Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Set in Concrete

Once upon a time there was an old house, harmonious in its elements. This house had a stone porch, with many steps and levels.

Once upon a time, the stone porch had been strong and elegant, devised and constructed by master masons. Now it languished. After ninety years of service, it eroded with each passing season. Nevertheless, it was still beautiful, if only in the eyes of its mistress. And it was still in harmony with the house.

But the day came for it to be replaced. With much sorrow, the mistress -- of comfortable means, but not as wealthy as the homeowners who made such grand renovation plans in the heady days before the Stock Market crashed --- opted to reconstruct the porch in concrete. Her one request of the contractor was the porch should look as much as possible as it used to be. Of all things, she begged, she wanted the porch to look like it was made of stone. Such things were possible. She had seen it done elsewhere, with molds. Of course, said the contractor. It would be done.

Two days before the porch was poured, the mistress eyed the wooden forms warily as the contractor explained how he would texture the porch in one all-over stone pattern. The mistress demurred. She wanted the porch to look like stone. Many stones. Just as it used to be. Of course, said the contractor. But to stamp the stone with molds would cost more than his original estimate. What he could do was to etch lines in the newly poured concrete to make it look like large blocks of stone. It had been done elsewhere. He showed her photos. With trepidation, she acquiesced.

And the porch was poured over the ancient stone.

And here, friends, is where we leave tedious fairytale diction for the realm of the now. I have a concrete porch, one that is competently constructed and poured and will stand attached to my house for the next ninety years, indestructible. Never again will I have the option to improve my dear old stone porch. And I do not love it.

You tell me -- you tell me! -- whether any mason in the world would shape stone this way, huge L-shaped blocks. You tell me whether any mason worth his salt would lay stone in such a pattern, unstaggered or so barely staggered that it's an insult to proportion. You tell me whether this looks like stone blocks, or like a middle-schooler's simulacrum of a Mondrian grid.

I ask this explicitly because I find, to my horror, that it seems I am the only person bothered by this. No one loved the old decaying porch but me.Visitors ooh and aah over the new construction, congratulating me on well it turned out. These sincere and well-meaning compliments ring in my ear like someone leaning over your loved one's casket, exclaiming, "They've really fixed her up! She never looked so good when she was alive!"

That's just the word, alive. The stone porch was in sad need of repair, but it was gracefully alive. The concrete porch is shiny, regular, and dead, a huge slab of McMansion slapped on to my elegant old home. And no one sees it but me. No one grieves it but me. Even my loving husband, seeking words to comfort me as I lay in bed, stiff and quivering with rage, said that he didn't think anyone else would be appalled by it or think that I had ruined the whole facade of the house. "But if it bothers you, of course we can have it altered."

My marriage has never been so sorely tested.

At first my anger was pure and righteous, devoted solely to the cause of aesthetic integrity. But anger never stays unalloyed. All things became causes of fury to me. I bit my tongue. I retreated to my room. Sometimes I wallowed in my anger willingly. Othertimes I was consumed by it, even when I longed to be free of the burden. I could not dismiss it at will. And I realized that if I wanted to receive communion on Sunday, I had to be relieved, because my heart had become as hard as the concrete. So I hied me to confession on Saturday afternoon.

And you know what? I didn't feel instantly better. But the workings of grace had begun. I no longer feel sick to my stomach. I can look at the porch without crying. But I still mourn the beautiful thing that is lost forever, and I grieve the soulless thing now in its place. I'm still trying to find the right words to tell the contractor that his work is sturdy and professional as far as concrete goes, but that I am not satisfied with the admittedly unalterable surface. Instead of judging 99% of my acquaintance to be aesthetic cretins, I'm trying to be gracious whenever someone pays the new porch a complement. I'm trying to get used to it, because I'm going to have to look at it every day for the rest of my tenure here.

And I imagine that ninety years in the future, as archeologists poke at the crumbling concrete, one will beckon the other over. "Stanley, look at this!" he'll say. "There was stone under this concrete. Stone! Can you imagine? What idiot would pour concrete over stone?"

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.


Heather said...

You have my deepest sympathies, Mrs. Darwin! We are currently in househunting mode and I am perpetually disappointed at the lack of beauty in modern homes. Energy efficiency and indoor plumbing, but so little beauty! Sigh...

mandamum said...

I think it is also painful when you have explained your concerns, had them waved away, and then find that they come true exactly as feared... but no-one can see the blinding "I told you so" laid out in concrete. Given our experiences with contractors here, this is one reason we've left many things alone with our house.... And can I say how FRUSTRATING it is to say, "I want this," to get an estimate for it, and then to have the infuriating contractor say, "Well, it turns out I can't do X after all, because of this challenge (that you told me about, but I'll pretend the challenge was a surprise) which will make it so much harder and more expensive." We had someone do that to us the day after we closed on our house, regarding fixing a chain-link fence (needed to keep our dog IN the yard) that needed to be re-anchored in the stone hillside more securely, but the project turned out (surprise! ahem.) to involve actual hole production in actual stone, which involved Special Tools and was just too hard for our poor little contractor who had been HIRED to put HOLES in what was explicitly pointed out as being a STONE hillside, because otherwise we would have done the thing ourselves. Pre-contract, he can totally do that, has all the tools, we're good to go no worries leave it to him. Actual work day, um no.

The L-shaped bits are unfortunate. I can sympathize. I can imagine similar things, inanimate things that say repeatedly to me every time I see them, "what could have been, if only, if only...." I would let yourself grieve, even while you struggle against the alloy. Eventually, grief transforms a bit, lets up in its relentlessness.

Perhaps plant a little grass or a tiny herb in some of those grooves, to give it more of an alive feel? :-p That would probably shorten the concrete's longevity though... hmm... plus or minus?

Anna said...

"Instead of judging 99% of my acquaintance to be aesthetic cretins"
There was planned construction (now completed) here on a new parish church and everyone, when they saw the artist renderings of the intended interior, said it was hideous (which it was) – except parishioners of one particular parish in town who all said "well, that's not bad!" Their parish had recently been renovated from "hideous" to "not entirely terrible" and it seemed to have affected their sense of beauty. Perhaps that's happening here?

I like your description of it as a middle schooler's Mondrian grid. That's the mot juste. Though perhaps you'll eventually feel less that it's "soulless" and more that it's merely funny, like a Cakewrecks porch?