21 May 2020

Italian post offices

One thing I have really enjoyed in Italian cities are the post office buildings. Good public architecture. Today's Docomomo Italia feed on Facebook included this wonderful Palazzo delle Poste in Ostia Lido.
Palazzo delle Poste, Ostia Lido, 1933-1934
Designer: Angiolo Mazzoni del Grande (1894-1979)
(collezioni Casa dell'Architettura di Latina)

Our hotel in Ragusa was around the corner from the Poste and I have just discovered that it was also designed by Angiolo Mazzoni:
Palazzo delle Poste, Ragusa, Sicily
(photo from ragusaturismo.it website)

Our first B&B in Palermo was across the street from the Palazzo delle Poste. We had a small balcony in our room and could look up and down the Via Roma with the Poste as the centerpiece. I guess Angiolo Mazzoni was the post office architect as he is credited with Palermo too.

When Trump first started talking about infrastructure programs, I was glad to think of public money going to public works. It hasn't much happened and certainly not on post offices.

10 May 2020

separated at birth: Apple Park & Solo House

Cupertino, California, 2018
Foster + Partners


Matarraña, Spain, 2017
Office KGDVS (Kersten Geers David Van Severen)

For more on the Solo House, Caroline Quentin and Piers Taylor visit it in the Spain episode of The World's Most Extraordinary Homes (available on Netflix). Although the buildings share the basic shape of their plans, the Apple headquarters is huge, almost 3 million square feet and costing almost $5 billion dollars to build. The Solo House is mostly open but has three crescent shaped closed spaces for bedrooms, bathrooms, and whatnot. Quentin and Taylor decided the central space of the Solo House was "sacred." Circles and squares have always been rather ideal shapes. Think Palladio.

here and there

Here and there are concepts (words) that especially resonate during a pandemic with social distancing. You spend a lot of time here but wish you could be there. The headline of the lead article in today's Sunday Styles section of the New York Times is "It's hard when you can't go anywhere." It's a story about six people in an assisted living facility in Colorado who received cameras to document life during the coronavirus crisis. It's hard to see pictures of places that you've visited, imagine how empty they may be now, and how much you wish you could go there again.
Vittoria, Sicily, Italy: Piazza del Popolo

Lily had sent me a message about a virtual toast via Zoom for Milan who received this year's ARLIS/NA Distinguished Service Award. In my response to Lily, I said I intended to be there for the virtual toast but, in reality, I'll be here for the toast, seeing Milan and the others on a screen.

I was listening to Weekend Edition as I drove to Wegmans in Hornell to get my Sunday Times and some groceries. One of the stories was "Author Elizabeth Acevedo on her new novel 'Clap when you land'" (published by HarperCollins). The novel-in-verse revolves around two girls whose father dies in a plane crash. He had maintained two families, one in New York City and one in the Dominican Republic, and neither knew about the other. The girls deal with "the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives" (from publisher's description) as they try to balance the particular here and there of their newly shared reality.

In a short sequence in the "Carl's Funeral" episode of Schitt's Creek, Bob is talking to Twyla at the Café Tropical. Carl was his brother and Twyla asks Bob how he's doing and says "Death is just life except you're not here. You're somewhere else. You know, but that's ok because at least you're somewhere. You know, when does somewhere become there, and when does there become here. And I ..." Bob cuts in to say "Just a coffee, please." Twyla asks "For here?"

02 May 2020

showcase or sanctuary, probably both and neither

A simple sentence can resonate now in the time of coronavirus in ways that it would not have a year ago. This morning's indexing included a book review by Emily Guthrie of Get out of my room!: a history of teen bedrooms in America by Jason Reid (University of Chicago Press, 2017). The review is published in Winterthur portfolio, summer/autumn 2019. The sentence that especially grabbed me was "Others might describe the feeling that the room instilled, from the pride of a carefully curated showcase to the solace of a private sanctuary."

There is also a bit about the Princess telephone designed by Henry Dreyfuss in 1959. The phone was an icon of being with it, marketed to women and girls. I remember that Bill Murphy had one in Scotia, Nebraska. Imagine how different my life might have been if I had come to terms with my nascent homosexuality then, rather than sitting there near his Princess phone with a gaggle of giggling girlfriends. Sadly, I've never been able to learn out how Bill's life turned out but he was a careful curator before his time.

Coronavirus isolation also brings bingeing and, for me, that has mostly meant Schitt's Creek. The whole idea of children sharing a bedroom is fundamental to the series, not that the Rose kids are teenagers but being together in their motel room brings on teenage behavior. "Ew, burn, David!" The actor who plays the role of Patrick is Noah Reid which brings us around to the book whose author is Jason Reid.

24 April 2020

general special

If you are new to applying LCC Class N, the Library of Congress classification schedule for fine arts, you may trip over a number that is captioned as "General special." For example, NA2540 is captioned "General special. Including hints for architects, orientation, etc." and appears under "General works" on "Architecture." Books in this class number in the LC catalog have titles such as
  • 5 codes: architecture, paranoia and risk in times of terror
  • Iconografie van de honingbij in de Lage Landen
  • Architecture, culture, and spirituality
  • Corporate architecture: building a brand

Or NA7125 which is captioned "General special" under "Domestic architecture. Houses. Dwellings"
  • 36 propositions for a home
  • House and home: cultural contexts, ontological roles
  • House rules: an architect's guide to modern life
  • Abitazione ed i maestri dell'architettura contemporanea

These are general because they don't deal with a topical, geographic, chronological, or other area that is enumerated in the classification schedule. At the same time, they are not general in that they only deal with one or more aspects of the more general topic. That is, they're special. A library patron probably would not want only one of these books if they wanted a general book on architecture or houses respectively. Also they probably would not want only these if they were looking broadly for building security, art nouveau ornament in Belgium, church architecture, corporate office buildings, etc.

