I picture him as a tall Texan, his outsize appearance easily eclipsing everything in sight, save only the immense shrine that he and a busload of tourists have come to Rome to see. And then, throwing up his hand at the end of an exhausting exploration of the world’s most beautiful basilica, I hear him asking the expert guide the one thing he’s come all this way to know:
How much does it weigh?
I love that story. In fact, I imagine him wandering endlessly about the Eternal City in witless search of answers to all sorts of endearingly absurd questions. The Coliseum, for instance, about which he would surely want to know, “Why wasn’t it finished?” Or the Pantheon, whose opening in the ceiling would have utterly mystified him. “What’s the point of a dome unless you’re going to close the freaking thing?”
As a species of reductionism, however, revealing the mindset of a man for whom the merit of anything can best be measured by the ton, it is priceless. One thinks of C.S. Lewis skewering that fellow in one of his books because, in surveying the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, he can only imagine it as raw material for cornering the salt market. Reductionism, as someone once said, is the sin of seeing the pearl as the oyster’s mistake.