wholly forgot what they were about…


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