Saturday, October 27, 2007

new orleans notebook

Jackson Square was so freshly scrubbed it reminded me of a time I sat rear to ground and
chalk in hand chut-chut-chuting at an old roof slate for play, squinting at the sun
and a caliope played, some sad sweet tune- an echo I'd wake up to one morning,
thirty years later. how'd you get here? I could talk but it was before I cared to,
and things stick in you
like when you first put flour to oil to make a roux.

I wouldn't know this had Joette not told me, they used to pick up the trash with mules on
Prieur and it could very well be that way again, mules and prayers, cars and curses
it is so damn hard to get around now, but no hurry still.

An old chef told me in bright clean October, if I took my shoes off and walked around barefoot here,
nowhere else would ever feel like home. I remember scraping around shoeless in the early fall sun on stone and
grass, hands red and yellow and dusty, I saw the clown faces everyone did that sort of thing then - and I'd never be seven like my sister, and this old square was a big enough world.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

the view from platform E

mingled at the castle, swirled around princes of industry
or just one bright business in particular-
the newest one where everyone wins
and realized no one would approach my chardonnay or my
prayer like stare
that one does to ones' electronic bonnet- to say "I'm busy"
ran down cool bluster to miss the red line just by a breath
and found I'd been tagged with a price on my hair
everyone has one

and then
the beige maw of union station opened up to me
and in two minutes I had a ticket and a possibility
this woman who sat next to me, she had just met the
president's father, don't you know it, she speaks some other language
that I can't understand, but whispers anyway
and with my bottle of water, young men in suits untied
bobbing forward and back staring with black pools
where blue used to be
staring and me and they are so slight and smart
in periphery
buy expensive beer and sometimes a pretzel

I'm going home now
where the heel stops short of the platform and
just as you fall in, a kind conductor offers
"miss, you forgot your sweater"

Monday, October 01, 2007

texas blues

Three and a half pounds of shrimp as big as your head for sixteen dollars. Texas blue crabs nip and I nip back, who knew there were crab tongs? Guilt tugs at me. they're too pretty to eat. I grew up on the Texas gulf coast, the part just shy of Louisiana, hot sauce with every meal the yearly threat of wind and water at your door and the promise of tiny black springtime frogs in a saturated emerald lawn. Childhood summers were covered by a green shroud; couldn't see any other color except for bark brown that you tag breathlessly with mud boots and herds of crickets your only witness.

Playing "outside or in, pick one!" was good until 9 pm and then suddenly sweaters, though it was 85 degrees and hot hot on the playground. The first day of school brought the excitement of pencil smell and playground pebbles in my knees. Why did construction paper not come in blonde? You have yellow hair when you cut it out that way-

Found Allison under a sappy white pine crying, no friends quite yet and there I was hands smelling like cyprus. It's twenty-five years later, ya'll and I look into her daughter's new almond eyes and mine cannot hold back the Texas Blues.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

bizarre love triangle

Come out to see the play Rudy Doo by George Tilson,
performed at the Spotlighter's Theater in Baltimore (817 St. Paul Street)
playing the 17th and 18th Aug at 8 pm, Aug 19th at 2 pm, Aug 23rd,
24th, and 25th at 8 pm, and Aug 26th at 2 pm.

see The Baltimore Playwright Festival's website for more details:

  • BPF
  • Monday, July 23, 2007

    slice of mandolin

    strum thing- bent over a pie and a song
    sometimes a poem is just a poem
    other times, a word a besplintered, forlorn-
    wooden spoon for a good while, sit and smile

    all leavened and leveled and ready to file.

    Monday, June 25, 2007

    who's in nebraska?

    The work of the thing - I suppose, could be part revisionist history,
    part badly-gone affair of the heart, part super-nov(ell)a, part brown
    sugar melting in the pantry. Perhaps summer is the time to air out
    the underroos.

    Bruce Springsteen's album by the same name is brilliant. Asbury Park
    (pictured) what a mysery, and a mystery. It is not, however, a placeless
    place, and could very well come back.

    Friday, June 22, 2007

    we're going streaking.