When David Rose goes to file papers for his new store in the "General Store" episode of Season 3 of Schitt's Creek, he starts the overall description of his new business with "It's a general store, but it's also a very specific store." I don't know if David Rose or Dan Levy would ever want to work as a cataloger in a library but the script sure has the general special concept down. 

22 April 2020

separated at birth: Sebastien Borgia

Cesare Borgia
The Borgias (SHOWTIME, 2011-2013)

Sebastien Raine
Schitt's Creek (Pop TV, 2015-2020)

16 April 2020

Jasper Johns in the snow

It's not like I was hoping for another round of snow in the middle of April but that's what we got overnight. It was glorious in the early morning sun under a nearly cloudless sky. The sun was beginning to melt the snow on utility wires and the snow was falling to the ground in random patterns of stripes a few inches long. I was reminded of works by Jasper Johns from the 1970s and 1980s.
Jasper Johns: Usuyuki (1981)
(screenprint, Simca Print Artists)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

As it happens, "usuyuki" means "light snow" in Japanese.

"Random patterns" may be an oxymoron. Lest you think that yesterday's obsession with Schitt's Creek has past, "random" is a favorite adjective of Alexis Rose. She uses it to describe just about anything. The Met's page on this print uses "cross-hatching motif" in describing the work.

15 April 2020

merrily we roll along

This time of in-person social isolation takes us down some quirky paths. I had heard of the television show Schitt's Creek but hadn't watched any of it until Mark posted the clip of "I'm Jake. Oh, of course you are" on his Facebook page. That caught my fancy and now, just a few weeks later, I've been around the first five seasons three times. That's all that is currently on Netflix and I don't have cable so no Pop TV for Season 6. The characters are deep in my thoughts and being with them is considerable distraction and solace in my alone time. Who knows (or cares) if it's a healthy diversion?

One manifestation of the S.C. penetration into my quotidian life (that use of a $10 word is for Moira and Roland) is its resonance as I'm reading about something else entirely. I was reading The New York Times Book Review for last Sunday (12 April 2020) as I ate lunch. In the review of Lady in Waiting: my extraordinary life in the shadow of the Crown, a memoir by Anne Glenconner, the reviewer Alida Becker quotes the first post-coma words of Glenconner's son who had been in a motorcycle accident: Lamborghini. The reviewer then says "Truly, the rich are different." Lamborghini also plays out in Schitt's Creek: in the words of "A little bit Alexis" and in the Christmas medley that Moira and David sing.

Another review in the same issue of NYTBR is on a book entitled The undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. The author relates a story about a trip through a wealthy Miami subdivision on the way to a club. One of her friends says the big houses stress her "because it makes her think about having to clean them." The opening moment of episode 1 of Schitt's Creek is of a Latina in servant uniform answering the doorbell. It's not immigration but revenue agents to dispossess the family of most of their possessions. "Mrs. Rose, there are people here from the government."

But the most amusing resonance (sometimes, at least) is imagining the chapters of my dissertation in comparative literature "Downton Abbey and Schitt's Creek: a comparative study of the daily life of the rich in late Victorian and Edwardian England and in contemporary America." There will be chapters on raising children (spending an hour or two with the children when it's possible), Christmas specials, inter-class commingling, the power of language, and of course the predictable stuff like fashion. Some folks have said that Schitt's Creek works because its stereotypes aren't mean and I think that may be part of why Downton Abbey also worked in that even the villains like Thomas and O'Brien were sympathetic. Or maybe it's the script, in both cases.

There will also be a chapter on place. Though Downton Abbey was mostly shot on location in southern England, the fictional setting is Yorkshire and local information comes up pretty regularly. Also, some outside scenes are actually shot in York, like when the Dowager goes to visit Kuragin. Or maybe it's CGI. According to the creators of Schitt's Creek in various interviews on YouTube, the location of Schitt's Creek is intentionally ambiguous, not specifically U.S. or Canada. The Roses did apparently live before in downstate New York or Long Island. The bicycles were discarded in the Hamptons. David asks if it looks like he shops on Canal Street. The aerial view of the house is not Manhattan but could be outer Queens. The only time that there is anything remotely specific about the location of Schitt's Creek is when Mutt and Tennessee are going on a trip "up the coast" to look for pine cones.

That said, it's probably more likely that I'll go around Schitt's Creek again unless I break down and somehow get access to Season 6 so I can have the resolution of all the situations and close the book.

03 April 2020

Piazza Cordusio, then and now

There's a wonderful photostream on Flickr with historic photos of Milan: Milàn l'era inscì Urbanfile  I'm not sure exactly what the name means and am guessing that it may be a regional dialect rather than mainstream Italian.

This photo has the caption "Via e Piazza Cordusio 1915-20" on Flickr. Piazza Cordusio is normally a busy space near the Castello Sforzesco and the Cadorna train station which provides a nice alternative to the central station when you're coming in from Malpensa airport, home to all kinds of shopping adventures and good restaurants. Very busy. It must be strange to be in Cordusio (as the neighborhood is called) at the moment of the coronavirus lockdown.

When I was in Milan in September 2018, a commercial "palazzo" around the plaza (formerly a post office) had just opened as the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Italy.
Six or seven streets come into the square, trolleys pass through, people wait for buses, tourists snap photos ... in normal times. Good memories.