Friday, November 18, 2011

Before and After Shots of St. Joseph's

Hymn of the Cherumbim (Ize Cheruvimy)

I was at a party over Halloween weekend when a guy came up to me who had seen my Pechakucha Cleveland Monsters presentation, and recognized one of the Monsters as the church his family had attended, my beloved St. Joseph's. So beloved in fact that I've been mistakenly calling it St. John's this whole time, oops, thanks Internet research. He said there were some old photos of the church in it's heyday that I might want to see. I said "might" is an understatement. And so I figured you might want to see them too. The audio file above is from an album of hymns by the choir that was actually recorded in St. Joseph's.

I was at a party last night and had a conversation with a girl about family holidays. She identified herself as coming from a large Italian family, second generation, but when I said I thought that holidays in families that still had a lot of ties back to the old country were best, she got defensive and quickly pointed out that her family didn't really do anything ethnic. They instead got very dressed up for the holiday dinners, with formal place settings and pretty clothes. She said they had stopped doing all that kind of Italian stuff when her grandfather died. What I meant though was not that we all necessarily performed the old rituals, but that a certain kind of family mental structure was passed down, a pattern of thinking about holidays. Even if your grandparents were long dead and your mom no longer remembered how to speak Polish, there was a general feeling of specialness that got passed on, especially in ethnically religious families. As Catholics, we were taught that every day was some saint's holy day, and the high holy days - Christmas and Easter and Ascensions of various personages - you were supposed to behave, because you were in mass. Maybe that's it, a slight genetic memory of holidays being religious, that causes families not far removed from those days to treat them with more deference. Sure, we're all atheists now, but your mother and father remember being little and put through the motions, so their way of thinking about it is unconsciously passed down to you their child, a way of proper behavior. That's what I like the most about the ethnic holiday celebrations, the desire to act like a saint. I don't know, I was drunk when I was trying to explain this to her, and even now I don't think I'm articulating the concept quite right.

From a letter I wrote back to the guy who gave me the photos....

"The reason I like exploring and writing about places like this in the
Rust Belt is that they need new identities now that they've been
abandoned by people. It's the idea that a building is born, put
together piece by piece, and then matures and soaks in all the stories
and experiences of the people that use it. Then when it's abandoned,
it grows up into another creature, something living in the environment
like a mountain or a river, even more permanent than a tree or people,
a natural organic new landscape. So building a city is like breeding
new mountains. In the same way that we value looking at a cliff face
or a rhinoceros, we should value looking at what these places become
after we leave them. Actually, even more so, because of the people
they came from, like they are our children sort of. I had this
discussion with A. the other day, about how I don't like buildings
that are all glass because they are fragile, and won't last the way
the stone and brick ones will. He felt it was okay for a building to
be temporary and only around for it's use. I think we should build
things that last for centuries, and you know, KEEP using them, or if
they get abandoned, use them again. You would never breed children to
be pretty but breakable, you want them to be survivors."

You want them to have experience is maybe what I mean. You want them to have that slight quiet whisper of "this is how you behave on holidays." But like so many things with experience, people dogs cars, most of the time they just get thrown away. I just made you think of that Sarah McLachlan ad didn't I? Sorry. That one makes me cry every time.


  1. I vaguely remember being dragged kicking and screaming into this church by my grandmother in the late 1950s. We lived in Erie, just up the lake a piece, and my grandmother took me on trips on the train from time to time. Often to Cleveland, occasionally to Buffalo. This would have been the type of place we'd have to go to on Sunday morning before taking the train back to Erie. (I became an atheist at the first available opportunity.)

  2. Man I love Erie. And Buffalo. And TRAINS. Your grandmother sounds awesome.

  3. Yeah, she was! You really love Erie? How sick is that? ;-)

  4. Erie has Presque Isle Park. That place is a fucking National Treasure. A JEWEL.

  5. You've got a point there! I haven't been back since 1988 though. I remember ice volcanoes from back in the day. BTW, I love your writing. Just sayin'


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