This week, scene was having dinner with a friend at Thai Taste, enjoying a spring roll before a heavy night’s editing.
“You know that Claude Levi-Strauss died a couple of days ago,” the friend said.
“No, he didn’t.”
“Yeah, he did.”
scene’s hand flew to its Blackberry.
“No fucking way.”
But there it was, tiny and pixilated, on Wikipedia: Oct. 30, 2009. Levi-Strauss had been 100 years old. Part of the 20th century had been sucked from the room — the doyen of structuralism was dead, a pillar of an entire school of thought had become diaphane.
But scene, frozen in shock with half a roll in its mouth (with its lips closed, of course), wasn’t the only one remembering things this week.
Monday saw the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We were treated to newsreels from 1989: smiling faces, skinny figures in leather jackets and East German Trabants streaming past checkpoints. But we can no longer have the optimism of ’89 — that happy-go-lucky pizzazz of the rave generation — ours is the age group that has grown up jaded and feeling increasingly insecure, safe only in our knowledge that the 20th century will be defined, like the centuries before it, by human struggle.
This notion was reinforced Wednesday morning at 11 o’clock when we were called to remember the end of the First World War and the signing of the Armistice in a train carriage on the Franco-German border 91 years ago. And though the last soldier who endured the horrors of the trenches, Harry Patch, died this summer, aged 111, we must never forget the slaughter that ended the lives of so many young men and women — it is still as clear as ever that steps must be taken to avoid being sucked into the same vortex of death and destruction that scarred the face of the world for four years.
There is no indication that the 21st century will be devoid of the horrors of the 20th, but this week was a reminder of the great achievements and failures of the generations that preceded us. History can illumine some of the way into the future, but it is clear that only through great struggle and sacrifice might it be possible to see made reality the dreams of a century that saw the greatest increase in material wealth and misery that the world has seen to date. May this generation be not so querulous and vindictive — but just as brave.