Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
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got that wrong

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Like my brownhouse:
   the Barnes
Sunday, August 30 2009

setting: Queen Village, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Doug and Felicia's guestroom was on the east side of their loft apartment and at a certain point this morning the sun streaming in the window made the room feel like the sunny side of the planet Mercury. I put a pillow over my face, but then I worried that my exposed torso would be sunburned.
After many coffees, we set out on a foot to our lunch destination, a vegetarian deli called Govinda's Gourmet to Go. They had things like vegan Philly Cheese Steaks and chimichangas. We ate outside on the side of South Street, which smelled a little of rotting meat. My chimichanga looked like a burrito, but it had the blandness and textural problems common to burritos attempted on the East Coast.
Our next destination was the Barnes Foundation, that huge quirky collection of Post-Impressionist art, and because of its popularity we'd had to make an appointment for 2pm. Pressed for time, we caught a cab back to Doug and Felicia's apartment. From there we drove to the Barnes, which is in Merion (to Philadelphia's immediate northwest). It's in an especially fancy neighborhood of beautiful stone mansions and elaborate grounds (as opposed to yards). But no matter how rich you get, you're never satisfied. The discontent in the neighborhood these days comes from a court decision allowing the Barnes collection to move into downtown Philadelphia, a move that will surely have a negative effect on Merion property values.
Having always been interested in art history, I knew something about the Barnes collection, that the paintings were crammed together on the walls and arranged æsthetically, without regard to artist, style, or time period. I also remember something about the hinges and other bits of hardware scattered between the paintings. I didn't know that Albert C. Barnes was a doctor who had made a fortune on a silver-based antiseptic and cashed out just before the Great Depression, giving him the means to buy enormous amounts of anything he wanted at a time when few other people had money.
Knowing what I did know wasn't enough to prepare me for the exhibit itself, an overwhelming riot of context-free Post-Impressionism (mixed here and there with African and medieval art). Helpfully, most of the paintings were labeled on their frames according to artist (when known) or time period, but there was no story or cohesive organization other than Dr. Barnes' oddball sense of æsthetics.
The place was visually exhausting, a neutron star of brush strokes. I quickly tired of the overabundance of Renoirs (mostly plump, tanned blonde women lying about naked in the grass), though the Cezanne's landscapes made up for it. I was also struck by a number of artists I'd never heard of, such as Maurice Prendergast. And I saw nothing to dispel my dislike of the works of Matisse and Soutine.
After we emerged from the exhibit, the four of us went on a short walk around the arboretum, which was, by comparison, completely unremarkable. I took a bite of a crab apple and it was sour. We found ourselves wondering among ourselves how Barne's exhibit could ever be transplanted. Supposedly all the rooms will be duplicated exactly and all the art precisely arranged using Barnes' cluttered symmetry.

On the drive back to Queen Village, Felicia drove us through a part of West Philly, which, like South Philly and North Philly, is a showcase of urban decay. There were some beautiful turreted buildings on street corners, but they and the buildings around them had all fallen into a state of quasi-dilapidation, their roofs turned black from numerous desperate leak-stopping tar applications. But the residents were enjoying themselves nevertheless, sitting on their stoops and enjoying the sunny weather.
Gretchen and I would be heading back to Hurley tonight, but before we left, we went with Doug and Felicia to a wonderful natural grocery store near their place called Essene. We were there mostly to get food for the road, but Gretchen also used it as an opportunity to show Doug and Felica her favorite vegan products, particularly those that have come to replace conventional non-vegan staples such as cold cuts, milk, sour cream, and butter. Unfortunately there is no vegan cheese worth raving about yet, though technology is advancing rapidly.

The shortest route from Philadelphia to the Newburgh and points north passes through Princeton, New Jersey on Route 206. It being a Sunday, we thought it best to avoid the New Jersey Turnpike, which usually experiences gridlock at the slightest uptick in traffic. The only problem on our drive was the car's exhaust system, which was now making terrible sounds at around 2000 RPM, which is a common cruising engine speed. At some point I got out just to see where the sound was coming from and make sure nothing was in the process of falling off. I thought perhaps the screws had come loose connecting the muffler to the pipe immediately in front of it, but those screws all seemed tight.

Squat skyscrapers of Philly as we head north up to the Barnes Foundation.

Doug, Felicia, and Gretchen in the Barnes arboretum. I couldn't take pictures inside, of course.

A dilpadiated street corner in West Philadelphia.

More West Philadelphia.

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