The Destination Is The Destination 

One rule of polite society which I learned long ago is that, as a general rule of thumb, no one really cares to hear all of the details about your vacation. They want to know that you suffered no mishaps, and that you enjoyed yourself. And of course it’s helpful to have a very quick story or two ready, tailored to the person with whom you are discussing your trip, but that’s about it. So for those of you who were interested enough to follow my Instagram while I was on vacation – and most of my pics were of food rather than sightseeing activities – but not much besides, you may want to leave off reading at this point.

Otherwise, if you care to continue, I want to make just a few observations about travel more generally. For I hate to travel, as it happens, even though I must make the journey to get to where I want to go. My aversion perhaps has something to do with rejecting the old cliché about the journey being the destination, which is often adopted by those who have only a sense of the now and not the later. While I’m certainly interested in how you make the pudding, with all due respect to the cook I’m even more interested in actually eating it.

Part of my aversion to travel is the horror of traveling with other people who, in the present day, largely seem to view this shared activity as a forum for the indulgence of every kind of barbaric form of public behavior imaginable. But for the fact that some authority might still fine them for doing so, I would not be surprised to see the undulating, semi-naked, unkempt travelers who populate most airports and train stations today not bothering to go to the loo at all, but simply relieving themselves in their seats because they are too lazy to stop watching their phones. In that sense, “WALL-E” is, one suspects, a rather prescient film.

There’s also nothing like spending 7 hours in a flying aluminum tube, sharing your row with a couple of bitter Baby Boomers dressed as though they had rolled out of bed a few minutes before. In this case, Mr. and Mrs. Lemon, as I’ll call them, were a very dissatisfied pair indeed. They did nothing but bicker and complain throughout the flight, about things such as the temperature of the meal – which was perfectly fine – or why the covers on the pillows were not soft enough, or why the in-flight Starbucks isn’t as good as that in whatever putrid corner of Manhattan they happen to live in. Thank goodness for the extra gin in premium cattle class.

But let us not put all the blame on travelers, here, for we can’t forget that the people who control the procedural aspects of that journey are often part of the problem. Take travel on the AVE, for example. The AVE runs on the fastest and most extensive high-speed train network in Europe, knitting the major cities of the Iberian Peninsula together at speeds over 300km an hour and connecting them to the rest of Europe via high-speed French rail. The train is a great pleasure to ride, at least on the line I know between Barcelona and Madrid, for in under 3 hours, you can see everything from mountains to deserts, forests to vineyards, sprawling settlements to abandoned castles, from the comfort of wide leather seats with plenty of legroom – and that’s in tourist class.

That being said, it can be difficult to enjoy that journey when you can’t even get the journey started properly thanks to those charged with making it happen demonstrating the kind of gross incompetence that one expects at the Department of Motor Vehicles or The Prado Museum. At the train platform, I was told to go to a particular car, even though my ticket said I was to go to a different numbered car. I was then told on board by another person that this car was incorrect, and that I was to go back to the person who had told me to go there. Said person then told to go back to the same car, and tired of lugging my massive luggage and somewhat large self back and forth I sat down.

I was then told by someone else to leave that car, and to return to the same individual with whom I had started, and was told that no, now I had to go to another car all the way at the back of the next train. Not only had she neglected to explain this previously – twice – this detail was at all clear either from my ticket, or from the numbering of the cars themselves, which were not in ascending or descending chronological order. Bearing in mind that my grasp of Spanish is, while not perfect, at least close enough to native that no one ever addresses me in English when I’m in Spain, you can understand why I suspect, without being 100% sure, that the fault was probably not mine in this instance.

Despite all of the forgoing of course – and these are but two examples – I had a great time, and will likely be going back again in December/January. I’m doing so because, despite what conventional wisdom tells us, the journey really isn’t as important as the destination. I’m traveling not because I want to travel aimlessly. I’m traveling because I have a goal or destination in mind: being where I want to be. There are many things that can and should be learned from the journey itself, via reflection, experiences, and conversations, and I certainly have done so over the years. But the point of traveling is that I want my coffee at my favorite café in Barcelona, more than I want to flip through the in-flight magazine and come across an  interesting article.

