The essay below, “Tall Ceilings and All the Feelings,” is about a love of architecture, one of the things I wanted to do when I grew up. It’s also about how certain spaces activate spiritual yearning as well as a perpendicular kind of sexual awakening.
Tall Ceilings and All the Feelings
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with tears in my eyes and I’m not sure how they got there. It’s usually because I’ve fallen asleep listening to a piece of music. Lately, I’ve been listening to Cathedrals, an extraordinary song covered perfectly by Cry Cry Cry. One of the questions the song asks is: Where is home? The song also conjures up the possibility that one may — or may not — feel at home in the arching arms of a city cathedral.
I feel at home, from architectural and sentient angles, inside the impossibly beautiful La Sagrada Familia by Gaudi in Barcelona, where a man’s unfinished plans convey reverence for animal kingdom, for sand castle play, and for catching rainbows through window eyes-nostrils-tongues. I feel at home inside St. John the Divine in New York City — its skyward ceiling, its granite pillars quarried in Maine, its divine blue glass Rose Window, its humble Poets Corner, its space restored after terrible fire, its artist’s loan of a Phoenix dragon flight. I feel at home, too, across the street from St. John the Divine, at a spiritual enclave called Hungarian Pastry Shop, a place beloved by writers, students, and people in conversation, quiet study, or reverie. I feel at home inside State Street Church in Portland, Maine which used to host music concerts, but which I don’t think does anymore. It was there that I first heard saxophonist Joshua Redman in-person and folk singer Dar Williams and activist-acapella group Sweet Honey in the Rock.
I also feel at home inside Portland Museum of Art. Museums are types of cathedrals, don’t you think? Some of them, like the entryway of PMA, have gloriously high ceilings, inviting one to fully arrive and to…look up!
I also love the Portland Public Market which I wish was still open, but which was turned into office space. It used to be such a wide open and important community space with fruits, vegetables, tacos, fish, pies, sushi, beer, ice cream, coffee, and flowers.
I loved working there. I worked at the flowershop inside the Portland Public Market at age 22. The colors and names and personalities of the flowers made me do a heart-smile, everyday. And the people did, too — the customers and everyone who worked at the market.
The flowershop was on the other side of a kiosk shared by the coffee shop. There was a girl my age who I thought was so lovely who worked at the coffee shop. I asked her if she wanted to go get coffee sometime, but, like, on our day off and maybe someplace other than the coffee shop where she worked. She said yes.
We met at Arabica on Free Street. She told me about her studies of Milton which I found so impressive. I’d read excerpts of Milton in college so far and hoped to read all of “Paradise Lost“ when I returned to college for my senior year.
After coffee, I asked if I could show her something I thought was beautiful. She said yes. We walked a few blocks up Free Street, and I pointed to the Portland Museum of Art. “It’s right up here. It’s just something I’ve noticed.”
We stood outside the entrance to the closed museum, looking through the lateral walkway which is comprised of a linear fountain of echoing arches. It was dark enough for the outdoor lighting to be turned on, illuminating the tunnel of arches. “Isn’t it just so beautiful? The feeling of looking through the arches?” She smiled, admiring the arches, and said it really was.
The next thing I invited her to was a reading at a local bookstore which I believe is closed now. The reading was with Steve Almond who writes fiction, essay, political commentary, and at the time quite a lot about sex which I didn’t entirely realize. His energy reminded me a lot of playwright and actor Eric Bogosian. She said yes.
There wasn’t any seating left when we got to the reading, so we were invited to climb on top of the bookcases and sit up there. We were happily surprised by the invitation and totally game for the climb. It was amazing to look out over the reading and listen to Steve’s provocative, freeing sex-politics words. I was wearing a rainbow sweater. We were so close to the ceiling now, almost like “fallen angels…” with “…oily feathers” (lyrics from Cathedrals).
I remember when her boyfriend came to the market. He seemed to be looking for someone, or something, at the flowershop, a bit testy and unpleased, but with a strange smile. I felt camouflaged behind the orchids and amaryllis, and also like I didn’t look like much of anything or anyone at all, which was helpful. But I do remember ducking behind the counter as he slowly circled the kiosk. I pretended to look for a pair of yellow-handled flower clippers on the floor until he was gone.
One time, not long after this encounter, I was processing spider mums at the store counter. Spider mums arrive like all the flowers do, in a long slender box. The buds of the spider mums are each encased in a gentle netting to protect them. All you have to do, after a fresh cut (and, if memory serves, before treating the flowers to a luxurious “hot bath“ to revive them after their long journey), is to pull gently upwards on the netting around each bud. The petals will then spring out, finally released into their full beauty and splendor.
As she walked through the opening in the shared counter and we said hi, I held out a mum toward her by its stem and said, “Look at this…” and I lifted the netting up off of the bud, like a magic trick. The flower exploded into existence before her eyes, and her cheeks turned many shades of pink and red simultaneously. She laughed and smiled and said “wow…!” It surprised me, too; I hadn’t meant to pull the netting up so quickly. It was exciting, and I smiled gently at her, knowing it was my final gesture to her before just saying hi, in a friendship way, in future. It felt safer for me and much better for her. But it had been so lovely.
The Portland Public Market had such beautiful, tall, arching ceilings. Almost like a cathedral.
(July 25, 2022 🖉 AG-E)
Post a Comment