We had the privilige of getting away over Memorial Day. We stayed at this amazing little place called Big Bear Lodge. There’s lots of stuff I could write about this little get away. But the thing that’s on my mind right now is architecture.
I took a little hike early Monday morning. And I stood at a place that I could see two buildings. These two buildings stood in contrast to each other. I looked at them and I thought there was a difference bigger than aesthetics. If they weren’t represenations of utterly different world views, they were atleast symbolic of different world views.
The first building was this quaint little tourist-town/shopping center thing. It was a C-shaped two story building. It was white. I don’t know exactly what “White Wash” is, but somehow this place brought Tom Sawyer’s White Washing to mind.
Their was this balcony-catwalk kind of thing that ran infront of the buildings on the second floor. Each of the corners of the place had these spiral stair case which were home to countless orioles and cardinals. (I think they were orioles and cardinals, any way. I’m not so great at bird identification.) There was candy shops and bike rental places, a pizza place around, an ice skating rink, a coffee shop, and most fittingly, a gallery dedicated to the writer/artist of the curious George books. This was so perfect. It was exactly the sort-of place that curious George seemed to belong, leaping on the balconies and tormenting the poor guy in the yellow hat.
The whole place overlooked a presumably man made lake. Of course, paddle boats were available for rent there.
This whole thing was only slightly bigger than the structure which stood perhaps 100 yards away. This place was solid, rectangular, and closed off. It was a hotel, I guess. But it’s intended use wasn’t what made it so different.
This place was painted all the colors of the forest. Dark greens and browns and greys. The multi-colored roof shingles blurred together like those high-tech mosiacs; it created a camaflauging effect. The place was somber, almost castle-like. It wouldn’t have taken much in the way of alterations to turn it into a good setting for a Gothic novel, home to a brooding, haunted rich dude who just need the new nanny to break through his bestial side.
It occured to me that when we build anything, maybe even when we do anything, we have an important question to answer. That question is:
“Will I harmonize with what is around me? Or will I build something which stands wide and apart from the natural order?”
I think formulating the question this way kind-of begs the question. In fact, in this case, I much preferred the white, unnatural little tourist trap. There is a different way of asking the same question. I think it tends to prejudice us in the opposite direction:
“Will I work at being uniquely human? Or will I accept the premise that we can’t escape the way things have always been?”
This question gets to the heart of so many of our stories, particularly ones out of the Gothic and Romantic traditions. Beauty and The Beast is a sort-of modernized, dumbed down version… I’m not saying that all this is good, but in some way, it seems like even the modern cheesy romance novels, even Soap Operas, they are still grappling with this question.
The subtext is that men are somehow in the grasp of their animalistic nature. Men are like the dark, brooding hotel: they are a part of the nature, left to their own devices they can not rise above it. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it’s because we’re seen as more sexualized than women. Perhaps men have perpetrated the myth because it allows us to justify abusive behavior. Perhaps women, who have been historically powerless in many ways, grab on to the idea naturally that they have this ultimate power of redemption.
Wherever this idea comes from, over and over again, the motif of the Belle character (is it an accident that her name means beauty?) comes in to save the man from his own darkness. This darkness inevitably is the form of being animalistic, wild, natural. (Is it an accident that his name is The Beast.)
There is danger here. There is danger in thinking that we can save each other under our own power. There is danger in thinking we ought to embrace the way things naturally are in this world. There is danger in thinking that a white coat of paint and an open-air courtyard are enough to overcome the way things naturally are, too.