    Below find the text from an article on today's Baltimore Sun
    regarding naked hiking on the first day of summer. It is more
    cautionary than judgemental, which I appreciate. More on nudity
    some other time. I'd rather go frolick than sit in front of my
    computer screen.

    Naked ambition of hikers on the Appalachian
    By Abigail Tucker
    Baltimore Sun Reporter
    Originally published June 22, 2007
    Along the Appalachian Trail // Dave Odorisio unzipped his tent flap yesterday, peered out and stretched; a halo of gnats quickly formed around his tousled head. It was just another morning on Maryland's leg of the Appalachian Trail. But this particular morning, the 25-year-old hiker had an important decision to make: Namely, would he get dressed today?
    Hike Naked Day marks the summer solstice on the 2,000-plus mile trail and gives the boldest adventurers a chance to walk -- not to mention scale boulders and gain summits -- on the wild side. The bad news for us is that the solstice falls at the time when backpackers are passing en masse through the Maryland area. These thru-hikers, trudging from the trail head in Georgia to its finish in Maine (a journey that typically starts in early spring and ends in late summer), are the most likely to shed their smelly regalia for the solstice ritual, making the 41 miles of in-state trail potentially perilous for Girl Scout troops or day hikers whose tour buses have paused there briefly on the way to historic battlefields.

    The good news is that, although the nude hikers' flesh may be as brilliantly white as the blazes that mark the trail, they make themselves quite scarce.

    It didn't take long for Odorisio to decide no, he definitely would not let the sun shine below the timberline, as it were. The morning was chilly, and the bugs were out for blood.

    Besides, in the next tent over, 24-year-old Ian Russ of Chicago was yelling: "You better not hike naked! I've got my 11-year-old brother with me!"

    Even setting aside the obvious examples, there are many strange activities that can be undertaken sans clothes. Naked bull roasts and naked chili cook-offs. Naked scuba-diving and naked sky-diving. Nude Texas hold 'em tournaments, beach cleanups, 5K runs, blues concerts and "shine 'n' buff" car shows. But naked mountain climbing ranks among the more hazardous options.

    Think of poor Pus Gut, who hiked naked a few years back. All thru-hikers who attempt to complete the trail are given nicknames, but Pus Gut truly earned his, said Todd Berezuk, who works at the Outfitter at Harpers Ferry, a hiking equipment store near the Maryland segment. Suffering a fit of modesty in the midst of his solstice celebration, the young hiker attempted to fashion himself an undergarment out of leaves he found growing along the trail.

    Poison ivy? He wasn't quite that dumb. It was poison sumac.

    "His stomach was blistered, inflamed, broken out completely," said Berezuk, also a nursing student, who examined him when he came into the store. "So everyone called him Pus Gut."

    Rather than devising natural-fiber loincloths, many trekkers prefer to "just keep a bandana handy" on the heavily traveled trail, said Al Preston, an assistant manager of Western Maryland's South Mountain State Park, which the trail runs through.

    "I really don't know why they do it to begin with," Preston added. No one really does. "It's been passed down. When I got here in '92, I was warned that on the first day of summer people hike naked. And they do." Technically, it's against park rules, Preston says, but on the solstice officials "tend to grin" -- and bear it.

    Of course, it depends on which park you're in. Stark-naked hikers who don't make it as far north as Maryland on the longest day of the year may encounter patrolmen to the south who are less tolerant of the holiday. Bare hindquarters are given no quarter at Virginia's George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, according to Woody Lipps, a patrol captain there who is not afraid to fine the naked. Penalties range from $75 to $5,000 or six months in jail, he said.

    "Once someone called and asked if we would look the other way if they hiked naked to the Cascades on Hike Naked Day," Lipps said. "If you are in a public area nude, you are going to get a ticket."

    However, Lipps admitted that tracking down nudes on the move is neither an enviable nor an easy task.

    "It's like a needle in a haystack," he said. "How are you going to find one naked person in 1.8 million acres? You could hide a hundred naked people out there."

    No one knows exactly how many hikers participate in the informal holiday, said Laurie Potteiger, information services manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Actually, "we really try to pretend that it doesn't exist," she said. The activity violates the sanctity of the trail and often disturbs other nature-lovers. Besides, because of all that extra exposed skin, the naked "are much more at risk for Lyme's disease," she said.

