Sunday, February 05, 2006

Back To Bristol

Well, perhaps you'll recall our sojourn to Bristol Rhode Island last August. As the British would say, it was beastly hot. The British also coined the term Bristol Fashion. It means maintained in an exemplary fashion, and usually refers to anything painted and varnished to a fare-thee-well.

Well, Bristol Rhode Island aint. Bristol fashion, that is. There's a good deal of it that could use a coat of paint; but I'm not complaining. Neatness above all things doesn't manifest itself in a Bristol Fashion anymore, it manifests itself as vinyl siding. I'll take the peeling paint over that.

But Bristol is clean of litter, and it shows itself as what people use to call "snug." It's pleasant, and not ostentatious, and most everyone was friendly, and there were interesting things to look at, not monuments to be awestruck over.

Here's another doorway from the main drag:

What you're looking at there, is Victorian exuberance. It's probably not original equipment on the house, which has a very austere Adam Colonial bones under the doorway confectionary. The owner of the house, reacting to the zeitgeist of the postbellum period decide to keep up with the Second Empire joneses down the street. So he added this endearingly odd hood over his front entry, which is only a few feet from the sidewalk so I assume he really wanted you to see it, on what is and probably always was a busy street, in a style popular in Stick Style and later, Queen Anne.

Officially, that's called a bracketed console entry, for you folks keeping score. Look at it. It keeps the rain off your head while you're waiting for someone to answer your knock, but what a way to do it. "Victorian" became synonymous with a kind of staid uptight outlook on life, and gloomy houses. The Adams Family didn't reside in a split level ranch on their TV show, after all.

The people who wanted to replace the Victorians political, social, and artistic outlook managed to associate them with frippery, frigidity, and glumness. No mean feat, that, the demonization of the most successful several generations of people in the history of the world. And if they were so uptight, and we're so sophisiticated, why did they have six kids each, and we have two? I've never seen them, but I assume the duck's feet are moving if he's gliding across the pond.

The reason there are so few really outlandish Victorian era homes still in their original condition has to do with the upkeep necessary to keep them going, no question; but that's only part of the story. A lot of it was razed, or made unrecognizable by hacking away at any vestige of the gimcrackery and stylishness on purpose. I live in a town that was developed mainly as a Victorian seaside resort, and everybody sees the shingled houses downtown now and associates that with preservation of antiquity. I go there, and see house after house that used to be embellished like that picture above, and not just the front entry; clapboarded, gingerbreaded, polychrome, internationally astute but not slavish technically -- the supreme borrowers, the Victorians -- and they were hacked up and covered with the turn of the century vinyl siding: shingles.

And so we're stuck with "form follows function,"" less is more," and "to deliberately make a buiding beautiful is a crime." Sometimes I wish the founding fathers of brutalist architecture were all still alive, so I could attend their funerals and blow party noisemakers, with my wife in a red dress.

I wouldn't mind waiting under that little roof for someone to answer the door, would you? I wouldn't mind living across the street from it either. Remember: Love thy neighbor; paint thy house. A little exuberant style never hurt either.

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