Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lift Up Thine Eyes!

You see it all the time in Europe, but too rarely here, roofs and porch tops lined with tubs and pots, all dripping with greens and flowers to soften the building edges. 

Plenty of our office buildings could use such treatment.

There's a large and boring red brick office building on Capitol Hill that happens to have a fourth floor balcony that runs rectangularly across the front. Its only decoration is a flag hoisted at one corner, that gives a jaunty billow whenever there's a breeze. But when there's a breeze here it's generally accompanied by rain, or a soon to be rain, so the potential observer is most likely jaunting off for cover.

I notice the flag perhaps twice a year, though I pass it most every day.

This is the first time I've ever thought about it, I think. Certainly it's the first time I've ever written about it--or, for that matter, the building, which, to move this right along, would look lovely with boxes along the edge of the balcony, spewing a profusion of something, anything, green.

And maybe a flower or two?

I wouldn't mind geraniums under normal circumstances, but since I think there's something military installed in these offices there's a danger that they'd be planted in rigid rows--and they're rather prone to enjoying rigidity, geraniums are. They're not naturally subversive, like pansies and petunias, which flop and flutter about in happy chaos.

I am abruptly reminded of an event that I arranged some years ago (in my then role as director of the local business association)  at the Marine Barracks, a stately enclave at 8th and I Streets, SE that is the oldest post in the corps and the home of the Marine Commandant. 

There's rather a large hall on the property and the Marines allowed the business people of Capitol Hill to borrow it for a cocktail party--part of some community outreach effort of theirs.

Such efforts, which occur sporadically, are reminiscent of the Jehovah's Witnesses and how they sometimes proselytize and other times they don't and if one needs to be among them (for a funeral or something) you never know what they'll do so one has to stay braced.

Similarly, the Marines sometimes warmly welcome their neighbors. At other times they glare and grip their guns as you slink past on your way to the shoe repair shop.

Anyway, this was a benign period, and for the cocktail party I was issued a select crop of Marines to order about. Fun! So I set them to collecting folding chairs and instructed them to sprinkle the chairs around the room so that the old and feeble among our merchants could rest a spell...

Meanwhile, I went off to check on the victuals.

Returning to the room a short time later I found the chairs arranged in ten rigid rows of twenty across with an aisle running down the center. My Marines stood at attention, awaiting my approval.

"No no," I said, "casual...like so," and I took a few chairs and pulled them off to the sides of the room, setting them in a messy little enclave.

And I went off to deal with the flowers.

Returning to the room a short while later I observed that we had some very precise pods lining the walls. And my Marines were staring at me a little fearfully. Fun!    

But I was quite gracious and thanked them and dismissed them and then messed it all up quite artfully.

And this is why--if the military is at all involved--it would not be a good idea to plant geraniums in the boxes, should there ever be boxes, along the ledge of the terrace of that building on the Hill.

But look at how wonderful the idea is when properly interpreted. The first three photos here were taken in Old Town, Alexandria. Note the tangle of plants above the shop windows, filling that homely space that would otherwise be occupied solely and boringly by a roof.  

The third photo is of Decorum, a home furnishings shop near the harbor where nearly everything is joyfully, effervescently fake.

Unlike craft shops, like Michael's, where souls known as "crafters" knit their brows and studiously buy fake things to create other fake things, and are clearly very serious about it all -- the fake things at Decorum are fabulously unserious and swoonfully embellished with little lights and other twinkly bits that appear to be tossed on without dwelling and mulling and hair pulling and other exertions.

Tell me, I interrupt myself. Does one HAVE to be gay to properly accomplish this?

The only photo example here that is -- possibly-- not gay is Paolo's, in Georgetown. And I only question it because of the slight bowing of the planters just above the awning and a hint of skimpiness in the window boxes.  

I suppose I could call and say, "Hullo? Is your owner gay?"

I'd  be concerned that this might be taken the wrong way, however, and with caller i.d. I might be in trouble. 

But I mean it in the most flattering way. It is the rare straight person that can accomplish this state of divine dishabille.

After too many years of trying, my efforts are about 85% there. But when I get to that last push I become enervated and require a hot bubble bath.

Which, come to think of it, is what also happens when I write.

Like now.

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