Monday, April 16, 2007

Buckhead, GA

Some people take pictures when they travel. Such pictures might be crudely categorized into two kinds: "the place" and "me". The latter will be explained to you by the traveler as "This is us in front of the grand canyon...this is us in front of the statue of liberty..." etc. The former actually might need explanation: "this is the stairs going up to the Frontenac in looks a bit abstract but the sun was just right to play up all the geometry that is crammed into that stonework."

I do not take great pictures and though I have appeared in a few, I generally prefer pictures of "the place". My offense as a travelogue writer is that I insert my perceptions. So every frame is captioned "what I thought of...". Sorry.

A family simcha for some in-laws gave us a reason to visit the Atlanta area for three days. Boston has offered its soggy expensive version of hospitality to a Buddhist from Atlanta, and Atlanta has repaid with its under construction hospitality to an all of the above from Boston. Buckhead is a suburb in the greater Atlanta metro area that is becoming crowded with self conscious corporate architecture. Google Maps cannot keep up. This satellite view points to the intersection of Peachtree Road and Piedmont Road but the green patch at the north east corner of the intersection is now replaced entirely by a massive and showy new office tower and garage all but ready for its new tenants. That tower is most of the right margin of this shot:

People watching in Buckhead is interesting as it is everywhere but so few people are afoot on Peachtree Road that you have to go to the Mall or the MARTA commuter rail station to see many of them. Is a warehouse format liquor store where staff are wearing ties and the parking lot has assorted jags and Mercedes but no pickups really Georgia? When they get it built, I am sure it is going to be a lovely place.

Crappy Boston weather delayed flights so we got to ATL at midnight. The third shift elves that invisibly clean and remodel airports had come out from their invisible neighborhoods. The eateries were closed. Carpenters called out measurements to each other in Spanish. Had we known, MARTA could have gotten us from the airport to our hotel in Buckhead. Despite a reputation for sprawl, in places, Atlanta offers the carbon snob a way to live responsibly. On the other hand, I saw exactly two bicycles in the flat and sunny streets of Buckhead. As in New York, cabbies appear to have just landed from nations the UN has yet to recognize. But unlike New York, if you aren't a quick-draw tipper, they do not drop luggage and glare at you.

Gorgeous weather will make departing a bit more sad. I walked around town long enough to get a slight sunburn. Not quite as hectically under construction as Shanghai, but still ubiquitously dug up for widening, Peachtree Road offers a face to the world. Construction cranes are everywhere as are utility trenches and red mud. Behind the face by a few blocks there are residential pockets where the irrepressible flora burst from cracked pavement and twine up every wall and utility pole. The unfamiliar scent of late spring blooms will still reach you while you have a beer in the outdoor seating of restaurants on the main street. Wild mating scents of the plants faintly broadcast all through the swanky high rises here while in Boston, only the reddish blush of oak buds tint the horizon of bare tree canopy.

Until the late 1800's, the tallest and most expensive structures in most cities would have been the churches. Mr. Eiffel's structure, not the first sky scraper, was seen as something of a profanity in the context of Paris's trove of landmarks. The problem with symbols is that while many will say they are important, few will agree on which ones are the most important or what they actually stand for. So the fact that our temples of commerce now dwarf our cathedrals may mean that the market is the greater force in our lives...or it might only signify that the places where business lives are now segregated from residential areas where a church might indeed still be the most imposing structure. Whatever. In Buckhead the presence of religion, personality and nature in the built up world seem to be in retreat.
If you hover over this picture, and blogger lets me code some HTML tricks, a church hunkers down at the foot of a crane. Nearly invisible to its right is the red awning of an abandoned storefront Christian Science Reading Room. Hidden behind the trees between these two, at the rear of the old white mansion is a funky little restaurant and jazz club called Dantes'

The azaleas still bloom on the walkway to the club.
The owner's pet crocs are memorialized at the entrance to the club.

But if you gaze upward, you see you are shrouded in scaffolding.

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