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Hand-built Cathedral

Aug
01

Hand-made Cathedral

Cathedral in progress

In the world of architecture a building is “vernacular” when it is built to the standards of local custom, but largely free of other architectural traditions. When vernacular gets weird, architecture shrugs it off as “folly.”

Justo Gallego Martínez life’s work in Madrid Spain seems both vernacular and folly, but also strangely architectural. A massive cathedral he has built alone, by hand, and largely unplanned, is impressive in scale, quality, design and personal touch. A documentary about his work gives a sense of the epic nature of his effort, devotion and the building.

What makes this fun? In a general sense, Don Justo has built a cathedral that is not a cathedral. Though he is Catholic, he did not work under the guidance of a church. Through the building is architectural, he is not an architect. Where a cathedral is meant to inspire awe, which his does, it is too personal and feels intimate depsite its size. There is something deeply sacred about this construction. But as the work of one man, it’s also deeply human.

So it seems fun in so many ways. At the same time, we are taught to see the religious as not fun. The reason for that is pretty simple: We look to religion for certainty, while fun plays with meaning. Religion promises us answer where fun asks questions. Religion about what we can’t udnerstand, but fun demands some sort of answer.

What is wonderful about Don Justo’s Cathedral is that it demonstrates that the sacred and the playful and exist together. Maybe the nature of god is not in certainty, but in the liberty of play.

Addiction

Jul
28

What happens when fun runs into obsession or compulsion? Where does the fun end and the addiction begin?

Alcohol is a perfect case study in the delicate balancing act fun requires. On face value, booze is a big part of how grown ups have fun. We drink wine at fancy dinners, guzzle beer at the bowling alley and slam cocktails at the night club. Liquor is a “social lubricant” and go to for the end of a busy work week. Happy Hour is not synonymous with happiness but with drinking.

Short of a Carrie Nation teetotaler most people can at least see a place for a cocktail in the world of adult fun, even it is not your drug of preference.

In short, drinking is fun or at least helps get us in the mood for having fun.

That is always a few drinks away from trouble. Drink too much and you get a hangover, drink and drive and you might get a ticket, or worse. Chain yourself to the bottle and you can get though the day without a drink. Even moderate social drinking can end up in unwanted arguments or the regretful drunk dial.

Looking at fun theory, we can see the problem. First off, you don’t need booze to have fun anymore than you need Disneyland to have fun. But in both cases, a martini or the Mouse can help get you into the fun state of mind–where things are what they are not and are not what they are. The is/is not of fun.

But booze is a drug and as easily as it can alter our body chemistry for good, it can also lure us into a false sense of security–we think we are funny when we are offensive, we think we are really good drives while we weave, we think we are really good dancers while we slowly grind out a regretful performance that will end up on You Tube. In all of these cases, we are having fun in the moment, but upon sobering up, the moment is gone, and with it the fun.

And when alcohol becomes an obvious addiction, an uncontrollable compulsion, there is no “is not”, only the ugly dependancy.

Strangely, in the wild and wacky world of fun, the question of addiction only points toward moderation. If you can’t do something with a measure of control–eat, drink, exercise, have sex–then you really can’t have fun. Fun does’t provide a recipe as much as a formula. What you do for fun today ought to still seem like it was fun tomorrow.

Hunter Thompson’s Last Words: No Fun

Jul
27

According to the Washington Post, here’s the suicide note Hunter Thompson wrote days before killing himself:

“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”

It is sobering to think what a life lived for fun can do for you when it turns “No Fun”. Or is there a way back to the joys of a fun life? Is this just depression?

Fun: Abridged

Oct
15

What makes a place fun?


Prior to my TEDx Boulder talk on “What makes a place fun?” CU Boulder profession, and scholar of the concept of “funny” asked me for a a quick answer to the question I posed in my talk title.

Here’s the answer in under a minute on Peter’s site.

Hell House / Haunted House

Nov
07

A twitter post from an NYC friend reminded me of my long ago visit to a local Denver "Hell House". It was over 10 years ago, and my recollection is a bit fuzzy. But some of the memorable facts are these:

  • I think this was one of the early versions of the original Hell House concept, where a church would stage a reasonably gruesome haunted house desgned to show you what happens when you ally with the devil.
  • Some of the rooms in the house included a patient dying of AIDS, a couple of kids mangled in a drunk driving accident and, the classic abortion scene, where a doctor pulls a bloody, pulstating baby (doll) from a hysterically overacting teenager.
  • The climax of the piece was a decent to hell which I recall smelled sort of annoyingly of rotten eggs (sulpher, maybe?) and populated by a screaming souls writhing about on the church cafeteria floor begging for mercy while the devil, who looked suspiciously like John Lovitz, cackled and invited us to join them.
  • My friend Bruce and I had spent the hour or so waiting in line drinking Jack and Coke out of Arby's cups. So, we politely laughed our way through all the "horror". But the worse was yet to come.
  • Before you could leave, an earnest white haired gentleman huddled our group–which consisted of a bunch of teenagers and us–and asked us to pray. Abortions and dying AIDS patients played played by goofy Christian teenagers was easy to laugh at. But this was uncomfortable. While everyone bowed their head and prayed, Bruce and I looked at each other and wondered what would be more discourteous, just wait it out or bolt. I don't remember what we did because I turned my brain off.
These anecdotes seems worth remembering as I spend time researching the idea of the fun house, the haunted house and the house turned into a play house by its occupants. In this case, the house of worship becomes a play house in the sense of hosting a inverted passion play, meant to turn the sinner onto the right road with a bit of camp and some earnest (if badly acted) theater. This is really a lot different than a regular haunted house, which paces its thrills to stimulated waves of excitement and rest for no other purpose that to create a short term drama linked to some pretty tired tropes–guy with chainsaw, vampire on the loose, maniac with a knife, eerie ghost, etc,
So, a quick linage goes in reverse from Hell House, to haunted house, to 1950s television and monster movies and carnival fun houses to Victorian Gothic literature to the endless depths of fear that stalk the civilized mind. Sure, this is a certain kind of historiography of horror with its implied rhetorical point. But it does place the Hell House at the right end of an evolving chain of play spaces where dark themes serve different masters and continue to center the concept of the home–the safe place–as the inside-out dangerous place.

And maybe that's why the Hollywood Hell House–a later version of the same concept–has managed to attracte so many wry celebs to play everything from the devil to Jesus. The Haunted House is a simulacra of our fears.

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