You’re certainly welcome to dismiss me for being too rigid or too goal-oriented. But if you want to sit and complain about your corns coming on from how long the corridors are, or whine to your fellow passengers about how the WiFi on board wasn’t as good as what you have at home, you’ll be doing that without me. I’ll be making a bee-line for the exit, and my cab to downtown.

Seeing DC: Summer Architectural Tours Of The Capital With NCAS

I’m heading off on vacation to Spain today, so blog posts may be sporadic, but you can check my progress by visiting my Instagram page

In the meantime, I wanted to share this opportunity for seeing some of the interesting architecture of Washington DC metropolitan region, if you happen to find yourself in the Nation’s Capital this summer. The National Civic Art Society will be taking a look at a range of styles and subjects, from the British colonial past, to the Founding Fathers, to the horrors of Brutalist architecture. Definitely worth checking out or sharing with someone you know!

National Civic Art Society 2017

“Our Classical Heritage” Tours of D.C.

The National Civic Art Society is proud to announce the launch of our 2017 “Our Classical Heritage” walking tours. These tours are fashioned for those who wish a greater understanding of why and how the District of Columbia came to be a classically designed city. You will learn of the ancient antecedents of our political philosophies, of the stylistic precedents of our architectural forms, and of the Founders’ classical vision.

About the tour guide: Michael Curtis studied classical architecture at the University of Michigan, and painting, sculpture, and engraving in Florence, Italy. He has been a sculptor for more than 25 years. Major commissions include The History of Texas at the Texas Rangers Ball Park in Arlington, Texas, the largest American frieze produced in the 20th Century, as well as portrait busts for the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Thurgood Marshall Building, and many other public venues. His specialty is portraiture and fine medals. His book Our Classical Heritage: A Guide to the Political Philosophy and Aesthetic Precedent of Washington, the District of Columbia, will be published in fall 2017.

Tours are limited to three hours in length and begin at 10 AM at the location indicated. The cost per tour is $10. NCAS members, students, interns, and Hill staffers may obtain free tickets by e-mailing info@civicart.org. You must RSVP in advance. If you have any questions, please e-mail info@civicart.org or call (202) 670-1776.

Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/our-classical-heritage-national-civic-art-society-walking-tours-tickets-34436469407

Tour I: Washington, the Classical City — June 3

The ancient cause of liberty; the immediate reason for independence; the classical principle of our convictions; the aesthetic model of a civil society.

The National Mall, from the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument

The Jefferson Memorial

Meet at the southeast corner of Constitution Ave. NW and 17th St. NW.

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Tour II: National, Political, and Personal Liberty — June 10

The various aspects of liberty considered in exemplary statues.

Lafayette Park, Lafayette Statue, et alia

Alexander Hamilton Statue

The National Liberty Memorial

Meet at the entrance of Teaism at 800 Connecticut Ave NW.

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Tour III: Freedom and Sacrifice — June 17

A consideration of freedom, sacrifice, and the architectural style best suited to remembrance.

Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam War Veterans Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The National WWII Memorial

Meet at the west end of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool.

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Tour IV: Brutal Mistakes — June 24

Hubris and progressive misdirection; gradual abdication of citizen responsibility for morals and art; policy, an instrument to undermine traditional culture.

L’Enfant Plaza: Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Housing and Urban Development, James V. Forrestal Building Department of Energy Building, L’Enfant Plaza Hotel

The Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education Building

The Hubert H. Humphrey Department of Health and Human Services Building

Meet at the glass pyramid in front of the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel at480 L’Enfant Plaza SW.

***

Tour V: British America — July 8

We trace in Alexandria, Virginia our growth from quaint colonial villagers to benevolent masters of the world.

Carlyle House and Lower King Street Warehouses

Prince Street and Local Alexandria

The Lyceum and the Confederate Statue

George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Meet at the front gate of Carlyle House at 121 N Fairfax St, Alexandria, VA.