    Not to mention for sunburn, snapping turtle bites and pack-strap chafing that even Body Glide, a special lubricant favored by thru-hikers, can't prevent. And "southbounders" doing the trail in reverse better not even think about it, hikers say, because it's still blackfly season up north.

    And yet, despite these dangers, the day of nakedness seems an integral part of the trail's kooky culture, which revolves around reducing one's possessions to the bare necessities until a whole life can be crammed in a backpack. To many of the travelers bound for the trail's end at Mount Katahdin, the naked hiker seems to truly embody the principal of stripping down, and everyone seems to hope he exists, even if they've never met him.

    Six hours after dawn on Hike Naked Day, no one had passed by Maryland's Dahlgren Backpackers' Campground less than half-dressed -- not even 23-year-old Scott Ames of Massachusetts, though his trail name, Quarter Moon, sounded promising.

    "Too many roads in Maryland" was Quarter Moon's excuse.

    One librarian from Queens, N.Y., saw the adventure's appeal. Michelle Ray, 30, had posed as a life model for art students during her college days, and she was still contemplating hiking naked herself. "God forbid I run into a pack of Boy Scouts and scar them for life," she said. "A naked librarian? They don't need to see that."

    Leaving other hikers with such a startling memory might violate the thru-hiker's vow to "leave no trace" behind in the wilderness.

    And yet, Ray said, it could honestly be worth it.
    For information about the Appalachian Trail, visit

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007

    I would match up the evils of the self-righteous over-tanned and under-fed American ‘edges’ to god-fearing fatties in the middle any day. Sure, the average Michigan quick-n-shopper will probably be a blissfully unaware iceberg lettuce eating moron, but how is that any worse than the other side of the magazine rack, where the Paris Hiltons of the world can’t survive a single day in the joint and it is, ironically, “in God’s Hands” – a battle cry normally heard in the middle of the country – and any more meaningful? Unlikely. The truth is that most Americans are neither, and they probably think the coffee is bad too. But Starbucks ain’t any better, it’s just on the other end of the spectrum, where they burn it BEFORE they brew it. The 'average' overfed and under-read American is certainly a sad example of one of the many permutations of American life – and being fat in a part of the country where the food isn’t good anyway? Downright depressing (there certainly are well-cultured happy fat people in Europe – where you’d be hard pressed to criticize them in the same way for eating too much world-class prociutto) – BUT not necessarily a recipe for disaster. Certainly not the exact case in New Orleans, one of the fattest places in the country. When has fatness ever warded off investments? If it’s anything, it’s the rusty cars, and the better quality of life on the north side of the lake. There are fat people in Canada, too. Sure, going into the wrong diner can mean burnt coffee. But to suggest that Michigan just suffers from poor or nonexistent marketing? This is short sighted. Today’s mudflap girls could be tomorrow’s hot new thing on the catwalks of New York City. Wouldn’t be the first time the snobby east or west appropriated ‘trucker’ chic and made a mint, ala Ashton Kutcher. The travesty is that no one in depressed Michigan would benefit from the "largesse."

    Sunday, June 03, 2007


    When yeast refuses to eat the nice organic sugar you carefully put out for it, you get slices of what I will refer to as, architecturally speaking, “walls of wheat.” I could tilt them into place and landscape behind them. It is plenty good with a pound of butter, but I was hoping for some bubbles in the crumb.

    It’s a rainy Sunday so instead of building a garden wall, I have baked two loaves of the densest white since Dan Quayle. Maybe I would have had better luck making “potatoe” bread. I could carefully construct a ‘Mr. Potato Bread’ perhaps, with whom I will discuss my lifestyle choices. I anticipate a hefty shelf half-life for this bread-friend. I might just get the band saw out and make 420,000 2-atom wide slices of melba toast…

    Just eating it seems trite.

    I sure would like to be better at this, and a hundred other things. How could a neolithic tradition be so simple and so difficult at the same time? Certainly scone baking druids and Egyptian boulangers were pulling their plated hair out simultaneously miffed and puzzed at the unpredictability of this persnickety pastime. Or…or! The unknown is what makes it beautiful.

