High Places: Part I

September 28th, 2009

St. Louis, Missouri. I was in the States for the summer. We took my relatives to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. My mom always feels this is a good place to take visitors. My aunts have come from Lebanon for the first time since my mom moved to the U.S. 31 years ago. They’ve seen a lot in their lifetimes – they haven’t missed one moment of war since ‘75. But the sight of the 630-foot Arch was enough to make their hearts feel funny against their chests. It’s the tallest monument in the U.S. On the way up, in the space shuttle- type elevator, my aunt contorted into feigned anxiety to dispel her actual. This produced tears of laughter during the four minutes it took to reach the apex, from which we looked out onto the Mississippi River and the rest of St. Louis from a bird’s eye view, everything mini, mini. My aunt snapped lots of pictures, “hilou, hilou.”

We learned that the Gateway Arch (designed by Eero Saarinen) was erected as part of the historic site that memorialized the role of Thomas Jefferson and the others responsible for St. Louis’s role in the U.S.’s expansion to the west. Architect Robert Venturi (designer of Franklin Court in Philadelphia and the new Mathematics building at Yale University and one of the authors of Learning from Las Vegas) stated that the Arch “is one of the best things… it is a thing that is very difficult to do which is to do a non-functional, sculptural, symbolic gesture of enormous scale.” Mmmhhhmm, I always thought the arch was one of the most boring things. When mom told me we were taking my aunts to the arch, I thought, WHY? You can’t even get a hamburger there. But, there is some sort of pride in these high places, especially one of this unique form.

arch

Lebanon is regularly referred to as a gateway between east and west. However, we do not, as far as I know, have a monument celebrating it as such. Yet, we do have plenty of “non-functional, sculptural, symbolic gesture[s] of enormous scale,” now ruins, erected by those who traveled through this gateway. They punctuate our modern day Lebanon from Baalbek to Beirut. An endearing Roman column stands just outside of Sanayeh Garden, down the street from my apartment. You cannot climb it or stand atop it and view Beirut from a bird’s eye view, but you can post advertisements on it!

IMG_2485

IMG_2484

Perhaps this monument – an archaeological phenomenon, circa 64 B.C, affixed with an advertisement for wireless and DSL Internet services – is symbolic of our careless, practical, irreverent, contradictory, beautiful and ugly revolutionary climate. Where new is stuck to old.

Note: One slightly drunken evening, past midnight, a friend and I peeled away at the advertisement. We couldn’t get it all.

2 Responses to “High Places: Part I”

  1. You know Rima, we have a similar arch designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in Lebanon? I guess you don’t. You should go visit the international Fair in Tripoli.

  2. Simon says:

    i like this mix in this entry: funny with a bit of bitterness and sarcasm.

    ps: i find interesting your idea about building a monument in Lebanon to celebrate the idea of Lebanon being “a gateway between east and west”, that idea that we cherish so much.

Leave a Reply