Garrison Keillor once heard weekly on the prairie Home Companion on NPR could be funny, sometimes sweet, and often provided the answer to – what are the simple folk doing? His own persona seemed incredibly solipsistic, but he surrounded himself with people who were more outgoing and radio-charismatic.
This months HARPERS magazine was filled with the dark reality in our world today – pretty depressing. Except for one article called “Hurrah for the Public Plaza” written by Garrison Keillor. As an architect and ardent fan of Urban Design, I would have loved the article in any case, but wrapped in this particular issue, with articles about the wandering poor finding cheap land in Colorado, ongoing problems in Rwanda, the yellow-jackets in France, the ancient and modern barbarism in Hungary – it was a needed antidote.
The article is a thank you for the public spaces in Manhattan, but the plazas could be anywhere. The gratitude is for a place outdoors to walk, to sit, to sense what life is like these days, for oneself and for for others. Garrison sees a woman writing on her iPad and makes up an internal dialogue and writing for her based on his definition of what he sees – about 35 years old, after a break-up or other disappointment, hoping for a better future in the big city…
I sit in the midst of the city and think, Thank you for the cheap plane tickets and for my aunt’s college classmate’s apartment on Columbus Avenue and the cat who needs my care while the classmate is away on sabbatical. Thank you that nobody is asking “What’s wrong?” I have a right to be sad but all I can think of saying is, Thank you, thank you that I am on the brink of something. Make it good. Surprise me.
He writes that in a plaza “it occurs to you that other people have been in your situation, whatever it is, and this knowledge is at the heart of civility.” Heavens when was then last time you read about civility? Empathy?
He closes with a comparison of Thoreau who left Staten Island to move to the woods to write Walden and Garrison’s feeling that he is sitting in the plaza to deliberate on humanity and be a witness to society. his last sentence is Breathe the air, drink plenty of water, taste the pastries, and resign yourself to the presence of pigeons.
Main piazza in Genoa, Italy