This is why we can’t have nice things any more…

David Dunlap has a lovely and very sad article over at the New York Times about the imminent destruction of I. M. Pei’s Terminal 6 at Kennedy International. Dunlap’s last few paragraphs perfectly sum up the stupidity of what is happening.

George Cserna / Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

I flew National a bit during the 70s, while Keith and I were busy destabilizing pro-Batista groups in Florida. I was, even then, a seasoned traveler, but stepping inside that building was a joy, a moment that felt like movie-stardom, like the eye of the camera had followed me in through the doors and into a filmic new age, a shiny world peopled with pert stewardesses and loose boys in tight pants off to catch their big break and movie starlets and dapper-suited businessmen and, of course, the obligatory nuns. There were always nuns. They were usually lugging a guitar, although I did once see one with a tuba on a little trolley.

Everyone would check in early and then lounge around looking gorgeous, watching the earth and its luggage go by. And let me tell you, Pei’s Sundrome was where it was at. I once snuck a sneaky joint in a utilities closet with Truman Capote and Liberace – they dated for a while in the late 60s, and so the only thing thicker in there than the smoke was the cloud of bitchiness that oozed out of both of them. Another time, I wandered into the men’s bathroom by mistake and found out far more about Gore Vidal’s taste in rough trade than any woman needs to know. I swapped lipstick colors with Jackie Collins and had carnal knowledge of a young David Cassidy behind a plant holder. I watched Russian spies pass information to Arab sheiks, and once saw Walter Cronkite passed out in a pool of vomit on the stairs, with a party hat on his head and a funny whistle stuck in his mouth, so that every time he breathed he made a sad, warbling farting noise. The staff had discreetly covered him with a blanket and arranged a few “Do not disturb” signs around him. So considerate.

And yet, with all this, I never missed a flight, except the one time that Truman held an impromptu party airside in Departures that lasted for a week. I had been on my way to Florida to meet with Castro, and ended up being twelve hours late because I couldn’t pull myself away from Lady Bird Johnson’s stash of quite extraordinary coke. People were buying airplane tickets just to go to the damn party. I am told that someone managed to smuggle a small donkey through luggage inspection and Phyllis Schlafly spent several hours riding around on it, shouting “I am the Queen of the May” and flashing her boobs at everyone.

Castro – without the fake beard and therefore almost unrecognizable (he had been flitting in and out of Miami for years pimping his cigar export business) – wasn’t amused when I eventually showed up at Miami International, but I offered him some of Bird’s coke and he perked right up. Bird laughed herself silly when I told her later.

Good times.

Pei Cobb Freed and Partners

In his article, Dunlap quotes from a letter from Pei’s partner Henry N. Cobb to the CEO of JetBlue, and the response that Cobb received:

In January, Mr. Cobb made what he called a “last-minute plea for reversal of this death sentence” to David Barger, the president and chief executive of JetBlue. “Conserved and reanimated, the Terminal 6 pavilion would further strengthen the distinctive identity of JetBlue as a sponsor of design excellence and an effective advocate for a sustainable future,” Mr. Cobb wrote. “I. M. Pei joins me in thanking you for your consideration of this request.” (That’s as close as Mr. Pei would ever get to joining anything resembling a fray.)

Mr. Barger said in reply, “While I share your passion for classic terminal designs, I have concluded the time has passed for the pavilion building to serve any functional purpose.” Mr. Barger went on to express his gratitude to Pei Cobb Freed “for your influence on JetBlue’s first decade” and concluded:

I personally commit to advocate for a permanent display of the pavilion photographs and other architectural artifacts so future generations can continue to appreciate the beauty of Terminal 6 and the uniqueness it once brought to J.F.K.

George Cserna / Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University

Because a photo display and a chunk of ceiling stuck on the wall somewhere over a travelator between the toilets and the fucking Pandora store is clearly an adequate substitute for being able to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of Terminal 6 by actually visiting it. All those memories torn down, leaving us only memories.

What an arsehole you are, Mr Barger.