Saving The Soviets: The Art Media Loses Its Mind In Moscow

Much of the city of Moscow, as you are probably aware, was scarred with hideous buildings during the Soviet era. Films such as “The Bourne Supremacy” show the bleakness of 20th century Muscovite residential architecture in a way that brings home why we won the Cold War. Because honestly, who would *want* to live in these sorts of places? As it turns out, a number of Muscovites do, but not for the same reasons that architectural experts want them to stay right where they are.

Over the past few weeks, the art press has been wailing and gnashing its teeth over plans by Moscow’s mayor to demolish a large number of low-rise, Soviet-era apartment buildings. The reaction has been predictable, for those who follow the arts. “Moscow’s architectural heritage threatened by development plan” screams Apollo Magazine. The Art Newspaper had the gall to compare the proposed demolition of these buildings, which were built in the aftermath of a murderous land grab, to that very land grab itself. “Describe [sic] by many residents as a property grab akin to the forced collectivisation of property under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the demolition plan has proven so unpopular that thousands turned up for a demonstration against it in Moscow on Sunday 14 May carrying signs with slogans like ‘My house is my castle’.”

What’s most telling amidst all of the histrionic reporting on this story is the fact that almost none of the reports provide any images of the buildings proposed for demolition. There are plenty of photographs of protestors, in the half-dozen or so articles from the art world that I’ve read on this story. The media always likes covering protesters (apart from pro-life protesters, of course.) For the most part however, not one image of these apparently precious apartment blocks appears anywhere in the reporting itself.

Why is this the case? Surely, buildings of such architectural significance ought to be shown by the art media to the international reading public? How else do they expect the outside world to develop a collective sense of concern, and galvanize support for the preservation of these important structures? In the interest of their cause, then, I present to you one of these architectural wonders, which is currently slated for demolition:

Now, if I was arguing this case in court, at this point I’d probably say something to the effect of, “res ipsa loquitor.” This particular gem was one of the first low-rise blocks built under Khrushchev, a figure not exactly known for his innate sense of good taste. If this building was located in the U.S., I’d expect there to be a strip mall across the street with a cracked parking lot, a gas station, a Chinese takeout place, and a nail/threading salon, along with several boarded-up shop windows bearing “For Lease” signs.

There’s a further wrinkle to this story, beyond the perhaps inescapable conclusion that the art press has lost its collective mind, and that is a consideration of what the residents of these buildings themselves want to see happen. They know, and freely admit, that these structures are ugly, dangerous places, which are always falling to pieces and in need of constant repair. The only thing pleasant about them is the fact that they are mostly low-rise apartment blocks, rather than high-rises. Older Muscovites, in particular, do not want to live in high-rise apartments, particularly ones that are built to (questionable) Russian standards, and that’s fair enough.

When you drill down into the reporting, it turns out that what the inhabitants of these apartments are really concerned about is not architectural preservation, or the alleged glories of socialist style. Rather, these people are worried that they will not receive new apartments which will be better than the ones that they currently live in. For the majority of these apartment dwellers, their concerns are focused on money and square footage, not celebrating the supposed brilliance of Soviet-era design.

Among the cognoscenti of the art world however, the demolition of these buildings – which of course, they themselves do not have to live in – would wipe away large swathes of the kind of hideous, leftist architecture which they and their predecessors have promoted and fetishized in our cities for nearly a century. For those focused on the preservation of these sad reminders of the evils of socialism run amok, such oppressive structures represent the good that leftism can do, when it ignores conventional ideas of both beauty and individuality. It is as if Captain Picard would have been better off remaining in the Collective as Locutus of Borg.

Having seen but one specific example of the hundreds of Soviet apartment blocks slated for demolition, I’d certainly be willing to consider whether Moscow’s urban renewal plan is going too far. Perhaps there is some work of significant architectural beauty that is going to be torn down, which my readers could share with the rest of us in the comments section of this post. Yet given the reticence of the art press to provide even one example of such a structure to date, I’ll be very much surprised if you can find any.