Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stone Walls Redux

Not too long ago I did a little post about some stone walls I noticed on a bike ride through the south side of St. Louis. Today I went riding again and ended up in Carondelet, where I saw this interesting example at the intersection of Iron and Michigan:

In this case, the extensive stone wall remains even though the houses that it once framed are gone.

The wall rounds the corner, on which stands an unkempt in-fill home that is largely shrouded by dense tree cover.

As I rode around today, I was struck by how many beautiful and well-kept houses there are, even in areas of the city that would probably be considered sketchy by prospective home-buyers. The admirable people who stick with these houses and these neighborhoods are quixotic in their commitment to these beautiful places that have been bypassed by highways and real estate trends.

The stone wall above is an example of the sheer abundance and wealth of St. Louis's architectural past. Despite all that has vanished, there's so much that still remains—and much that retains its glory.

A couple examples:

(Boathouse in Carondelet Park)

(at Livingston and Holly Hills)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Last Words

I've got a new piece up at The Millions today. It's an idea I've been kicking around for a while, but just last week at tennis my friend Ben told me a story that was the final piece of the puzzle.

You can read it here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Covenant of Pathos

From an interview with George Saunders about his story in the current New Yorker, a passage that I think crystallizes what I love about him (i.e., his humanity toward his characters):

Deborah Treisman: You seem, ultimately, to have a lot of sympathy for Mike, despite whatever it is that he has (or hasn’t) done, and the violent urges that keep surging up in him. Why is that?

George Saunders: Well, yes—I think that’s one of the fundamental goals of fiction, and its most efficient modus operandi: as a writer you’ve got to keep trying to “de-Other” your narrator until you’ve established him as basically you but on a different day. (I mean, that’s not the only way, but it is a way that, for me, can have the effect of making the narrator non-negligible, i.e., of minimizing the possibility of authorial slumming/puppeteering.) There’s this funny thing where the technical stuff (trying to make the voice convincing and compelling; operating at a sufficient level of detail; trying to keep the reader emotionally with the narrator) will dovetail with the moral valence of the piece—that is, technique leads to sympathy, or maybe, the appearance of sympathy.

I may have to pay the Art Institute a commission for these quotations I’m nonchalantly dropping in here, but here’s something the German artist Ludwig Meidner said that seems relevant to this question: “Do not be afraid of the face of a human being. Don’t let your pen stop until the soul of that one opposite you is wedded to yours in a covenant of pathos.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stone Walls in South St. Louis

On Memorial Day I took an afternoon bike ride around the South side of St. Louis. On this particular ride I found myself noticing stone walls, starting with this one on Oak Hill:

These ornamental but functional walls speak of a more glorious era of craftsmanship in the city. Unlike the generic retaining walls that tend to get built these days, stone walls give neighborhoods a sense of place and history.

Notice how the stone walls frame the entryway up to this stone house, also on Oak Hill:

This modest home on Ulena is given a touch of charm by the stone wall bordering its front lawn.

And the long expanse of stone wall on both sides of Macklind as it approaches Gresham frames the street beautifully and uniquely.

The city is full of these treasures which, though they may belong to individual homeowners, seem to emanate from a more public-spirited notion of how architecture can create community space and aesthetic pleasure for all to enjoy.