On the Pleasure of Ruins


We read about the MTA’s proposal to raise subway fares with mixed feelings; on one hand, we would happily pay the extra five or six dollars a month for more frequent trains, but at the same time, as we consider the ruined state of our subway station — regularly cited as one of the dirtiest and most poorly maintained in the entire system — it occurs to us that (however unlikely) the MTA might allocate the necessary funds to renovate, and this idea does not please us at all. Undoubtedly they would strip out the beautiful art-deco grates that we like to contemplate each morning as we wait for the C-train to arrive; or perhaps they would do away with the neglected advertising spaces, where a thousand layers of paint and glue offer a gateway to another era. Here it seems appropriate to pause and consider a quote from Péter Nádas, whose Book of Memories we have been slowly ingesting (and yes, for the record, it is extremely “gay” in the best sense); discussing the encroachment of high-rises on the last forested area of the city in which he grew up, he writes: “I do not regret the loss; there’s nothing in the world with which I have a more intimate relationship than ruination; I am the chronicler of my own ruination; even now, when making public the destruction of the forest, I’m recounting the history of our own destruction.” Though our situations are not exactly analogous, here Nádas provides us with a key to understanding our relationship to the Washington Heights — the decaying buildings; the pervasive, inescapable sense of grief and loss; and yes, even the corroding subway station! — which we cannot view except in the context of our own lives, i.e., the equally spectacular ruins that mark any true landscape of dream and memory.

Subway Grate

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