    Friday, May 18, 2007

    saying grace

    Grace comes from the latin Gratia, or Gratus, “pleasing.” If you please or are pleased, something graceful is going on, hopefully, on the other end. Perhaps grace is a mirror for good deeds. Maybe you are witnessing grace in someone, but they do not know it- clandestine grace? This is tricky. Some puritanical notion dictates that it’s more worthwhile somehow if it is not celebrated, or even acknowledged. Throw out the religious connotation for the sake of finding grace without prejudice, and it conjures images of dancers, perhaps, and certainly the assumption that with it along comes that scene-stealer, beauty. So quickly the mind wanders to physical grace, and then down the slippery slope to vanity. But there is something about being thankful that goes beyond the dogmatic or the divine.
    I think entire communities search for it but end up confused, and just tie hymnal ribbons on various things, in effect removing the grace from the place, or the memory in mind. Grace can be identified, perhaps, where it is absent.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    burning in a stream bed

    that blood-drum that might be a spector train
    out of habit, swishing til sunrise in the hall
    (for nothing to do with eternity)
    loco-motive and calculated so you think

    it's just your own pulse silly
    or a mill or a waterfall or an errant drunken bee
    (and love will do this to you anyway why the hell are you even asking me?)

    foot cracking a branch and my voice startled me
    I laughed out loud, one ha! that every bough is a mercy seat
    every cardinal a sentinel and my palm even looks at me with great instruction
    it-will-do-this-to-you so please walk in the mud if you can

    the pleats of a skirt that take every bit of grimace to un-pleat
    regrettable verses, and well worked hands
    tearing down each pastry thin promise
    in order to be more real than the wrinkles

    it is no matter in the folds of a good bed
    or so she said-
    it is so different walking this way with you.

    Wednesday, May 09, 2007

    sweet demon north carolina

    Any decent bluegrass tune will profess that the Blue Ridge is lovely and sinister, a sinewy spine of mist and prehistorically proportioned rhododendron, little whitewashed cottages perched lonely and dark on hillsides that seem otherwise empty save a path of bruised grass - perhaps the owners are long gone, or standing sentinel in a trout stream.

    This is a lonely place, a soul-and-soil rich place. If you are in it, you are on train tracks, purposeful steps and a worried brow facing away from the hoot-hoot that you think you might hear, a rumble and a slow, slow tobacco burn in your chest. You are drenched, you are lost, you are going in circles and out of your mind. So far away from the spoon playing and foot stomping caricature you thought you knew. Easy orphan.

    Tuesday, May 01, 2007

    fortunate fruit related incident caught on film

    the borrowed stitch

    I met a man struggling with an addiction, though I did not know it at the time
    he was so astute at keeping it dear to him.
    I meant no harm in my ignorance, but
    I felt harmful in my un-knowing.
    I felt, in a word, responsible.
    I think perhaps to
    know even for an instant someone's plight is perhaps
    more intimate than knowing
    delight with them.
    I could have kissed him having just met
    with less shame than when I looked away
    the instant he said, "because."

    We are all peculiar, too.

    We are suddenly stitched to each other's sleeves,
    staring at our elbows and wondering
    how we will give back our very personal spaces,
    how did his glance not know my glance
    was radiant black and no more than feather fine
    somewhere I searched my thoughts
    to make sense of the senseless
    and went on my way, some excuse or bill to pay.
    so nice to make your acquaintance

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    dancing with yourself

    would turn away, girl
    if she knew any better
    give epaulement and
    disbelief for tomorrow

    shrug off the sorrow
    come about, ankles in rain
    and turn to face the refrain

    after all that measuring
    coup de pied, go or stay
    mark-ed by mellow disdain

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    the pleasures of cafe quotidien

    There are many in New York, certainly.
    There are many in novels. If you know
    Hemingway's 'Garden of Eden' they can even form
    the basis for a couple hundred pages of bohemian activity
    and mediterranean abandon. Le Gamin, where this photo
    was taken, is in the West Village, and it is no exception
    to the rule that a standard issue french cafe is dastardly
    in its romanticism. Jules in the East Village is wonderful as well,
    a subterranean (yet somehow, sunny) reminder of the
    French Resistance and that languid "counter" culture can be found,
    and that jazz trumpet can come out of a mouth with no

    I'm sitting at the moment in Metropolitan Cafe in Federal Hill,
    proof that Baltimore has its little secrets too, and certainly
    Bob Dylan on the iPod plugged in behind the bar only adds that
    American 'je ne sais quoi' that perhaps I was missing while enjoying
    the Frenchness of the Village.

