I have started this blog with a number of photos of the final day(though it DID stay quasi-open to the public for the sale of shop fittings alone for a few more weeks, but even this seems to have ended now, and, I felt, going in there, would have brought on feelings of sadness and loss so tumultous that I would fail to be able to manage or inhabit them)of Lewis’s already(for about fifteen years) semi-desuetudinous, declining department store, already half-dead and shrunken from about 7 floors to 4, and then, in the last days, reduced to 2 floors, which ressembled nothing but a bazaar, as if the remnants and and last vestiges were laid out there, like the dead in a mortuary, for people to view; or, alternatively, to covet and possess in what was described as a “sale”. In fact, Lewis’s had already been(previously) “rescued” twice, most recently in 2007; where it was half reborn in the last few days of its penultimate life via a display(sic!) of toilet rolls and little else, the risibility of which, I sensed, only added to the poignancy.
The second set of photos(beginning from the one after the pink Christmas trees) record the opening to the public of the “lost fifth floor”; this was excruciatingly eerie and tantalising of what might have(still) been and of what we have lost. The odd thing was that, presumably for financial reasons, this failing department store chain had not invested in refurbishing this(one of about three “lost” floors) section at the crucial time, so that it was left, gently, and gradually, rotting. The images are similar in regard to their representation of quirky, soon to be lost for ever, remnants of a past which ended, in a functionning sense, in the early 1980s when a massive hairdressing salon, silver-service restaurant and self-service cafe closed down(the floor itelf TOTALLY closed in 1987, when its last use for the public was, again risibly and, unaccountably upsettingly, the toilets; and a lengthy, ghostly disused, eerily quiet corridor: a lift to nowhere but a toilet.)
When we left the lift(of which, more later) in the public viewing of this architecturally beautiful oddness(sometime in May 2010-the whole store closed on 29 May), we were greeted by the lost corridor, just as it was in 1987, except: there was dust and more doors leading to… (?nowhere), debris; and most heartwrenchingly poignant of all, the former Silver Service restaurant(“Red Rose”- in a Sebaldian moment I vaguely remembered visiting as a child of around six, when it still functionned)had been given a loving “make-over”, which attempted to hide the damage and decay but was like putting a table cloth over rubble; the attempt to make it reborn and look pretty were ineffably moving. It was the classic attempt(and an attempt it can only be) to redeem the past,ie. to make it live for ever, in a frozen eternal now-it WAS some kind of Rose Garden; and, it seemed, to me, to be, (subconsciously) on the part of the staff(as well as the obvious commercial reason of an earnings-related venture), an attempt at RECLAIMING the past, trying to make it live again- in the present. But, ironically and paradoxically, it made one all the more AWARE of the loss, the never-to-be-regained/redeemed nature of the past; it could NOT be what it once was-it was an image, and a spectral shadow, of its former self and magnitude. It was a(just) living embodiement of a Sebaldian photograph; it WAS in sepia, faded and blurred