Whether Pei’s building makes your loins warm or not (and it makes mine feel positively frisky), destroying something so well made, so representative of a time in our history, should be unacceptable.

That JetBlue and its engineers and managers were unable (or unwilling) to come up with a way to retain this building, and construct the facilities they need around it and through it, betrays a shortsightedness that would make me nervous were I a JetBlue shareholder.

I hope (in vain, I suspect) that Mr Barger might wake up one morning and find Shame perched on the end of his bed, staring at him with fear and loathing in its eyes – a little like waking up next to Michele Bachmann – and he will feel the shame of knowing that he is, and was, a grey numbers man, a nothingness who always took the safe route and failed regardless, a little man who never had the balls to make a visionary decision.

Images: George Cserna / Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library Columbia University, and Pei Cobb Freed and Partners

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Delusions of Grandeur

One of my favorite bloggers, Lance Mannion, has up a lovely post about Andrew Sullivan.

I haven’t had a credit card for years, because I actually live like a fiscal conservative.

We’re sure you do, Andrew. But you know what else you live like?

A man with a six-figure income and no children.

Getting a little tired of being told by the well-to-do strolling down Park Avenue that the rest of us hoi polloi need to share in some more sacrifice and tighten our belts another notch.

Sullivan also thinks we need to raise the age of retirement. Again not advice we want to hear from someone who can go on vacation for weeks at a time seemingly whenever he wants and who has a job he can do and do well until he’s 90, if his health allows.

One of the things that drives us nuts about Sullivan is that it’s all so personal with him. I don’t mean he thinks it’s all about him. I mean that sometimes—a lot of times—he doesn’t seem able to imagine that not everybody in the United States is a gay ex-pat Brit living in Washington, D.C. whose big disappointment in life recently was being turned down for a mortgage on a second home.

Yeah. Sullivan didn’t get to buy a summer house in Provincetown. The heart heart bleeds.

Because Lance is a much nicer person than I am, his post doesn’t end there and it has some interesting ideas about why many of us keep reading Sullivan (despite Sullivan’s frequent wrongheadedness, weird man-crushes on people who would set him on fire if they could (Paul Ryan, anyone?), inexplicable belief that Margaret Thatcher was anything but a vile and termagant harridan who should have been murdered in a ditch with “Section 28” engraved on her forehead with a stanley knife, and the fact that when he goes on holiday he apparently turns his entire blog over to the tender mercies of a room full of particularly flatulent monkeys).

ETA: For the avoidance of doubt, I’m reposting my comment from the Balloon Juice thread:

I like Sullivan. I read his blog every day, and a lot of the time I find it fascinating and entertaining and thought provoking. On the issues he believes in, he is an effective and committed advocate.

Plus he sent a couple of thousand readers my way one day, for which I will always be grateful.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to point out that, with disappointing regularity, he comes across as an entitled dick.


The little things that keep me sane

I apologize that I’ve been quiet recently. There hasn’t been much posting because every time I sit at my computer and start to write, I have an overwhelming urge to repeatedly slam my face into my keyboard, and frankly ten pages of:

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does not make compelling reading (even if it is more coherent, incisive and factually-based than anything Megan McArdle has managed to write in the last ten years).

I’m going to try and get my mojo back with a post about things that have enabled me to survive a month in which it seemed like everyone in the world had turned into a raging dickhead except you and me (and honestly I was a little bit dubious about you and me).

First – geekery! A new Doctor Who trailer with lots of recycled stuff, but a few intriguing new glimpses of pyramiddy goodness.

I think I might be a little old for Matt Smith, but it would be nice to add a fourth Doctor’s notch to my bedpost. Anyway, you never know, he might be interested in a woman who’s almost as old as his character. Read the rest of this entry »


Why does Peggy Noonan hate America?

I adore plane travel.

I love the sheer improbability of nine hundred thousand pounds of steel, people and fuel flitting through the air like Nijinsky on a coke binge. I love the fact that there are beautiful women and handsome gay men whose sole function for eight hours is to bring Grammy more champagne. I love not having to elbow incontinent old people in the head in order to watch what I want on TV.

