Thursday, February 27, 2014

Two Buildings, Legendary and Mythic

Many of us reading addicts often have several books going at the same time.  Recently I noticed that in my current reads pile I had (along with, oh, a story collection, a biography & a coffee table art collection) two books about, of all things, buildings.

But oh, what buildings they are!

Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea HotelWhat do Mark Twain and Sid Vicious have in common? They are two of the mind-boggling parade of sociohistoric denizens of New York City's fabled Chelsea Hotel, flavorfully recounted by Sherill Tippins in Inside The Dream Palace. Originally built as a social experiment following 19th century utopian ideals, it was artist-friendly and tolerant of characters and eccentrics from the beginning. It ultimately hosted an astonishing percentage of the (eventually) great writers, artists and well-known cultural figures of what we could call American Bohemia. Even listing a selection of famous guests gives one vertigo. Just scan the index...The Parthenon EnigmaAnd then up there on the Acropolis in Athens,one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (and nothing to sneeze at in the modern), the Parthenon. Dedicated to Athena, it once housed a gigantic statue of the goddess, now lost, and some of the greatest sculpture from antiquity still extant - specifically the Elgin Marbles attributed to the great sculptor Pheidias and now in the British Museum.  In The Parthenon Enigma archeologist Joan Breton Connelly argues that a famous tableau usually interpreted as a processional in honor of Athena is actually a ceremony of human sacrifice.  This is the big controversial core of the book but the rest of it is a fascinating exploration of just who the ancient Greeks were and how they thought about their world.  It's history that adds a rich perspective to this most iconic of structures.

The stories of both of these structures loan themselves to impressive name-dropping.  The Chelsea can boast Dylan Thomas (who drank himself to death there), Thomas Wolfe, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Patty Smith, Berthold Brecht.  The Parthenon can name-drop Athena, Poseidon, Zeus.... 

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