Wednesday, July 04, 2007


This is about cityscapes, and I will get there eventually.

Ah, the Glorious Fourth. I am a-bed, the dog having worried me out of my efforts around the house to at least a semblance of slumber. Dogs are like that ... they enforce a conservatism upon their owners that may not be natural in the human sense, but is natural certainly in their sense. In this sentence lies a lengthy peroration on the contradictory implications of the natural, but that must lie fallow for a while longer lest I lose my train of thought for the evening.

A-bed though I be, we are surrounded by the muffled crackles of celebratory explosions. The dog is not nervous, leastwise now that I have fulfilled his agenda and retired. He can finally get on with his fevered business of a deep sleep. My first dog, Laddie, was a spectacular beast, but his one flaw was that he was terribly gun shy, and the fireworks of the Queen's Birthday made him a mess. Other than that one evening, he was a model of majesty and service, my best friend for 12 years. But that too is a peroration that awaits some other evening's blogging, and we do not want to get lost.

I took a big step today, a good one, but I am going to leave that too as a mystery. Writing a blog, as I have quickly learned, means always bothering the lines between the private and the public ... well, not so much the public as the available. Something is public, I suppose, when it hits the New York Times, or the local avatar thereof. For the private individual, something is available when folks at work suddenly grow silent as you approach, or when somebody forwards an email, or when your sainted mother calls and asks what the "h" is happening. My mother, probably like yours, doesn't actually spell out the "h" but ya know what ah mean.

A minor step, on the other hand, that I took today was to go to work. It is course catalog time in the life of the course catalog editor ... yours truly ... and there is no end of life-threatening minutiae that need my attention. My assistant, a temp and an old friend, PJL, came in with me. MRU in its wisdom does not pay temps for holidays, and that is the single one thing about MRU with which I disagree ... so I guess we are doing alright. The upshot is that PJL wanted the day's pay, so we went after it. Got a lot done, too, given that we were alone in the office. I am, in that curious new word, "exempt" which means that the hard-fought-for 40-hour week doesn't count for me. I do not blame that on MRU, but rather on the larger America for whom no amount of work is ever too much. Gotta take the good with the bad, I suppose.

A day's good work, followed by a dog walk. And that is what I want to talk about. Notwithstanding a good day, I have to admit that I am filled with foreboding in general about the brinksmanship of this great society. Yes, our great society on its glorious celebration of itself. I may be a Canadian, but I live in this country because I love it, and because I admire its revolution and its Constitution, and because I believe all people should be free. But as we know, all reality is grungily real, and these ideals get trotted out one time for black and the next for white, and mostly for gray and any other color you want. Believing in them is, to misquote Anthony Burgess' inimitable reference to the oneness of god, like proclaiming the wetness of water.

PJL and I, on the way home from our purloined work on the Glorious Fourth, argued that America is a strange place because it is at once the most creative society that ever existed and the most hidebound. RL, my roommate and great friend, and I, later as we prepared for dinner, were listening to a new compilation he is making of Swing and Big Band and female vocalists. We thought about 25 years, from 1930-1955 or from 1981-now which is the period I have lived in San Francisco. How can one compare the history that passed in two such periods. Is the rise of the computer, which was merely a rumor as I arrived here and as Ronald Regan was inaugurated, any greater a revolution than the personal car or the television of that earlier period? And of course, they had that nasty little war the immolated the planet. I'll come back to the notion of 25 years and a peroid in history at some other point ... another promise.

Why am I asking this? Because a rational thinker cannot help but fear the imminent dark cloud that hangs over us now. A day's good work followed by a dog walk. The dog and I walked past this monster new two-unit building that some cynical builder squashed onto Beaver Street. The place has no soul, but it has size, and that is what counts in "fin-de-siecle" America. No class, just a big wad-a-bucks. The place is on a modest street, facing a beautiful old stucco building that has been lovingly restored and painted. The new place crowds the street with two giant garage doors that leave only the narrowest passage for an entryway. I have been held up several mornings as the new debt-ridden owner slowly, slowly eases his gigantic black dark-window-tinted SUV out of the garage ... the vehicle is so vast that it has no more than an inch or two of clearance on each side notwithstanding that the garage alone would house fifty in the Third World.

No class, no taste, no sense of proportion.

So we are walking by today and it appears that the proud new owners are having a Glorious Fourth celebration. It is loud, it is way up there because this edifice has no contact with the street but rather looms over it like some sort of ghastly Gormenghastian nightmare. I stopped as the dog scanned for odors I thankfully cannot perceive. All the voices were young. I strained to hear someone who at least seemed past 40 ... no one. Why does this matter? This is bubble wealth where folks on a little insubstantial economic high get way over their heads in debt, sink it into an energy sump architectural monstrosity, and hope for the best.

I hope for the best, but it doesn't add up.

I think cities need scale, they need great public spaces, they need street views that welcome and energize. They need a citizenry that melds and contradicts and roils and creates. Cities do not need obese architecture and unsustainable debt and callow bubble life.

So a good day and a sallow day, all wrapped up in one.

Still, I plan shortly to sleep the sleep of the just, so long as the crackling celebration erupting around me starts to fade out in good time.

The pics are of cityscapes with soul. I will mount a picture of the monstrosity tomorrow.

Photos by Arod.

No comments: