A Time

All cities are decaying cities, with bits of them falling apart and sections that are doing worse than others. It just seems that Cleveland is more of a decaying city than not. University Circle has worse roads than before, though there’s construction there. That circle is the part of the city that continues serene: its clinic, its university, its halls and museums, its parks and ponds. It is a good few miles from downtown which looks to be more or less in full prosperity. They’re building modern looking stuff to juxtapose with the dignified architecture they already have in that venerable University Circle and the few scattered outrages since the respectable age of building. The parasites of pretension seem to be coming there to live, for the new buildings appear to be of residential function.

One wonders in it all: how much of the decaying and renewing is the part one goes by? How does one know whether to feel it is good or bad? The roads are terrible in Cleveland, appalling, as bad as Bogotá, if better planned. There are so many roads stretching over this country, and these metropolitan areas where they’re concentrated into knots. And the winter comes and ravages them, and the tax base moves away stranding the city with the bills for its crumbling pavements. Our Columbus now is growing down in the old areas where the gangs were finally evacuated. It is renewing itself where the old buildings are, and building new ones, and vibrating till the early hours, I understand. And what will come of that?

It makes one think of the ruins in Ireland. You passed enormous stone structures where once life must have hummed quite loudly, and now they’re in a field by the way. Human life ebbs and flows about, and there’s no telling where it will last and where it will flourish next.

At least for now we still have classical music in some great, old venues: that does not seem to have yet ebbed away, and there are many many people playing and competing and making lives of it. We heard the Cleveland Orchestra with Osmo Vanska there. They did Grieg and two Finns, one of which was Sibelius and the other a post-Sibelius chap who decided to go tonal after everybody else did not. One can’t help feeling, in Severance Hall, how much nicer of a building it is than, say, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. I’ve head the acoustics of Orchestra Hall are great, and I have not heard of those of Severance Hall nor can I judge. The sound of the concert was splendid from the extreme right side on the top shelf. I did see a blind girl on the steps on the way out, and I wonder if she might not be better off in Minneapolis. At least she wouldn’t be missing the splendor of the building every time.

I was in the museum at the hour of opening and in the remoter galleries listened for over half an hour to a man vacuuming an elegant old couch. I could have wished I were deaf since it was all there was to hear, but it was better than the ominous sounds of crowds of schoolkids in the lower portions. I listened to the various sounds made in those windowless spaces by air that humans for various reasons have artificially to conduct from here to there in quantities or in a rush. When I passed through where the couch was receiving such infinite attention, I saw the brush attached to the end of that vacuum: it had the look of something that will one day be on display itself.

Those kinds of jobs are there, you know: the preservers of ancient cloth and upholstery, the polishers of the silver and the gold, the dusters of the china, and those who clean the fine museum floors. I wonder what a world is there for people who love art and get into that field and have to jostle with the people who on a daily basis dress the way you see people there doing. There’s a lot of money and luxury and taking oneself seriously no doubt in the offices where the decisions are made to wedge a spectacularly unusual building with grass on the roof into those serene surroundings.

We had a good bed and breakfast, very warm weather, a bad Italian restaurant, good times in the museum and concert hall, good parking throughout this time, the worst roads ever, and some decent coffee at least once. We listened to That Hideous Strength as the car thrummed over the spinning miles of roads this country affords us, and it is a fine thing to have, that book–what hours of happiness and reflection it has enriched my life with. And we drove through torrential rain that brings traffic to a standstill in other countries, and never dropped below the speed limit till forced to by construction.

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