Thursday, May 28, 2009

Boston 2.6.92: Decaying Mansions and the Puritan Conscience

At Chuck F.’s now, in Boston, on a very posh street full of forlorn old mansions, but many of them still lived in by wealthy families. Something New England about it all: big late-nineteenth century mansions surrounded by hedges of lilac and yew extending to the sidewalk, which is brick, and none well-tended. The yards full of such oddities as a car with tiny plastic statues pasted in designs all over it: the ostentation of culture, of the preeminence of thought and conscience over such vain fripperies as mere beauty and decorum. The Puritan conscience, vivante encore.

Chuck lives in an old mansion now badly hacked up into apartments, but betraying its glorious origins, a dark cavernous butler’s pantry now a kitchen here, an inbuilt marble pastry board there, carved mantles everywhere.

What all this makes me think of is not the abuse of our buildings, but of our people—the rabbiting of students into warrens of human making, so that (in the case of Chuck’s house) a psychiatrist couple can have a loft apartment in Manhattan, while umpteen students occupy the rooms of their much-neglected mansion in Boston, paying big bucks to do so, racking up debts, and working at exploitative service-sector jobs to make ends meet.

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