meloni bologna

November 16th, 2010

Fill Your Soul at Phillie’s

Posted by meloni in Uncategorized

Edward Hopper’s famous painting Nighthawks (1942) embodies a mystery that can only be expressed by the decade of the 40s. Phillie’s, in the painting, is “the place you go where everybody knows your name”, even if everybody’s name is “Mac” and “Sweetheart”; it is the corner diner that breeds familiarity and safety even to strangers, a warm welcoming haven of comfort in a hard, dark, mysterious world. In a world of creeping, enveloping darkness, Phillie’s fluorescence stands as a warding beacon; a place where it’s okay to turn your back, take a rest, and stare into your steaming cup of coffee. And why wouldn’t Phillie be behind the counter, welcoming those city-hardened, street-smart Nighthawks with an arched eyebrow and a simple, “What can I do ya for?” And many come, whether it be for that cup of coffee, or to merely revel in a place where a moment of indecision is a shared concern. Phillie is the great human connector, as important as the bartender in the local pub, there to sweep up the worries and sighs that his patrons shrug off with their hats and coats, if they so choose. He’s as hard as he is sympathetic – the perfect figure to intimidate the troubles of the outside world, and take on the burdens of the Nighthawks. Inside Phillie’s is as welcoming as it is selfish; it gathers up the light and withholds it from the concrete jungle just outside its glass encasement, casting the desolate streets surrounding it in shades of emptiness with a lurking uncertainty, a slight feeling of never knowing who might be in the next doorway, or what might lay just around the corner. Phillie’s stands as the bright, solitary streetlamp, illuminating its visitor’s world for a brief instant of space and time, and the rest falling beyond its control.

And why wouldn’t Hopper want to convey this complex feeling and emotion in all of the rigid lines and vibrant colors with which a canvas can shine? Why not visually represent a fleeting feeling that is even harder to capture in words than it is in thought, more complex in its physicality than in the abstract. In the great, unending machine of the city, a place of human connection is no small treasure. How long can one wander around the streets of Manhattan before they have a conversation? No small town, no small-talk. Phillie’s becomes the place of haven, night or day, a shining brightness beckoning the lone city traveler to come, take a load off, take a mind off, and just be. Truly occupy the space a body can fill, and truly experience the connection of a human bond, no matter how brief or superficial.

November 9th, 2010

Bridged Together All Around the World

Posted by meloni in Uncategorized

I’d like to think that my writing about Fitzgerald’s descriptions certain backgrounds in his novel has nothing to do with my growing up in Astoria…but maybe it does. Fitzgerald writes about the city – the florescent building lights, the mounting skylines, the interminable blinking of life as it comes and goes through the concrete jungle – as one of the most beautiful and mysterious aspects of human life. “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world” (73). Having driven over this same bridge and witnessed the same sight countless times, I cannot deny the accuracy of Fitzgerald’s description.

These aspects of city life – the beauty, chaos, and mystery of and around these concrete symbols – seem to be not only a component of larger culture, but also of technological culture. Without the knowledge necessary to build and design cities, these centers of trade and transit would cease to exist. Without technology, human beings would have been without the means to physically create Manhattan, London, Paris, Rome, Chicago, Tokyo, and San Francisco. Bridges would not connect land masses, and communication and transportation would be primitive. The city – the cultural rise of the technology encompassed in a city center – has given birth to much of the human accomplishment we boast of today. Corporations rose, businessmen made names for themselves, immigrants slaved away at menial jobs to support families (if only to be able to boast that they could take care of their families), monuments dedicated to the historically significant were erected, and institutions of cultural art and preservation bloomed – the MET, MOMA, the Museum of Natural History, the Luve, Big Ben, Sears Tower, Golden Gate Park, Central Park, the Japanese Tea Garden, Piazza Navona, la Basilica di San Pietro, la fontana di Trevi, and on and on and on. The rich, poor, educated, ignorant, hopeful, successful, down-trodden, and more pack these stone playgrounds – make unique their mark upon the world, and fill the atmosphere with emotion and life. It is precisely this erratic, hectic and diverse lifestyle that led to the creation of Gatsby’s other backdrop: the suburbs.

East Egg. West Egg. The fashionable and the rich sought out a place for the elite – an area they could rule over, claim as their own, and descend to the city only when necessary; but even in their haven they separated themselves by heirarchy, “…West Egg, the – well, the less fashionable of the two” as compared to “Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water…” (9-10). This distinction – arguably this additional technology of discrimination – could not have arisen without first the technology of architecture and design. Without roads, skyscrapers, tenements, lofts, highways, bridges and aqueducts, the class which exists in Gatsby’s novel could never have evolved, could never have boasted their own superiority and advancement for having lived in the bustling centers of culture and knowledge, “I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford …” (69), and “‘After that I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe – Paris, Venice, Rome – collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only…” (70), because there would never have been these places for them to flock to. It seems to me that the juxtaposition of these two backgrounds has everything to do with Fitzgerald’s novel, and ultimately gives birth to the types of characters he is able to create. His characters lives become symbols of the effects of technology on the genesis of a new way of living and a new culture – specifically how the technology of the cityscape gave birth to an even more clearly defined heirarchy, economy, and climate of social relations.

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