Friday, May 27, 2005

Dirty Old Town

It's been said that a young person from a small town will fall hopelessly in love with the first big city they live in. For me, that city was London. I fell so madly in love with London that I ended up extending a 3-month work visa to a 6-month work visa to a 3-year somewhat unauthorized stay. Even today, when I return (as often as I can), my good friends there will greet me with "Welcome Home." London is my favorite city on earth. It's not as exquisite as Paris or as frantically optimistic as New York or as magical as Florence or as romantic as Istanbul, and although I know the Pogues version of Dirty Old Town is supposed to be about Dublin, in my mind it's always been about London, yet, at some point during each visit to London, usually when I have a moment to myself, I'll realize that I'm as content and at peace with the world as I'll ever be. London flat out makes me happy.

And so I was somewhat taken aback when I read this paragraph in Holland Cotter's review (titled "That Exotic, Deceptive London Smog") of the Brooklyn Museum exhibition, "Monet's London: Artists' Reflections on the Thames, 1859-1914," in
The New York Times this morning:

Monet made the world look wildly, paradisically pretty at a time when it was anything but. He turned the eradicating grind and dishevelment of the industrial era into a lyrical music, bathing smokestacks and haystacks alike in a symphonic gauze of color and light. By painting an anti-Romantic reality in a Romantic way, he let his middle-class audience, the new art audience, have its illusions, and we continue to reward him with our loyal attention.
Of course London in Monet's day was much dirtier than London in my day (although I still swear I blew a good kilo of Northern Line soot out of my nose daily and could not keep my fingernails clean even when working in an office while living there), but I think Mr. Cotter overstates his case significantly. London was not pretty when I lived there either. But it was beautiful.

But I should back up. The small town I grew up in is part of what's called the Rust Belt, a string of communities in the North Eastern US that once thrived but that have fallen on hard economic times because many of the steel mills and automotive plants there closed. Chained factory doors, crumbling smokestacks, railroad lines overgrown with weeds, boarded-up shop windows with layers of sun-baked torn posters...these were the hallmarks of the landscapes there (still are for the most part). And so the art students in the region developed a sophisticated appreciation for the aesthetic of decay. I still marvel at the palette of a rusting bridge beam or an evening sky turned blood red by the release at the remaining local mill. There is beauty in the jumbled rhythm of brick buildings and falling pipes and chimneys for me. Layers of torn and faded posters are as compelling as any Richter.

London was gritty, sure, but for me lyrically so. It was a symphony of brick and stone and soot and damp cold woolen coats and wet littered sidewalks jaggedly reflecting lights from the kebab shop windows or passing bus. I don't think Monet was necessarily trying to decieve anyone. I believe he may have seen the same London I see and loved it too.

5 Comments:

Anonymous crionna said...

London, yet, at some point during each visit to London, usually when I have a moment to myself, I'll realize that I'm as content and at peace with the world as I'll ever be. London flat out makes me happy.

So, is it the art scene that has you in NYC or is it Bambino?

5/27/2005 06:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's a serious disagreement between me and Her Majesty's government as to whether how much I like London should grant me residency priviledges.

5/27/2005 07:47:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Well then, humph, they don't deserve you. Glad you're here.

5/28/2005 03:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Dirty old town' is actually about Salford, Lancashire (Manchester)

10/18/2008 05:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Yeah, its about Salford and written by Ewan McColl, born there and of Scottish parents.

most people think its about Dublin cos of the Pogues cover version.

4/21/2009 02:49:00 PM  

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