Every Great City Needs Ruins

“Do you know what I like about where we live?  It has a history.  People were here before us.  Long before us.  There might have been two people here like us hanging out when this hundred-year-old structure was brand new.  There may have been hundreds of people walking along here and stopping to take pictures and feed the ducks.  There’s a different look to everything as if it’s lived a life beyond ours.”

She looked at him with a puzzled stare, “yeah but you could say that about almost everything, anywhere.  The bridge is over eighty years old.  Fort Point is even older than that.”

He looked back at her and threw his arms out in exasperated glee, “and that’s my point!  This entire area has a history.  A life of its own.  It’s beautiful in its age.  You’ve got something from the 30’s in the bridge.  You’ve got the fort from the mid 1800’s.  You’ve got this building here from the 1910’s.”

He pointed up to the Palace of Fine Arts in its near-golden splendor.  The most beautiful building in North America, he often though.  A piece of art that seems as if it was transported there from ancient Greece with its pillars standing tall.

She followed his hand and nodded, “it is a very pretty building.  That’s why I love coming here.  It’s such a serene place.”

“It is!”  He exclaimed.  He often couldn’t hold his excitement when he began talking about something he loved.

“It absolutely is.  The architect was a genius.”

“He was also insane,” she added.

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t know?”

“No, what?”  His curiosity was high and his focus was solely on her.

“Well you know this place was one of a number of buildings originally constructed, right?”

He shook his head from side to side and she continued.

“Well the architect of it all modeled it after the Roman and Greek ruins of old.  You can tell by looking at it.  He also designed it so it wouldn’t survive much past its initial use of the Panama-Pacific Exposition.  Everything began crumbling and falling apart a few years after it was originally used and many of the other structures were demolished.”

As she spoke she wasn’t making eye contact with him, but instead was looking out on the lagoon.  There were ducks and swans swimming in it.  The eucalyptus trees were hanging and the leaves were swaying in the breeze that came in off of the bay.  She really did love this spot.  Much more than she outwardly let on.

“He used cheap materials.  Nothing that would stand the test of time.  The only reason this building and any of these pillars are still standing is because some people in the city were so enamored with it they formed a group to save it.”

She paused for only a moment before adding, “a famous line attributed to the architect gave the impression that he intended for nothing to be left by the time he was gone.”

“What was it?”  He asked, completely enthralled.

“Every great city needs ruins,” her voice was reminiscent.  Somewhere between her description and the quote she didn’t seem to be talking about the Palace anymore.

“Every great city needs ruins, huh?  That’s kind of romantic if you think about it,” his eyes followed hers out to the lagoon and focused on two ducks swimming along side each other.  He stood next to her and they stared at them together.

“That everything beautiful has something broken inside.  Every great masterpiece has a deep flaw.  And that it doesn’t matter.  There are people that still love it for everything that it is.  They go to it as often as they’re able because it makes them happy.  They don’t even really know why but they know the feeling they get when they’re around it.  And in some ways the ruins make it more beautiful.  The flaws make it more attractive and the people end up loving it because it isn’t perfect.”

There was a silence after he stopped talking.  It was overcast and grey on a Thursday evening with very few people around.  A strong breeze came off of the bay and hugged the ground until it reached them and the cold kiss from the Pacific caused them both to shiver.  She sniffled and rubbed her eyes while turning away from him so he wouldn’t see.  He didn’t pursue her look so she could have that moment.

“Yeah well-,” she didn’t finish her thought.

They watched the ducks for a few more minutes until one flew off around the huge columns, quacking the entire way.

“So maybe he wasn’t crazy.”

“Who?”  She rubbed her eye and turned to him.

“The architect.  Maybe he wasn’t crazy.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because.  I don’t know.  Maybe he was right.”

“About every city needing ruins?”

He nodded, reached out and took her hand, “yeah.   That and maybe he knew all great ruins just needed someone to come along and save them.”

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