Saturday, May 13, 2006

"La Nostalgie du Chateau"...

Living in Los Angeles, a horizontally built city (as opposed to New York, a vertically built city), one wonders why the majority of private land was parceled in to such narrow lots, why so many homes in Southern California are essentially built right on top of each other, the way they are in many parts of Long Island or New Jersey or a thousand other places on the East Coast. There's nothing but space out here, as any trans-national flight will confirm. We don't have to be packt like sardines in a crushd tin box. Could this have anything to do with money? I wonder... As Steve Martin (Navin Johnson) says in "The Jerk" after a sudden epiphany, "Oh I get it, its a PROFIT deal..."

Of course there are a million reasons why this happens. Besides all the financial reasons, it habituates people to live in close proximity, to accept ugly housing developments and planned communities as reasonable living conditions. There is an order and an obedience that comes with such arrangements, and that makes for good, hardworking breadwinners and consumers. In short, good Americans. No time for questions or dissent when your neighbors just got a new Lexus. Back to the grind Mr. and Mrs. Duracell.

Are there just too many of us? I don't even mean that in an environmental sense. I mean it in a more selfish, human comfort sense. Are there too many of us blindly scrambling for some misplaced sense of existence?

In his 18 page letter to George Bush this week, the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, predicted the end of Western-style civilization noting that "[The West] has not been able to realize the ideals of humanity." Now I'm not going to get behind this guy, he seems like a loon, but this little point he makes might be one worth considering. I would argue that the West has pumped us so full of chemicals and confusion that we can hardly get our head above the treetops to consider such "lofty" notions as the ideals of humanity.

It may seem perverse, even feudal, but big sprawling estates with well-appointed mansions (such as Old Westbury Gardens, seen below) make me happy. At these places, I can engage fantasies of a less populated and frenetic world where benevolent land owners manage and sustain small, diverse communities on large pieces of property with organic farms and beautiful homes. In the fantasy, a radically depopulated US puts a moratorium on the technological revolution, our global policing, our urban sprawl, and rabid consumermania. I'm not talking about becoming the Waltons here. I'm imagining a modern embodiment of an Acadian ideal, taking the information and technology we have, and using these tools to improve the way we live on earth. Let's move away from the office parks and return to the land, the home, and our essential beings. In the fantasy, there is a subtle rekindling of innocence, a gradual re-virgination of the American experience, if you will, where our identity is not based on assholish and alienating national policies, but instead comes from a localized behavior we not only understand but can have some say in.

Despite the magnificent architecture, we didn't get it right in the past. Wealthy landlords were either corrupt or too involved in their businesses to sustain their mega-homes and the communities around them. We can try again though, even if they (and a tax hungry governement) pullled the rug out from their magnificent dining room tables.

I got a big house and it sits up on a hill
I got a big house and it sits up on a hill
It's dark just like a cave
Cause I could not pay the bill...


Anonymous brian said...

I only aspire to the Los Angeles hills in Joni
Mitchell's mind....a room full of Chippendale
that nobody sits in. Luxe.

"He bought her a diamond for her throat
He put her in a ranch house on a hill
She could see the valley barbecues
From her window sill
See the blue pools in the squinting sun
Hear the hissing of summer lawns...."

Sorry to say but to me, Old Westbury is a Montovani
backdrop for glistening strings and gauzy photography. Like the last scene of Burnt Offerings.....

2:24 PM  
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Blogger conniebixmonk said...

I've been looking for the source of that phrase--nostalgie du chateau--for years now. Where is it taken from and what does it mean?

9:21 PM  

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