    There would be some who would say, "stay! stay and enjoy your cafe!"

    Wake up on a sunny little brick street,
    Eat your oatmeal, write about love.
    Baltimore is magic. Stay with us and discover us,
    and notice how we're a little slower, a little sweeter-
    and you are welcome to have your paper and your
    coffee as long as you'd like.

    well now I refuse to say "hon."
    and I reserve the right to jump on the train, where all the best thinking is done,
    and if I can't find my red beans and my louisiana lassitude one day
    Well no matter how at home I feel in this little cafe,
    I'll just have to keep looking for my own quotidien.

    Saturday, April 07, 2007

    spring on good luck road

    some bud, somewhere
    we tried the parkway
    and passed good luck road
    only to find we could have stayed home and had tea
    cherry blossom bust

    Is the ritual cluster fuck a crucial part of seeing the
    cherry blossoms in DC? Doesn't it just make it so
    authentically American to not be able to get there?

    We got over it and we drove instead to Alexandria,
    and we had a lovely dinner with Erin and things
    were smooth, and I thought that I could witness
    my own tree in two weeks, that they are blooming all over,
    that I don't need the vista of the carefully sprayed national
    treasures and the cold white monuments to take in the sex of spring.

    Friday, March 23, 2007

    falling in love with strangers

    I think of the well-known experimental clock, the beam of light on the train, as if it is in the lap of the girl next to me – perhaps some fantastic new iRelativity device that the pretty brunette can manipulate, or ignore peacefully in her lap. How perfect an up and down motion. We are all versions of this bouncing light in the train, repeating ourselves peacefully as our thoughts churn like old wheels, or tap on computers and think we’re being spontaneous, but we are not, in our metal moving box – we’re all on the same clock. I think of the man in the field, glancing up to see the zigzag in his slower experience – the billion waving wheat shafts and his own damnable or praiseworthy missteps that slow him and change us from simple up and down to downright noticeable, cutting his field. He looks up and sees our train, and the light clock of our faster life looks like an oddly sewn sleeve. The clocks at the stations are all together too, and might keep me in that buttoned up state, but they too are not our clocks, and the old hands render a twist in me, and I see the people on the platform in slower motion, for an instant as we take off, they are stopped altogether. What if I fell in love at first sight with a man on the old platform in Wilmington? My hand would slap the glass – slap my own reflection, really, and having noticed that I am different, slip back into my seat. I feel so observable. I'm a little pissed.

    The row homes as we leave Baltimore, before we break into the lovely surprise of the open bay and the boats and the big houses and lace bridges, are unkind. They are too narrow, and one cannot breathe with the quickness of their beats as the colors mark them in time from the train window. I break again from the light in the girl’s lap and think, this is the time that stands between us all, what makes unexpected misunderstanding between friends, marks modern motion and gadgets as progress, charts pockets of poverty and makes it possible for expressions like ‘field measurements’ to make sense. I think, how funny if you didn’t know what that meant– and it were possible to measure all the wheat in a field, build it virtually in a computer, animate the strands and make them wave infinitely, too perfectly real, in a movie, playing on a laptop computer resting innocently on the legs of the girl next to me. Of course, it's been done, and in this moment I am undone by it, and out of time.

