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books

Johnson's Corner - On The Road

"It was beautiful in Longmont.  Under a tremendous old tree was a bed of green lawn-grass belonging to a gas station.  I asked the the attendant if I could sleep there, and he said sure; so I stretched out a wool shirt, laid my face flat on it, with an elbow out, and with one eye cocked at the snowy Rockies in the hot sun for just a moment.   I fell asleep for two delicious hours, the only discomfort being an occasional Colorado ant.  And here I am in Colorado!  I kept thinking gleefully. Damn! damn! damn! I'm making it! And after a refreshing sleep filled with cobwebby dreams of my past life in the East I got up, washed in the station men's room, and strode off, fit and slick as a fiddle, and got me a rich thick milkshake at the roadhouse to put some freeze in my hot, tormented stomach."

Jack Kerouac, On The Road

The gas station with the lawn was Johnson's Corner.  This is not the same cinnamon-roll-laden Johnson's Corner truck stop on I-25 outside of Loveland, but the cast concrete art deco inspired filling station that faced demolition in 2002.  As it was threatened because of road expansion, the building was moved to its current location on the edge of the new urbanist community of Prospect just south of Longmont.

As you can see, though not demolished, the building was preserved but not renovated and it is slowly falling apart inside its protective fence.  The plans are to create a small cafe and hopefully, a small patch of lawn-grass.

Moving a building to save it is a dubious proposition at best and especially so if the move requires as much demolition as this one did.  Generally, removing a structure from its context also means that it is no longer eligible for National Register status as well as some much-needed federal grants for renovation.  I hope that funds are found soon and this building can find a new use and it does not suffer the same fate as the Boulder Depot which has moved twice and is still waiting for some new use to bring it back to useful life.

June 16th, Bloomsday; in which L. Bloom crosses the city.

Ah, I'm hungry. He entered Davy Byrne's.  Moral pub.  He doesn't chat.  Stands a drink now and then. But in leapyear once in four. Cashed a cheque for me once.

What will I take now? He drew his watch. Let me see now. Shandygraff?

- Hellow, Bloom! Nosey Flynn said from his nook.

- Hello, Flynn

- How's things?

- Tiptop ... let me see.  I'll take a glass of burgundy and ... let me see.

Sardines on the shelves.  Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendents mustered and bred there.  Potted meats.  What is home without Plumtree's potted meat? Incomplete. What a stupid ad! Under the obituary notices they stuck it.  All up in a plumtree.  Dignam's potted meat.  Cannibals would with lemon and rice. White missionary too salty.  Like pickled pork. Expect the chef consumes the parts of honour.  Ought to tough from exercise.  His wives in a row to watch the effect. There was a right royal old nigger.  Who ate or something the somethings of the reverend Mr. MacTrigger. With it an abode of bliss.  Lord knows what concoction.  Cauls mouldy tripes windpipes faked and minced up.  Puzzle find the meat.  Kosher. No meat and milk together. Hygiene that was what they call now.  Yom Kippur fast spring cleaning of inside. Peace and war depend on some fellow's digestion.  Religions.  Christmas turkeys and geese.  Slaughter of innocents.  Eat, drink and be merry.  Then casual wards full after.  Heads bandaged.  Cheese digests all but itself.  Mighty cheese.

- Have you a cheese sandwich?

- Yes, sir.

Venice, place and memory

It's been over twenty years since I was in Venice.  That sounds inconceivable to me as that wonderful and awful city sits in such a dominant and insistent place in my memory.  I haven't visited except in the dozens of drawings in now faded sketchbooks and hundreds of film negatives tucked safely away.

Of the many photos I took over the course of  many months in Venice, very few have ever been printed.  In that student year I took not individual rolls of film, but one long roll of 400' of black and white film that I rolled into canisters as I needed it.  What came out is also many hundred feet of negatives, cut into single shooting days, as grainy and occasionally damaged as my self-processing would allow.  But as avid a photographer as I was and still continue to be, it is the hand drawings that evoke not just the place, but the weather - mostly the damp and cold of a Venetian winter and spring.

Not to sound too cliche', but I drank up Venice.  Its sights and sounds, smells and textures.  No place has ever insinuated itself in me more nor does any place reside so strongly in my memory.  I'm sure in some latent way that waterborne city makes its way into every building I design.  Living now in the arid American West, damp and slimy Venice seems even more of a dream than ever.  Even its name, La Serenissima, is the stuff of late night imaginings, not so much a city as a place/memory, equal parts fairytale and nightmare.  I have never doubted that I will go back there, that its sharp canal smell and filtered light will once again be the stuff of sense and not of memory.

(These sketches, now a bit faded, are from a twenty year old sketchbook -the first sketchbook I carried in Venice and the beginning of a drawing habit.  Some decades later I see these clumsy early drawings with some affection as the first sketches in the first sketchbook in a collection that now has over fifty sketchbooks and folios. )

At Home by Bill Bryson

After waiting a number of weeks for a copy of At Home by Bill Bryson to make its way off the Holdshelf and into general circulation at the local library, I finally purchased a copy the other day.  I can fully admit to being completely fascinated by opinions, history and thoughts on what we all take for granted as a "house" as expressed by non-architects.  I  can't seem to stop buying books that give  a thoughtful point of view on the cultural edifice that is a house that are not written by architects, their magazines and especially the architectural academy. Bryson has written a number of books, most of whom I would classify as armchair travel lit.  In this case, the territory to be navigated is the house as conceived and formulated in Western Civilization over the last few hundred years.  The book's chapters are based on the rooms of a typical house - kitchen, dining room, etc. - and plumb the often odd history of the use of the room and its accompanying embellishments.  This kind of gentle deconstruction of the house, room by room, through history, is interesting even if it does, in its own form, reinforce the functionalist view of the house.

The most interesting section so far has been only a brief mention of an aspect of "house" design that I keep finding myself pondering over and is a subtext in a current project of mine.  In Renaissance villas and houses, the drawings rarely define rooms by their function.  Rather than labeling and defining a room for dining or a room for studying, a house is a collection of larger and smaller spaces.  The Italian word for furniture, mobili, gives us a clue about this lack of functional definition - furniture was meant to be mobile and so was one's occupation of the house.  Rooms were used for reading or sleeping or eating depending on the season and the time of day and the house was not a series of defined stage sets but rather a landscape to be traversed throughout the day and year.

"People moved around the house looking for shade or sunlight and often took their furniture with them, so rooms, when they were labeled at all, were generally marked mattina (for morning use) or sera (for afternoon)."

I admit that I have not yet finished the book, but I think I can recommend it to any one interested in what we mean by a house and how our patterns of using houses are embedded with a fascinating history.  I would especially recommend it to architects making residential projects as both an interesting read and a necessary perspective of the house from beyond the myopic view of the profession which tends to frame a house as merely a aesthetic object.