I’ve been asked many times for a driving tour of Covington, Ky., the 19th-century city where we work and live.
I have yet to give one.
After 10 years of stalking the streets of this town, I’ve discovered a weird link between your land speed and the architectural detail of the houses. No matter how slow you try to drive a car through an old neighborhood, it’s too fast to experience pre-Depression-era architecture.
You figure this out when you walk the streets of an old neighborhood every day. The houses were designed to be observed by pedestrians or people on horseback. The detail on these houses stands up to a good two minutes of exploration by passers-by. Bracketed cornices. Eyebrow windows. Transom windows. All these things get lost when you hit about 15 miles per hour.
My cynical mind links our cars with our architecture. If you are going to see a house for a mere 2 seconds, it’s OK if it looks only like a facsimile of a good design. In fact, you can make all the houses in a neighborhood look similar because no one is going to get a good look at them anyway.
Unfortunately, I sometimes feel like a Ferrari when I walk through a museum. I have to fight the urge to get to my destination, which is to see everything the museum has to offer. If I don’t force myself to plod slowly and stop every now and then, I know I’ll miss something important and perhaps life-changing.
Lucy and I toured Fort Mackinac in Michigan, a British and American fort on a small island in Lake Huron. Virtually all of the furnishings in the fort were high Victorian and reflected the structures’ heyday during the late 19th century. The furniture was mostly cheap stuff. Manufactured. Uninspired. And there was piles of it.
After 12 rooms of the stuff, my eyes were exhausted, and I got lazy. We passed through the enlisted men’s barracks, and I spotted an attractive and graceful chair. It was clearly a shaved ladderback. And the feet had been drawknifed to a smaller dimension, much like ladderback chairs here in Eastern Kentucky. And…
At that moment a family barged into the room with a bunch of kids who swarmed the place. None was wearing a face mask (which was required), and so we retreated like animals to the next room. I forgot about the chair.
Later in the tour we poked through the quartermaster’s store and saw some of the specification sheets used to procure goods for the fort. One of them showed a shaved barracks chair, just like the one we had seen an hour earlier.
But again, I was moving too fast. People behind me. People in front. And I didn’t make the connection until we were out of the fort entirely: There was an Army specification for a shaved ladderback chair. I saw the spec. I saw the chair.
That would have made an interesting blog entry: comparing the detailed military spec sheet for a shaved chair to an actual example. But instead, you got this drivel.
I am an idiot.
Slow down and open your eyes. Damn that’s hard.
— Christopher Schwarz