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.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

First Car, Last Car

I wonder what, in earlier ages, took the special place in the heart now held, for Americans at least, by their first car. Many of my generation fell in love with a bad-ass red paint job, a pair of fins, or a backseat big enough to neck in. The fact that the muffler was falling off or the fenders eaten away with rust did nothing to spoil the illusion of perfection. Incidents involving unreliable gas gauges, fumes, flats, and failing brakes are recounted with fond humor. Many middle-aged men still have a '65 Corvette or MG on blocks in a garage somewhere because they can't bear to get rid of that first love.

I had such a car...except that I was 53 when I bought it. Technically, it wasn't my first car. But it was the first one I ever picked out all by myself. And, since it was my first, and I felt I had the right to be impulsive, when other people warned me it was impractical I just said la la la la la I'm not listening.

I've been on the road with Silvie for five years now, and what a road it's been. Sometimes such an inviting highway that I couldn't resist putting pedal to the metal--and I've got the speeding tickets and consequent steps on my insurance to prove it. Sometimes a very rocky road, when I thought hard about rolling her through my double front doors and turning her into a couch. But I've never wanted to give her up.

John from Taylor Auto called yesterday to tell me that she was ready to be sprung from his shop, where she'd been languishing for some time. She had needed some brake work, among other things, and last I heard, they were waiting for a part from Germany, or maybe making one? Anyway, the part is installed and she's ready to roll again.

Too bad it's almost fall already. I don't think I'll be taking the hardtop off this year. So there'll be no cruising around in the convertible with Taz in the passenger seat, for this season at least. That gives me nine months to teach her how to behave in a car. But next spring--Springfield, watch out. It'll be that crazy lady from Salem Street with the little black dog, all over town.


New Roof

I don't need an alarm clock this week, because I've got roofers next door, who start to make a racket before 7 a.m. I don't mind, because I was getting pretty worried about the building, which looks like it's about to cave in, but at the same time is a potential gem if it's properly restored. It's a structure about the same age as my house and likewise on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently it's being used as the rectory of the Iglesia Bautista Renovación.

Springfield was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and the man who had this house built was a former slave. I'm not sure at what point it became church property.

The church--whose steeple is just visible in this snapshot--is probably the most architectually distinguished building in the city. It was built as North Congregational Church by Henry Hobson Richardson, the architect of Trinity Church in Boston. It eventually became Grace Baptist Church, and for the past few years has been the Hispanic Baptist Church.

I'm not sure the Hispanic Baptists are aware of the history of the building they're having repaired. They know, of course, the bare bones of the history of the church proper. But I don't think they're extremely sensitive to it.

This morning, for example, I noticed a worker dismantling one of the chimneys and throwing the bricks down to the ground. I asked the woman on the ladder if they were planning to trash the bricks, and she said no. Said they'd been told they were "historical" and so they were going to reuse them in rebuilding the chimneys.

I hope they do. But honestly, if they're so valuable, why are they pitching them twenty-five feet to the ground? That building is just over the line from the Quadrangle-Mattoon local historic district, and so is not afforded the same protection as the church itself. And anyway, we have a lily-ass historical commission which does not have the power to act on violations. When will this city and its citizens wake up to the fact that these buildings are precisely our treasure, and take them seriously?