    Monday, March 19, 2007

    watching clocks from a train

    / lyrics "all her favorite fruit" camper van beethoven /

    I drive alone, home from work
    And I always think of her
    Late at night I call her
    But I never say a word
    And I can see her squeeze the phone between her chin and shoulder
    And I can almost smell her breath faint with a sweet scent of decay
    She serves him mashed potatoes
    And she serves him peppered steak, with corn
    Pulls her dress up over her head
    Lets it fall to the floor
    And does she ever whisper in his ear all her favorite fruit
    And all the most exotic places they are cultivated
    And I'd like to take her there, rather than this train
    And if I weren't a civil servant, I'd have a place in the colonies
    We'd play croquet behind white-washed walls and drink our tea at four
    Within intervention's distance of the embassy
    The midday air grows thicker with the heat
    And drifts towards the line of trees
    When negroes blink their eyes, they sink into siesta
    And we are rotting like a fruit underneath a rusting roof
    We dream our dreams and sing our songs of the fecundity
    Of life and love

    Tuesday, March 06, 2007

    behave or this giant baby will eat you

    The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park is an art museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, founded in 1950. It focused on modern and contemporary art, with a particular emphasis on American sculpture. In addition to an indoor gallery, studio art school, and function spaces, the museum includes an 35-acre park with approximately 75 outdoor sculptures and installations; these include a small but important permanent collection (including works by Sol LeWitt, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Alexander Liberman, and Nam June Paik), prominent works on loan, and rotating installations of new work.

    [wikipedia info provided by the magic of cut and paste]

    Wednesday, February 28, 2007

    wilmington, delaware: straight up architecture

    What you don't see in this picture are the quaint streets of old
    Wilmington, a few short blocks away and in the shadow of this
    and all the other recent building bustle of one of American's least known
    little cities (pop around 72,000) There are condos. There are theaters. Yes, there
    are banks. And cool-ass european curtain-wall design? Why the heck not!?

    If you're driving through Delaware, which we do a whole lot in this
    region, check out this building, where 95 makes a little dip into town - an
    architectural sweet spot in an otherwise forgettable drive along the
    corridor from New York to D.C.

    Also remarkable: Newark (no, the other one) - WHO NEW ARK?!
    University of know those college towns.. this is
    a cute one. Good food especially if you'd like to avoid a cinnebon
    at the Flying J.

    Wednesday, February 21, 2007

    I trace the circumference of a teacup
    with the finger that is sometime a nose
    and in time to say enough
    some how
    her little quick
    sees a bird and remembers
    those sweet cat battles
    war on wasps
    and the silent somewhere tears are kept

    in sorrow I nod to her
    and she nods
    and she blinks in her alright, dear friend
    and comforts me once more
    without question

    lovely green eyed queen of curiosity
    a little grey, and I am now the wiser
    flickers to her quiet end


    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    want for winter

    eyeing errant flakes with suspicion
    and a warming contrast between a tepid heart and
    full lace, frozen esctacy
    for those who might ski

    in a moment the cat might flick a paw at snow
    then sway in tender rumble for the passing hours
    on a radiator

    and I smile at what winter wants for me

    Sunday, February 04, 2007

    sometimes there are little messes and doll collections

    Garland Lily had black shoulder length hair, capped teeth and a mustache that needed bleaching. She was tired and overwhelmed by managing her life, a pyramid scheme, and a broken lamp. At the moment she had too many clients in the dining room. She let me in the big red door. I was wearing a lace chemise from the night before and sporting pasta sauce on my chin, the remnants of a handful of stolen spaghetti from a vendor that swore she couldn’t sell me a plate because it wouldn’t be hot, and that hot plates had to be ordered twenty four hours in advance. A few fraternity brothers walked by wondering where I was from and if I was a freshman. “Are you new?” I asked a cute tall one with brown hair and wide green eyes. “Yes, well, I just transferred here.” Tulane and its steam heated university center was just a few blocks away but I had to get cleaned up. I was late for my first meeting with Graham after having been gone for over a month. Garland led me up a narrow stair and in a few sunny moments I was surrounded by an attic full of china dolls. I thought it strange I had always pegged her as a kewpie enthusiast, and here were all these rosy cheeked cherubs indicating otherwise. “Do you need soap?” she asked, thoughtfully. “Cause all I got’s a little rose water and this tea tree oil moist towelette.” I took the little packet from her and started to unbutton the soiled silk.

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    noname girl in jelly shoes

    I understand, I think, intuitively.
    What makes me stop at the end of the day and
    have a bath and a beer, and not mind the little things
    I remember from childhood.
    Like wooden spoons and unhappiness.
    For there was laughter too
    and a green summertime canopy in a swampy Texas bayou town
    dinosaur flats and jelly shoes

    Sometimes the best memories are kept
    in crayons and wafts of mosquito spray
    before deet was any problem and camp counselors could hug you

    I remember.

