Aside from accommodations, I did an abysmal job of preparing for the trip. We departed the Scenic City and made it as far as Fort Payne, (God’s Own) Alabama before I realized that I forgot my swimming trunks. On a trip to the beach, I forgot to pack swimming trunks. I forgot my beloved Burberry Nova check swimming trunks. Equally as tragic, I left my Burberry bucket hat. As I am ever the slave to style, I think that there are certain stylistic pinnacles that have been reached, and as such, certain standards to cling to. Sunglasses find their highest expression in Ray-Ban Wayfarers; casual shirts- Lacoste polos; athletic shoes- Nike; swimwear and bucket hats- Burberry. Once I find something that is done right and fits well, I seldom deviate.
Fortunately for me, however, Saks at The Summit in Birmingham is right on the way. Saks being one of the relatively few retail outlets for Burberry ‘round here. Unfortunately, yes, they had no Burberry swimming trunks today. I opted to go slumming with a pair of Lacoste trunks and a fetching pink number from polo. On the hat front, the closest thing I could find to a classic style was a Lacoste bucket hat. I actually made the rationalization that a Lacoste bucket hat is more classic and appropriate than one from Burberry. Was it not a white terry-cloth Lacoste bucket hat worn by my father in the ‘70s that first sparked in my interest in that particular hat typology?
We arrive at the beach, check in to the house and get ready to head down to the beach. I don my flip flops, new trunks, t-shirt and bucket hat, and have a glance in the mirror. Oh my god, I’ve been l’accosted. A closer inspection shows that by unholy accident, everything piece of clothing I brought down or acquired on the way (save the new pink Polo shorts) has an effing crocodile (or is it an alligator?) on it. Lesson One from this week’s post: blind devotion to one way of doing things, no matter how “right” or purpose-suited that way may be, can sometimes lead to unfortunate circumstances (such as me looking like a right tool).
As for reading material while I’m down here, I’ve not made it easy on myself. I'm struggling my way through both The Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius Pollio and An Autobiography of an Idea by Louis Sullivan. Vitruvius is not a great writer and probably wasn’t a great architect- he just had the great fortune of having his manuscript survive from antiquity. If I am to continue teaching architecture history, however, I feel compelled to read it. I’m half way through…pray for me.
Sullivan’s work has also proved to be a trying read. This is his autobiography, written in the third person, and at time when the florid and effusive use of words was in vogue. Beyond the hyperbole and wordiness, however, is a fantastic story (that I sketched out here a few weeks ago). I’ve been on a Sullivan kick for the last couple of months. I think his story points to a larger pattern in the human condition- that the greatest ideas of man have to be watered down to achieve mass adoption. I need more time to think that one through though. Be on the lookout for a post on that one sometime in the near future.
What is certain is that Mr. Sullivan would dislike Seaside. He was effusive in his criticism of slavish devotion to European precedent. Seaside, of course being a veritable grab-bag of classical revival design. This being the first time I’ve been back since “rediscovering” architecture history, I must say that the place feels a bit hollow. There is none of the proportional rigor that makes Greek classicism sing and there is none of the engineering genius of the Roman works. There is only fashion. In this case, however, it is not the clothes that make the man. It is the subservience of architecture and infrastructure to the person, whether they are active, in repose or in ambulation that makes the place special. Of course, this would be lost on Mr. Sullivan, for he failed to live long enough to see the rise of the sub-urbs and our subsequent struggle to establish a sustainable, American development pattern. Yes, I normally give the New Urbanists hell, but getting blottoed on caipirinhas in a place has a way of softening one’s outlook.
…and as I’m putting the finishing touches on this post by the pool, my 4-year-old swims up to an elderly stranger and opines, “You look pretty old”…we’re out…pray for me…