Posted by: Peadar Ban | August 9, 2017

Ruins

We traveled to Detroit not too long ago to attend the wedding of Elisabeth and Robert, who became Mr. and Mrs. Medvitz.  Now, I had heard about Detroit, and visited it once or twice.  I had heard about it “coming back”.

Don’t believe a word!  Detroit is a ruin.  But then, so are a lot of other places around the world, not ancient ruins like parts of Rome, or jungle covered pyramids in the Yucatan.  These are ruins from yesterday, on the way to becoming bigger ruins tomorrow.  And, Detroit, I think is the “poster boy” for ruin.

Oh, yes, there are shiny things down near the lake, sparkling things, tall things, big things, new things; down near the lake.  But, people don’t live there.  There is nothing, really to live in, or for, except tall shininess and wide ribbons of concrete which can only lead you in or out, and never about, never around and never leisurely, never quietly.  It is not made for visiting the folks down the block. They come and go, the people who don’t live there, like the tide, every eight or so hours.  Persons don’t live there.  Well, possibly executives do in high suites atop the shiny towers from whose windows they can see into the future, and plan more shiny buildings. Children don’t live there.  Where would they play?

Isn’t that a ruin?

But, they really are shiny, those things.

The wedding of Elisabeth and Robert took place far away from the shiny new things on a sunny summer morning in a beautiful stone church set in a little tree lined oasis along a a wide road that ran through a shattered emptiness of weed covered lots and derelict buildings.  The wide road could have accommodated ten times the traffic it carried on that bright and empty morning.  Maybe it did not so long ago.  Every once in a while a weary reminder of what had been came into view, a relic of the past.  These were mostly gas stations and loan stores or liquor stores; sometimes both.  The latter might have been Mom and Pop places not so long ago when Detroit was alive.

And then, the church: The Assumption Grotto Church on Gratiot Avenue, in the middle of the wasted land.  It was built in 1881, an example of Renaissance and Gothic Revival architecture, before Detroit had died and before churches, too, and a lot of things connected with churches, started weakening, sickening and dying. This church looks like what it is, a place where people go to worship. When a church is built today, it could as well look like a train station, a supermarket, an auto dealership or a “metroplex”; one of those movie theaters which can show thirty films in separate cozy little places with surround sound and reclining seats…the churches of the future, where we worship what we want.

The inside of the church was every bit as wonderful and magnificent as the outside.  And the wedding of Elisabeth and Robert was beautiful, too, celebrated in Latin with plenty of reverent silence.  Perhaps this was so because the couple and the happy guests had not themselves become ruined.  Ruins today are rarely silent, rarely quiet, rarely abandoned.  Though I have found that ruins, modern ones like Detroit, are almost always overgrown and spooky.

Anyway, after the reception at a nearby KofC Hall, we said our goodbyes and drove back to the hotel  where we were staying, perhaps a dozen of so miles away.  We were no longer in Detroit.  We were in 21st century America, bright, shiny and already not a little dead.

We were on our own for the next day, Sunday, before our 8:00pm flight back to New Hampshire, and had some leisure to see a sight or two; to learn where were the “not ruins”.  This is what we did after Mass, which took place in an absolutely lovely church set among flowered gardens and spouting fountains. A lovely place.  It was a modern church or course, but not so modern that one could not tell the difference between it and a City Hall.  The only off putting thing was the amazing proliferation of “ministers” extraordinary, marching about, standing at fixed posts and being, well, extraordinary. Think of The Wizard of Oz.  It took me a while to figure out who, and where, the Priest was who was the only person necessary for the celebration, whose role and demeanor reminded me from time to time of the Wizard himself.  There was a marked contrast between this and the wedding on the previous day; such busyness that at times I wondered if I was at a parade and not a Mass.  I half expected bands and floats.

Mass over we returned to our hotel, checked out after breakfast and then set off to explore the living parts of the place we were in.  We found that there were plenty in the comfortable towns outside the “Dead” city; miles of winding roads through what seemed to me nearly new communities, and which I suspected, by the size and newness of the places housed not a few of the shiny people who worked in the shiny towers of Detroit, but did not live there; the people who passed through the ruins every day, who very probably had driven by a Renaissance and Gothic Revival Church, and just as very likely had driven right by it while tuned to “All Things Considered” five days a week for years.

We had chosen to visit a place out in these lovely surroundings which we had determined was  easy on the eyes, the feet and the budget.  The Cranbrook House and Gardens and the nearby Cranbrook Institute of Art, both located on Lone Pine Road in Bloomfield Hills, MI.  You just have to know that anything with “Hills” in its name is NOT going to be a ruin.  So, this really fit the bill.  Some fellow with a lot of money built the gardens, and they were and are worth the time he spent building them and we spent visiting his work.  It would take an Africanus and a lot of salt to really kill gardens like these.  They were alive!

Do not waste your time on the art thing, though.  It isn’t.  The big front yard looks as if a couple of oil drilling rigs were erected on them, and painted red.  So, I supposed red oil rigs had now become art.  It is, not to be too critical, a ruin, bright, big and shiny…and a ruin.

There was only a small bit of the “museum” open the day we got there.  Thank God!  And, if the small bit is an indication of what the students at the institute are being taught about art, felonies are being committed on young minds.  My own impression is that the lumps and clumps displayed proudly under bright lights looked like lava, or a cow’s best impression of it, and my one word reaction was “Hellish”.  A student in Florence trying to do something like that would…  Well no student would try to do such things in Florence back in the day.  But, we ain’t in Florence anymore, Toto.  And, none of the rules we thought applied simply do not.  A couple of samples are linked to the Institute title above.

I read an article in “The Catholic Thing” today, an online journal that mostly enlightens me, and sometimes, like today, makes me wonder if I am not in some Breughel painting tumbling into hell with everyone else when I combine what I have read with recent memories.  Today’s article, Art For The Soul, begins with a lead in, tone setting quote:  “May your art help to affirm that true beauty which, as a glimmer of the Spirit of God, will transfigure matter, opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal.”

It really is a lovely article, and I cannot help wondering why I had to think of Detroit while reading it, or why the sentence, “Fine words for the inferno we face.” kept running through my mind as I read.  But they did.  Or why I continue to think of “On The Beach.”  We have, living in the ruins, lost “the sense of the eternal.”

And then I think of the reason we were in Detroit and say, “Not all of us.”

Anyway, Elisabeth and Robert are not living among the ruins.  No they are on a farm, a living place, transfiguring matter, where children, and plants and animals bloom and grow; where the only uniforms are overalls and smiles and work hardened limbs, and life  A place where the only tall and shining things are the rays of the rising or the setting sun and the light on the blossoms..

 

 

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