"–Tell me, Eleanor. D'you ever think of the past?"
"Why do you ask, Simon?"
"Because I've been thinking of the past. I've been thinking of Lily, the woman I might have married.... Well, why are you silent? Do you mind my thinking of the past?"
"Why should I mind, Simon? Doesn't one always think of the past, in a garden with men and women lying under the trees? Aren't they one's past, all that remains of it, those men and women, those ghosts lying under the trees,... one's happiness, one's reality?"
- From Virginia Woolf's essay "Kew Gardens" (1921)
In a place like Kew Gardens, hot July afternoons have pretty much looked the same since 1899 when Decimus Burton's 1862 Temperate House (above) was finally completed. July is all glass-houses and arranged flower beds bordering paths filled with aimless people and snippets of conversation, ephemeral as air, overheard only by snails.
I took these photos in Kew Gardens a hundred years after these glass houses were built (to the left is a detail from inside the Palm House). They are, for me, the epitome of "old-fashioned" in that wonderful, philosophical sense Woolf's Eleanor expresses: that our pasts are always present, always part of our reality, always the foundation of our happiness. What is "old-fashioned" is appealing because it gives us a window into lives prior to our own, into pasts that were over before our memories began. And in this way, "old- fashioned" creates culture, a history against which to define ourselves, until the very things that we might laugh at for being hopelessly old-fashioned are suddenly, inexplicably, part of us. If we can only define ourselves by considering how we are not them--as one defines darkness as the absence of light--then they must be within us as well. I like to think, as I walk past nondescript buildings in modern cities, that the old-fashioned architecture of places like Kew Gardens is still vital, important, within us--for the only thing that makes the modern knowable is the past we choose to acknowledge.