The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

ART TOURISM: With the deepest possible apologies to Jane Austen, whose work I am about to shamelessly plagiarize and mutilate, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a small and altogether provincial American city in the first decade of the twenty-first century must be in want of an art museum. Not just any art museum, mind you, not a proper art museum where you can sit and admire portraits of Elvis Presley painted in Day-Glo orange on black velvet while enjoying a peanut butter and banana sandwich, the King’s favorite repast, or see a reproduction of El Greco’s The Burial of Count Orgaz crafted from week old cold cuts and dyed Lima beans, but a real live no two ways about it art museum chock full of art so modern no one in a twenty mile radius of the museum could explain what the hell the exhibits were all about if you held a gun to their televisions and threatened to shoot the sets just before kickoff time on Sunday afternoon.

This sad fate has befallen our happy little burg. We are now the proud possessors of an art museum dedicated to modern American art of the last half of the twentieth century and the museum’s presence in our midst has turned our once hardscrabble (a favorite adjective for journalists describing us) little town into a magnet community. Yes, today we are drawing the struggling artists away from their natural stomping grounds in the great metropolis to the south of us and luring them into the offices of local realtors, where they finally eschew the joys of paying extortionate rents for studio and living space and become property owners in their own right. After lifetimes spent shocking the bourgeoisie, of offending the materialistic ethos of American civilization and damning the pitiful place of the artist in that civilization, the art world’s avant-garde are now paying off thirty-year fixed rate mortgages and complaining about school taxes, just like their parents did. I’ll bet they didn’t see that one coming down the pike, not by a long shot.

The sudden cachet of local real estate and the opening of the art museum are now matters of some interest in the metropolis, now that the nation’s newspaper of record has taken an interest in what goes on here. After reports in the arts and real estate sections about our happy little burg, tourists now spend their weekends and their money here, visiting the museum and buying antiques on Main Street. You wouldn’t think that a small American city could base its economy on selling grandma’s old furniture and art no one understands, but you would be wrong. And herein lies the point of this screed, if something so diffuse can have a point at all. To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington, the railroad, and we are only two hours away from the metropolis by train; the Duke didn’t actually mention the part about being two hours away by train, but I’m sure you knew that already; will only serve to encourage the upper classes to move about needlessly. Most of these people are very nice, I suppose, but I do wish they weren’t such dolts.

You can always spot the voyagers from the metropolis as they wander the highways and byways of our town. One sees them wandering up and down Main Street with their brochures clutched tightly in their hands, sometimes huddled in small groups as they concentrate on a map in order to divine the presence of an antiques store. The truly lost tourist sometimes waylays a hapless local to ask where that little antiques shop they saw in the paper is and usually gets the same answer: it’s on Main Street. We’ve only got one so if you didn’t see it you missed it, lady. In a purely personal aside here, please don’t ask me where to get something to eat. Look around you. Half of Main Street makes its living selling lunch to the other half. Food is easy to come by here.

And someone at the county tourist board ought to include this little tidbit of information in the local tourist brochures: look both ways before crossing the street. This information might limit the number of near misses we are now experiencing. A motorist cannot drive from one end of Main Street to the other on the second Saturday of the month, the second Saturday being the local arts and antiques scene’s equivalent of a fire sale, without someone jamming on their brakes to avoid smearing some metropolitan dullard all over the street. At this rate very soon one of these people will be caught dead in a town they otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead in.

These people would never act this way in the metropolis, a place where Charles Darwin wrote the rules governing the relationship between motorist and pedestrian. There, in the depths of the asphalt jungle, these pedestrians are wise and canny, made so by the remorseless evolutionary struggle that has thinned the herd of the weak, the ill, and the none too bright that couldn’t get civil service jobs. Here, however, they wander senselessly about like a duck hit over the head with a two by four.

It’s the trees, I think. In the city, trees grow in parks, or in designated areas of the sidewalk where they can serve as easily accessible canine pissoirs. The parks department usually does not take kindly to such abuse and sometimes surrounds the helpless tree with chicken wire, forcing the desperate canine population to move on to the nearest fire hydrant. A denizen of the metropolis might say that this shows the municipal solons’ deep concern for arboreal culture. To which I say, without fear of contradiction, codswallop and balderdash. There isn’t a tree in the city that does not depend on some bureaucrat’s permission for its existence. Trees exist to provide shade and some sort of limited natural experience for the urbanized masses. City trees must, in short, justify themselves, they must have a purpose deemed worthy by some pasty-faced bureaucratic wretch, or face the chainsaw.

Trees here are just trees. There are thousands of them in this vicinity; in fact, there are probably more trees than people within the city limits. We also have a mountain covered with trees, said mountain being a real mountain formed millions of years ago, unlike the highest mountain in the metropolis, which is a glorified, but very nicely landscaped, I should say, mound of garbage.

Faced with the intense greenery, the wary urban pedestrian forgets the cunning that has kept him alive to this point; this, after all, is the much heralded country that they’ve heard about all of their lives, the home of bucolic Jeffersonian yeomen, the tillers of the broad American earth, the very backbone of American civilization, the bulwark of the Great Republic, and at this time and in this place, they can cross the street without looking both ways. After all, photosynthesis is going on everywhere you look. How could anything bad happen here? Hooey and more hooey. This is not a good idea, people, trust me on this one. These people are wandering into the public thoroughfares in a place where two people in a car counts as mass transit. We do everything in our cars here because everyplace we need to go is five miles away from where we are now. I suppose we could walk that distance, and most of us could certainly use the exercise, but except for Main Street and one or two other streets we don’t have any sidewalks to walk on. Since walking on the side of the highway is hazardous to our health, we’ll just skip it and take the car instead. We’ll keep an eye out for the tourists, though; we’ve already got enough road kill lining the streets here, and besides, we need their money.


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