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.