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    There is this moment, or some lucid place
    that resonates with us, a secret chord
    The wolf-tone is thus accidentally played
    the quiet in my mind takes every word
    When I don't play, with words and moments here
    The world falls into place and takes me there

    Impossible, a thousand voices strong
    Yet in the din I hear the clearest tone

    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    all my notes on (aunthenticity) in (most) architecture - there are exceptions to my rules

    Architecture at its simplest is shelter from the weather. A tent, a simple roof structure on posts, a house, a town hall, an entire village shelter and support people physically and emotionally.

    Authenticity in terms of architecture exists where there is an honest use of materials, and a simple architectural response to the natural environment. I believe that beauty, in this context, at least as it is perceived emotionally, equals truthfulness. This authentic beauty has nothing value-added beyond a pure response to program, the needs of the inhabitant, and a response to the demands of the climate and site conditions. The house, in this pure state has no unnecessary decoration. This is not to say that there is no decoration, but each element comes from somewhere very specific, a physical representation of an emotional need or desire of the inhabitants, cultural element, or an exaggeration of a structural element in order to express hierarchy. This definition changes by building type; a house is not a cathedral, their structure separating at a certain level into different species.

    The grotesqueness of the typical suburban house does not lie in one element alone; it is an assault of size, proportion, dysfunctional floor plan and a dishonest use of materials that evoke a negative response, when compared to an “honest” structure. Authentic beauty is, in a poetic sense, indescribable. One knows it in the emotional response of the body with little or no design training. Thousands of years of study of the human body, its proportions and characteristics are the foundation for the understanding of much of this beauty (golden section, the classical orders) The reason a structure is considered “timeless” is probably tied to this empirical understanding of the human relationship to shelter, and, one step further, the basic human desire for protection, order, and agency.

    This is not an argument for classicism.

    There is a hierarchy, in this sense, to architectural style: form does not only follow function, but the function of the house on the street, the street in the town, etc. moving up in scale, and also growing in a similar vector out from the proportions of the body, to the needs of an individual, a family, the community, etc.

    The ordering that nature provides also has an effect on ‘style’ this way: A- frame houses make sense where there is snow. Flat roofs make no sense in the deep south. Porches and big windows are for cross ventilation. There exists a physical necessity for each design decision.

    Vernacular architecture is not decoratively historicist – it takes the region’s attributes, mainly topography and weather, and translates a reaction to those elements into form. Each region has an architectural language, that, when combined with commodity of space, proximity and ordering of structures and the usefulness to the people who dwell there, creates a sense of belonging and harmony for that region – at least, in a purely architectural sense. Nothing that is not beautiful or useful, or definitive of the culture from which it is derived.

    Much of sustainable architecture is based on this concept – it can be maintained easily and will last over the centuries because it reacts to its environment in an honest way. The advent of air conditioning and the reliance on the automobile changed all that. Flat roofs in hot, humid climates, sprawling houses and internal shopping malls are all a result of that. At any scale, the house, the town, etc, if this sort of ‘planning for shelter’ doesn’t happen organically, one can sense it in the body, in the tension of the interactions among people in these places, and the lack of authenticity is apparent.

    The ability to have and shape a ‘place of one’s own’ is, from the very first primitive structures is a basic human need and on the scale of the town, city, etc, a matter of peace and prosperity. Self government, communication, controlling one’s own destiny and feeling sheltered by the protective roof of a community are part of what fill successful places with grace.

    Certain spaces have a natural inclination toward certain identities. What marks an entrance, what says “hearth” and the ordering of rooms around life style and comfort are all part of what forms emotional connections between places and their inhabitants. Emotion is a physical manifestation, and the body in a room or a plaza or a garden, the way it is guided by architectural gestures, will often determine whether or not the body will register positive emotions in that space. People naturally attempt to order their physical environments in a pleasing way, and this control over personal and public spaces is a crucial part of the success of those places.

