A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Atomium

Paris has its Tour Eiffel; Sydney its Opera House; St. Louis its Gateway Arch; Tehran its Azadi Square. Modernistic edifices with distinctive shapes that instantly identify them. Beautiful to some, plug-ugly to others...but unforgettable to all.

Brussels has the Atomium, a weird building built in the shape of an iron molecule. It was constructed in 1958 by the Belgian André Waterkeyn for the Brussels Universal Exposition, and, like the Tour Eiffel, was never pulled down. Symbol of post-war optimism about the peaceful uses of science and technology to enhance people's lives, the Atomium was erected on the site of the 1935 World's Fair, itself built adjacent to existing royal estates and parks. Altogether there are 200 hectares of woods, parterres, roads and buildings.

The Atomium was getting rather shabby, but has just been renovated. Its 1958 decor is retro-cool. The exterior sparkles and gleams. Inside, every surface has been redone. In the lobby, multicolored Marshmallow sofas--the current remakes of George Nelson's 1956 design for Herman Miller--line the exterior walls. Glass cases display purchasable, albeit pricey, miniatures of 1950's designs, including teeny marshmallow sofas.

The arms of the molecule are stairways, painted fiesta red and turquoise. The atoms are rooms. The top atom is an upscale restaurant, with cuisine by Alexandre Masson: "traditional regional specialities, which, presented in a new way, will give the public the pleasure of rediscovering them." The middle atom is the Polka Dot Bar, at which light refreshments are served. It's got a couple of snazzy old-school refrigerators in it. I want the red one!

Some of the other atoms have exhibits. (Particularly interesting is an exhibit of photographs by Marie-Françoise Plissart, taken throughout the renovation process.) Still under construction last time I was there were two atoms-ful of children's space, complete with unusual podlike units for sleeping. I can't wait to see that section finished, complete with a dozen or so kids nesting in the pods.

The Atomium is has now been swallowed up by the Bruparck, a "leisure park" which also boasts resturants, movie theaters, a water park, a doubledecker carousel, and, last but by no means least, Mini-Europe, "a whistlestop tour around Europe." Over 300 scale models of European monuments done "in quite unequalled craftsmanship." Interactive, too--you can knock over the Berlin Wall and make Mount Vesuvius erupt! Mini-Europe actually looks like just a very large mini-golf course. Endearingly tacky, but, hey. That's Belgium for you.

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