Tuesday, February 9, 2010

All Great Buildings Resemble Crimes

Obviously, so many movies have been set in The Bramford. Most directors & film companies are seduced by the heaviness of the complex, the weight of four German town halls set atop one another, the labyrinth of corridors within. The building has the ballast of something Dutch, but inside it's particularly French. When these opposing architectural fronts collide the internal matter becomes confusing, both economically & aesthetically.

When, in the 1880s, our building sat like an architectural dirge in the bizarre emptiness of the Upper West Side, all of its tenants felt as if they lived in a drafty tomb. Stories tell how brilliant men of means would walk the halls, mumbling to themselves, wishing the city would fold around them gracefully, without growing pains, without the requisite suicides & small-pistol murders. But The Bramford, like so much of America, longed for great men. Fourteen foot ceilings, narrow but expansive floor plans, a courtyard brimming with ivy & roses during variable springs...even we were impressed. Minnie & I came from Europe, from vaudeville & magic & mild mysteries, but we were never inordinately talented. It's difficult to imagine this building as the freak it once was, like a sad elephant baying & yearning for a city. It's difficult to imagine this city built as it was -- Manhattan.

At one point, this place had elevators for horse-drawn carriages, it had secret entrances for the governor's mistresses...German & imposing from the outside, French, light & airy on the inside. Minnie & I moved in during the summer of 1965, and we threw open the windows, opened some wine & beer & actually walked down the halls to find new friends. Already we saw filmmakers, magicians, authors, academics, couples split between migration to Levittown & staying on this remarkable island.

Minnie & I are not history buffs but we love our building. We love The Bramford & its confusing, elaborate size. Old world charm, new world proximity. Minnie hears the whinny of horses from so long ago.I follow the wives of new tenants as they become lost looking for the laundry rooms. They shake their bobbed hair out of their eyes & they stand at the end of a hallway with their laundry baskets, looking at me. These young housewives. I give them a moment to realize they are nowhere, that there's nowhere they could go, no one they could call, not a soul who'd hear them. "Where the fuck am I?" They ask. "Dear, I'm sorry. This can be confusing. Let me get you to the laundry room."

Those were the early days. Now they seem funny. Those housewives at the end of hallways, with their laundry baskets, their French haircuts...how flustered they were.

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