Fountain

 

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The word fountain as a noun is lovely, but in its adjective form (fountained) is even lovelier. The root of both words, my dictionary tells me, is Latin – fons fontis, meaning ‘a spring’. Mostly when we think of the word fountain we think of the noun, all those charming monuments like Rome’s Trevi. I understand this – there’s something ineffably romantic about fountains (though I draw a line at the hideous, monolithic ostentation of, for example, Singapore’s Fountain of Wealth, purportedly the largest fountain in the world). There’s something restive, calming – perhaps even transporting, like love – about the flow of water from a fountain, and about the way light tends to play through it. I wonder too (and I may come back to this point) if they don’t contain a sense of the carnal as well in their gushing – especially those with variable water pressures – the narrow, shimmery flows rising to climax, arcing, and then receding.

 

Just as we say that ‘love springs eternal’ I think it would be nice if we described love as fountaining, or having fountained. Spring, in its other form that iconic time of love, is, after all, at the root of the word. More broadly, fountains are symbols of hope too – think of how much all the loose change tossed into them for luck around the world every year would amount to. And yet fountains, up until a century or two ago, were not the decorative landmarks we take them for today but were purely functional, connected to springs and aqueducts to provide drinking and bathing water for the people. To bathe, or even set foot in, most modern fountains would be to transgress either horribly (see the Bridget Jones films) or raffishly (see Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing).

 

There are few things sadder, I think, than the site of a fountain whose water supply has run out or been turned off. I was once involved, in high summer, in a Shakespeare-in-the-park production of As You Like It and every day on my way to rehearsal I would pass by a gorgeous old fountain, its stonework turned grey-green by years of use, that had been switched off to conserve water. It was of course – in, famously, the driest state in one of the driest places on Earth – the right thing to do and yet it felt wrong to look at. All the pipes were showing, and all the accumulated grime and debris along the bottom – the rainbow had been unwoven.

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