Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Living in Open City

Every year on June 16th, Joyce fans celebrate Bloomsday, retracing Leopold Bloom's steps through Dublin as recounted in Ulysses. My guess is that the celebration is far more popular and raucous than St. Patrick's Day, so it must be absolutely bonkers.

I can understand the impulse, which is not so different from taking wine tours based on the movie "Sideways." Reading Teju Cole's Open City, I have these moments of recognition that make the events of the book feel much more immediate. For instance, the narrator takes in an exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum, which at the time was experiencing financial difficulties as one of its major donors was headed toward bankruptcy (among other things, his creditors seized a painting that he had "donated" to the museum) and eventually prison. I happen to have represented some of his other creditors at the time, as a fresh- (albeit ugly-) faced bankruptcy lawyer.

Also, this passage grabbed me (the narrator is describing the Wall Street station on the 1-2-3 line [UPDATE: of course I meant the 2-3 line, the 1 splits off at Chambers Street]):

I took the escalator up, and as I came out onto the mezzanine level, I saw the ceiling—high, white, and consisting of a series of interconnected vaults—slowly reveal itself as though it were a retractable dome in the act of closing. It was a station I had never been in before, and I was surprised that it was so elaborate because I had expected that all the stations in lower Manhattan would be mean and perfunctory, that they would consist only of tiled tunnels and narrow exits. I suspected for a moment that the grand hall now confronting me at Wall Street was a trick of the eye. The hall had two rows of columns running along its length, and there were sets of glass doors on either end. The glass, the dominance of white in the color scheme, as well as the assortment of large potted palms under the columns, made the room feel like an atrium or greenhouse, but the tripartite division of the space, with the center aisle broader than the two to either side of it, was more reminiscent of a cathedral. The vaults strengthened this impression, and what came to mind was the florid Gothic style of England, as exemplified in buildings like Bath Abbey or the cathedral in Winchester, in which the piers and their colonnades spray up into the vaults. Not that the station replicated the stone tracery of such churches. It evoked the effect, rather, by means of its finely checkered or woven surface, a gigantic assemblage of white plastic.

The narrator is describing 60 Wall Street, also known as the Deutsche Bank building. This is where, a few years after the narrator of Open City passed through, the Occupy Wall Street leadership met to make decisions (note, the link describes it as a "publicly owned private space," when in fact it is the opposite—it is not, however, a subway station—the Wall Street station itself is as dingy as the narrator initially expected it to be). When I finish the book, perhaps I will make an effort to visit (or revisit) the places described in the book (though it is impossible now to visit the American Folk Art Museum at the site visited by the narrator, as it as moved to a much smaller space).

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