    When individuals or families have shelter, can modify it to suit their specific family or individual culture, and are secure in their ability to protect those decisions about their self-created environments, those environments become places, barring other psychological barriers, joy-filled places. They are embodied with values. Individualization and the physical expression of personal values into a space is essential for creating the well being associated with home. At its most stripped down, control over one’s environment, and the ability to adapt an environment to one’s needs whether its furniture arranging or the size of a room, the number of people in a dwelling or having a shade tree nearby, will always have an intrinsic effect on the perception of “place.”

    Friday, January 12, 2007

    lautrec at CVS

    One languid Saturday in May I was reading and dozing on my porch, having just read the part in Tropic of Cancer where Miller goes on pat and smug, albeit sentimentally about the noble and ignoble Germaine, the “happy whore” he frequented in Paris. I smacked the book down, uncomfortable and needing to stretch, and headed out to take a run. I stopped at a CVS for a bottle of water, where I saw her. I bounced out of the store clutching my Evian bottle and a prescription for Allegra, and observed her in quiet disbelief, feigning indifference.

    She stumbled out of a beaten up red Toyota and stopped in the middle of the parking lot, facing me as I stood transfixed at my car door, to curse and fumble with something in her jean-skirt pocket. As she struggled I saw a pink feather on her thigh, and before I could say to myself, “that’s funny, Mardi Gras was three months ago,” her occupation occurred to me. I was standing in a neighborhood that had proven the capacity to sport half million dollar homes and prostitutes, so I mustered in myself a measure of gravitas before proceeding to think she was, a priori, out of place.

    She had bothered to find a matching pink feather for her dirty hair, and visions of Toulouse-Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge barged into my consciousness. These ladies, when I notice them, are typically plump at the middle and have incredibly thin stick-like legs. My lady had a round face and hunched shoulders that formed a hull to hide joyless breasts. She had no gentle curve at the waist, only cruel folds of skin, and stilt-like legs, though she was no more than five and a half feet tall. She was certainly not the lovely and resilient dancing girl in the hot pulse of a nineteenth century Parisian club, rendered timeless by an impression in paint. But those feathers got to me. They were familiar. I had seen them in a gutter in New Orleans, and in Paris, glowing and weightless on a canvas.

    I wondered where it all went wrong for her, and wanted to approach the car and face her client with my college education and smooth skin, confront him with my clear eyes. From where I stood he seemed to be preoccupied with something in the back seat, and at second glance at his mistress of the moment, I decided that he was perhaps the one in greater peril.

    I looked down at my running outfit, my pink iPod strapped to my arm like my very own feather, and I thought about how every time I ran on my favorite trail, violent thoughts flickering in the space right behind my vision. My ‘just in case’ mental imaging. My gestures were improbably swift in response to an ambush, or the odd whistle. I suspected every man I passed that looked at me twice, jogging and sweating. I knew that listening to Gwen Stefani so loud might render me unaware if someone actually came at me from behind. But her voice filled me with anger and possibility. You hear stories growing up, and certainly now, one feels suddenly vulnerable at the mention of random violence in a neighborhood rumored to be safe.

    I routinely ignored this voice of reason all women have. It calmly reminded me – “it’s just a matter of time.” But I was a fierce pink ninja, ready to take on thirteen of the most serious padded-sword carrying live-action-role-players that Patapsco could render, or one very ordinary rapist. I realized suddenly that I was looking twice at this woman in the CVS lot.

    Who did she think of “taking on?” I regarded the bottle of water it took thousands of miles of ocean for me to taste, and I thought what a disservice Lautrec did to prostitutes painting their rouge and cancan, posters advertising a misconception about these women that made its way so far into our collective consciousness that this poor lush thought to put a pink feather on her thigh and in her hair, making it her signal. I didn’t see Henry Miller’s happy whore in the gay burst of color. I told myself, in search of comfort, that it could also be a hallmark of defiance. Maybe she was in complete control after all. How loud would she play her music that night? I wondered, and left the encounter to go marching right onto that trail blazing a pink signal of my own.

    Sunday, January 07, 2007

    one time before I go

    sundays are all cleaning house and zydeco
    pain perdu and coffee in this odd indian summer
    red beans stinking up a storm
    of memories of having been slow
    some old where with someone

  • read it and weep.