Most of all, I love the fact that I can have a nap and wake up in Amsterdam or Barcelona or Sydney or Rio de Janeiro. I’ve spent most of my life trying to travel to as many foreign places and meet as many foreign people as possible, even if I’ve had to hock my shoes to get there.

One of the other advantages of plane travel is that the enforced down-time waiting in airport terminals gives me a chance to browse around those corners of the internets I usually don’t get to. For example, the other day, while I was at LaGuardia waiting for Gloria’s plane to be refueled, I stumbled across an unusually coherent article by little Peggy Noonan.

I’m not suggesting it is a great article. After all, when Peggy writes, you’re usually just happy if the piece uses recognizable words and the smell of vodka doesn’t filter all the way down through the printing process and transpire off the page. However, I thought her conclusion was interesting, if only because it looks like Peggy has managed to stumble in the gutter and land on her hands and knees next to half a truth:

The whole world is in the Hilton, channel-surfing. The whole world is on the train, in the airport, judging what it sees, and likely, in some serious ways, finding us wanting. And, being human, they may be judging us with a small, extra edge of harshness for judging them and looking down on them. We have work to do at home, on our culture and in our country.

My real problem with Peggy’s conclusion is that the real situation is much worse than she thinks.

The world doesn’t look at America and find it wanting. The world looks at America and worries what the hell it is up to now.

Now before anyone accuses me of being an America-hating Limey immigrant bitch, let me hasten to add that I love this country with all my heart. Any nation that produced bourbon whiskey, blues music, the cheeseburger and George Clooney’s ass can’t be all bad.

Further, many (perhaps even most) Americans are fine, generous, inventive, kind people.

I’m also not suggesting that the rest of the world isn’t messed up as well. One look at the Italian Parliament or the Japanese film industry or the slums of Brazil or anything involving Steve and Bindi Irwin or the Wiggles would suggest that the rest of the world has enough of its own problems to be getting on with.

America is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, the refuge of the homeless and the tempest-tost, that more perfect union whose alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.

And yet, most of the time what the outside world sees is a nation of bloodthirsty war-mongers and religious dogmatists who think the way to world peace is more guns and more war, that democracy can be imposed at the end of a Gatling gun, and that drilling for oil, bringing on Armageddon or the fact that the indigenous population wears their handkerchiefs on their heads are legitimate reasons for invasion.

They read their papers and they read about a nation that went to war to throw off the shackles of a hereditary monarchy and then spent the next 200 years replacing it with the most dysfunctional political system this side of Pyongyang, a hereditary argentocracy in which the electoral prospects of a fat multiply-bankrupt television star with a triple combover can be seriously discussed, rather than being relegated to the funny pages.

They wonder at a nation that has the best medical system in the world in which 90% of the population can’t see a doctor without selling either a kidney or their oldest child into slavery – a nation that has the best education system in the world, and yet 72% of the population is so terminally incurious that it doesn’t have a passport and couldn’t find America on a map with a torch and a pointy red arrow marked “You are here”.

They deal with fat tourists from Texas in walk socks and flip-flops who travel overseas merely so they can shout at the locals in English in order to be understood and get directions to the Hard Rock cafe, and thereby avoid being exposed to anything remotely foreign while in a foreign land.

They fear America as a country of cultural imperialists, racists, Jesus freaks and Amway salesmen who want to turn the entire world into a sanitized theme park of sexless talking mice, big-eyed virgins, plastic cheese and expensive time-limited parking.

In the family reunion of nations, America is the crazy aunty with halitosis and a moustache who bails you up in the corner and tells you off because you need to lose weight and stop smoking, while all the while scoffing all the vol-au-vents and bogarting the joint.

America is a great nation. Americans rightly think so. The rest of the world rightly thinks so.

The real problem is that when much of America looks at itself all it sees is a great nation.

The rest of the world looks at America and, however much they may envy or love its wealth and its celebrity and its power, they see a great nation that is often demonstrably, certifiably fucking insane.

Grammy either needs a drink or to stop reading the newspapers. Probably both.

[Image from Artrenewal.org]