It is summer here in Ireland. At least, that is what they allege. You wouldn’t know it from looking out the window. And you could put it to a jury of Americans and hope for a successful verdict. With apologies to Mark Twain, the coldest winters we ever pass are always our summers in Ireland. Judged by the weather, rather than the calendar, we could be in Nebraska in February. It is cloudy, with winds and rain blowing intermittently. People go by, bundled up and shivering.
But we are not here to complain about the weather.
No, lads and lassies, we’re here to complain – about the architecture!
Beginning today, Markets and Money will offer a new free service for national governments – a National Hotline. George…Tony…Vladimir…just call us. We’ll give you some advice; we guarantee it will be worth every penny you pay for it. And worth a lot more than the advice you get from your billion-dollar consultant cronies.
What really matters to most people, most of the time? Beyond the elemental conditions for a happy life – personal safety, shelter, and food to eat – and the intangible features of personal relationships, what really matters is the quality and convenience of things. What does your food taste like? When you look out your window, what do you see? How hard is it to get hold of a phone or to get across town?
Some of these things come to you from the hard work and careful attention of earlier generations. It has taken the French, for example, hundreds of years to perfect their cheeses and their wines. It took thousands of years to arrive at the architectural wonders you see all over Paris. For it was the Greeks who developed many of the key elements – the capitals, the columns, the harmony of vertical and horizontal forms…as well as the decorative details around windows, roofs, ceilings and so forth. Those designs were passed along, forgotten, rediscovered, embellished, modernized and put to use in the buildings you see all over Paris.
But there’s a certain amount of luck involved, too. Paris was lucky that it was not destroyed during WWII. Because practically all the post-WWII architecture in Europe is hideous – including parts of Paris itself. The city had the good fortune to be built when people still had the classical forms for reference and enough good taste to appreciate them.
Poor Ireland was not so lucky. While the French were building Paris, Ireland squirmed under the hard heel of Britain and the rude thumb of her own backwardness. The result is a heritage of drab, featureless buildings – even the old ones.
Travel writers are always looking for ways to make Dublin sound attractive. They refer to its large houses as “magnificent” or “handsome” Georgian houses. Only the Georgian part is true. They were built during the reign of one of England’s Georges – but they will not appeal to Americans, for they are plain on the outside and gaudy inside – just the opposite of the American character. Outside, only the doorways give a nod to the old Greek masters. The windows have no shutters and no framing. Stuck into holes in the dirty brick fronts, the result is depressing in bad weather, which, in Ireland, is almost all year round.
What Ireland once had, that saved it, was a rural, vernacular architecture that was charming and picturesque. Houses were built of stone, whitewashed, and covered with a thatch roof. But then, in modern times, the thatch gave way to tin and slate, while the whitewashed stone yielded to gray concrete. Now, the countryside is as depressing as the cities. Which is why, we read in today’s Irish Independent, the people who see the most of Ireland – the “travelers” – commit suicide three times more often than the typical paddy.
Nevertheless, we offer the following advice not for humanitarian reasons, but simply out of our own instinct of survival. We come to Ireland often. We travel too. And so we urge the Irish to encourage a return to the pre-war, Irish vernacular. Heck, they are trying to give the old Gaelic tongue a new wag; why not put a new look on Irish countryside houses? Put on some thatch. Whitewash the houses. And, oh yes, pray for global warming. It will be good for tourism. And the suicide rate will go down.
As for the city: Paint the Georgians, and put shutters on them. Shutters improve almost any dwelling. If they had put colorful shutters in Auschwitz, it would have jollied up the place and who knows? Maybe the gaudy shutters would have induced the Nazis to plant flowers rather than gypsies. So, all you micks and paddies…plant flowers. If you get enough forsythia blooming, people won’t notice the buildings.
Message to the Government of Ireland: Our hotlines are open. Operators are standing by. Call now.
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