Beijing wasn't at its best in April a year ago. The trees that give the city much of its beauty were still bare and bony-looking and the sky was a leaden bowl. It took a fair amount of effort to bundle up against the chill of early spring and wander and look, but there was a path along a canal to follow and I set off.
I wanted to cry.
As beautiful as the spot still was, its reason for existence had disappeared and what remained was a shadow of its past magnificence.
Early in his account of his Peking Story, David Kidd tells about fourteen incense burners that had never cooled once in five hundred years. Cast from Burmese red copper and ground Turkestan rubies during the Ming dynasty, the burners were lit when they were still warm from the kiln, "magical objects, glowing and shimmering like jewels, no two alike. Some were red; others were speckled with iridescent green or with twinkling bits of ruby or gold. One had a smooth gold surface, incredibly bright and shining." But, Kidd's wife told him, "Once the burner is allowed to grow entirely cold, the color fades and no later heat can bring it back."
A spiteful servant, after being scolded, poured water in each of the burners in revenge--"five centuries of tending and firing wiped out in the space of seconds." They were still of exquisite shape but "all the color and life was gone."