Monday, September 29, 2008

Whoa September!

I wound up in a whilwind called September! All worlds collided at once and landed me on the precipice of October.
Needless to say Bouler Design Group has been active with current jobs going through all stages of design and construction (and DEC paperwork) as well as continuing The Living Machine. Even Potic Cottage received some attention this month as the construction drawings are ready to go off for a permit. Paperwork in the mail tomorrow-- in time for the hebrew new year. Though I'm not Jewish, it seems like a valid deadline. That, and winter will hit before long and we might just want to get started.
The idea of renovation came up recently, as F.Scott Fitzgerald made his way across my desktop recently. Here's an excerpt from The Beautiful and the Damned about a restoration of a home in Arlington:

Eventually the bus moved on to Arlington. There it met other busses and immediately a swarm of women and children were leaving a trail of peanut-shells through the halls of General Lee and crowding at length into the room where he was married. On the wall of this room a pleasing sign announced in large red letters “Ladies’ Toilet.” At this final blow Gloria broke down.

“I think it’s perfectly terrible!” she said furiously, “the idea of letting these people come here! And of encouraging them by making these houses show-places.”

“Well,” objected Anthony, “if they weren’t kept up they’d go to pieces.”

“What if they did!” she exclaimed as they sought the wide pillared porch. “Do you think they’ve left a breath of 1860 here? This has become a thing of 1914.”

“Don’t you want to preserve old things?”

“But you can’t, Anthony. Beautiful things grow to a certain height and then they fail and fade off, breathing out memories as they decay. And just as any period decays in our minds, the things of that period should decay too, and in that way they’re preserved for a while in the few hearts like mine that react to them. That graveyard at Tarrytown, for instance. The asses who give money to preserve things have spoiled that too. Sleepy Hollow’s gone; Washington Irving’s dead and his books are rotting in our estimation year by year—then let the graveyard rot too, as it should, as all things should. Trying to preserve a century by keeping its relics up to date is like keeping a dying man alive by stimulants.”

“So you think that just as a time goes to pieces its houses ought to go too?”

“Of course! Would you value your Keats letter if the signature was traced over to make it last longer? It’s just because I love the past that I want this house to look back on its glamourous moment of youth and beauty, and I want its stairs to creak as if to the footsteps of women with hoop skirts and men in boots and spurs. But they’ve made it into a blondined, rouged-up old woman of sixty. It hasn’t any right to look so prosperous. It might care enough for Lee to drop a brick now and then. How many of these—these animals“—she waved her hand around—“get anything from this, for all the histories and guide-books and restorations in existence? How many of them who think that, at best, appreciation is talking in undertones and walking on tiptoes would even come here if it was any trouble? I want it to smell of magnolias instead of peanuts and I want my shoes to crunch on the same gravel that Lee’s boots crunched on. There’s no beauty without poignancy and there’s no poignancy without the feeling that it’s going, men, names, books, houses—bound for dust—mortal—”

A small boy appeared beside them and, swinging a handful of banana-peels, flung them valiantly in the direction of the Potomac.

The passage reminds me of an argument I started when I was an art history major-- that paintings shouldn't be restored-- that what happened to them was part of their history-- the soot from candles, the cracks, the remnants of time-- of course I was being provocative intentionally-- and now I'm glad that the graffiti on Guernica was removed and that the Pieta was restored, but I do think our culture is very quick to remove history (can you say Penn Station?) and redo-- our homes, our towns, even our faces-- sometimes for a much lesser version. Conversely, I am glad my 85 year old house has a new electrical system and a new roof... and ask about my face when I get a few more wrinkles--

As for Penn Station, the ruinous renovation from the seventies remains an eyesore that was recently featured in Sunday's New York Times. It was featured, among other NYC eyesores, as a building that should be torn down. Now that's saying something.

In terms of our cottage, I think we might just make a new history with that place.

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