To Utica

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When I take girls this way, they get all nervous… they start freaking out… I know why so I often laugh, and this makes them more afraid, the taxi driver exclaimed as he was taking me through a patch of weed and half torn down buildings and I said, you’re either taking me to the train or dumping my body in a grassy field.

He was taking me to the train.

The laughter of him and the random dude in the back at the thought of frightened women was unsettling.

The original Utica had Carthage as a thorn in its side and today’s Utica can fit that description too. Let me quote from Wikipedia…

The site of the ruins of Utica is set on a low hill, composed of several Roman Villas. Their walls still preserve decorative mosaics. To the northwest of these villas is a Punic necropolis, with Punic sarcophagi (I can only take to be Albany, NY).

Today like the ruins in current Tunis, Utica, New York, is a very grand ruin and perhaps since many spaces are given over to the Mohammedan faith, it shares more with the city of its namesake than most people consider or admit. Perhaps this will be at some point a caliphate, perhaps a center of Urban Renewal and a city of casinos like Atlantic City or the next Tech Valley/Alley/Punic Sarcophagi… Carthage is the rest of the nation. And… we spend treasure and time to ruin our own Utica.

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At one point the cities of the upper and western lands of New York State were a series of wealthy Cities Upon Hills, the pinnacle of a certain convergence of history upon our Great Land and the world where steam brought new wealth and a Positivism that is hard to find in today’s world where our technology brings us madness, sickness, and 1-800 lawyer commercials to redress the illness caused by the latest innovation.

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They tore down 57 buildings, some of them businesses, said the taxi driver. To put an interchange, to enlarge the highway. They blew up some buildings, it was the most eventful thing to happen in town in years…. We drove through these new improvements still under construction. In a vanishing city, these were 57 lived in structures now missing. The bike lane to nowhere was yet to be finished.

Utica is not so much a city, as a northwestern wing to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and since they had the Temple of Dendur alreay could not fit the wreckage of America, could not find the attic space to place those grand old buildings still remaining in a city where for each surviving edifice there were three or more torn down so cars could park. What grand designs and the efforts of many, how many forests and fields, how much virgin stone went in to an Empire that was cut down and carted to the landfill to make way for a carpark? It is as if Americans, seeing the horror of war and the leveling of history under the clusterbomb had to return and flatten their own cities as some kind of homage, some self inflicted retribution to rid our collective mind of those memories of what we did or saw in Dresden in Flanders in Hiroshima.

In the center of this city is a grand hotel. The Hotel Utica. In its past, it had been such an improvement over other accommodations that people would travel to Utica just to say at the hotel. Then, as the rest of our nation, the hotel fell. As Urban Renewal flattened city after city, Utica was not immune. A Great Highway ran threw the downtown.

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When we live in an ugly world it is because people want it that way. They want it to live in turnpike exchanges. They want strip malls. They want to take down the grand buildings, the civic monuments, the details and flying arches of the visionaries.

Utica is home to the remaining railway station by McKim, Mead & White. The folks that did the old Penn Station before it was torn down to turn it into a toilet bested only by the total diarrhea that is the Port Authority Bus Station. In Utica, that station still stands even if it has been reduced to a beggar, to the bus station cum DMV cum tourist train station vis barber cum strange event hall.

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Utica Hotel is again a grand destination today since some investors turned it back from some retirement home for the lost and dying and now is a hotel that seems as if it has not ever been out of service in the past American Century. It may be to some a backup location to film The Shinning II, but it is that wonderful space to which it is sad more people don’t take advantage of since they seem to want the underground car park and heated pool (that I was told was broken) of the commercial industrial corporate Inn a few blocks away. The hotel is renovated, the rooms large and comfortable, the stay is of the utmost comfort yet there is a tinge of sad that I… for the most part… was the only one there…. the restaurant closed early due to no business… there was no bar… no music… the grand entrance was left alone… no doorman. It was being in the film the Hotel Budapest but that part of the hotel taken over by the communists. And I have been told Capitalism won…

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We want to see our cities fail. I don’t know why. We want to spit apart who we were. We want to take down anything that challenges this ugly and Made In China age. We want to hurt the past, to remove history and remove all traces of those who had lifted stones and cut wood before us. If the world had but medians in highways, has only Dollar Trees and blows up old banks, ruins churches, and abandoned cities, it seems so many of us would be happy. Content, feel that Manifest Destiny had wrought the right world. A world not made by hand.

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Being in Utica I wanted to like the city. There are some good bones there. But I loved the Hotel Utica.

If the world is ugly. It is because we want it that way. We do however, have the power to also make good on the world and to imagine the very best and to again build a new city upon a hill. If they can rebuld the Hotel Utica, they can also rebuild the rest of the city and perhaps take those parking lots and raise up grand structures for a new age.
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