September 07, 2007

Urban Palimpsest

"parchment from which earlier writing has been removed to clear it for new writing," 1661, from L. palimpsestus, from Gk. palimpsestos "scraped again," from palin "again" (see palindrome) + verbal adj. of psen "to rub smooth" (of unknown origin).

--Online Etymology Dictionary

Summer gals.
This blurry phone picture shows the mural on the back garden wall of the chi-chi restaurant Barolo in SoHo, which is directly across the street from my apartment building. The picture was snapped last summer, soon after the mural was completed. I greatly enjoy the mural's stylized 1940s aesthetic, the devil-may-care attitude of the winking, posing bathing beauties. What's not to love about happy women in brown bathing suits wearing chunky high heels on a wall on an urban street in downtown New York? Part of the appeal for me is certainly the surprise of the vision, the out-of-place context of this city swimsuit competition, and the sheer cheek of putting it up in the first place. Plus the women are floating a few inches above the sidewalk.

Winter decrepitude.
Last winter, when Barolo's swank garden was closed for the season, garbage accumulated in front of the mural, and graffiti vandals defaced it, scrawling tags, skulls, and skanky words across it. My favorite graffito was the phrase, "It's a lush life, bitch!" written off to the side of the ladies (not shown in these pictures). I figured that when summer returned, the owners of Barolo would wash the entire wall yellow again and keep it blank, or have a new mural commissioned, since the cheery women seemed beyond repair.

To my delight, this summer, Barolo did indeed repaint the wall yellow, covering the graffiti, but they let the women remain where they were, and just painted around their outlines, leaving in place whatever scrawl actually traversed the ladies.

A second summer skin.
The result was a strangely intriguing palimpsest, a record of the artwork and its off-season environmental interaction with the neighborhood, only scored against the women's skin like wrinkles, cellulite, or tattoos.

It strikes me as a neatly accurate representation of the aging process, the way our world covers us with indelible impressions of experience.

The winter here can be rough, man. Come summer, we can shore up our outlines, but the weathering events of rude improvidence cannot be fully erased.

I particularly like that the word BOOBS on the leftmost lady was not entirely obscured in her armpit.


Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

Like rowdy tattoos on a bathing beauty the graffiti surprises, but after a moment of contemplation, it humanizes what had been mere pleasant caricatures.

Matty said...

I want that Varga girls bracelet I stole from that Venezuelan rent boy back. These womyn are in frames.