|Sunset Place about a year ago.|
The management at Sunset Place shopping mall in South Miami recently removed a creeping fig from the walls facing Route 1. This kind of fig is an aggressive vine that can swallow up whole buildings in a season, but nevertheless I am sorry to lose that bit of subversive green. The newly, sadly clean walls make me miss the romance of ivy-covered halls, which runs so deep in the academic tradition that only the most venerable schools bear the name. Most of the League has long since banished the Ivy, but retains the hoary memory of a picturesque ancestry in the architecture. The older buildings often have a rough surface that already suggests overgrowth, perhaps in overloaded detail, perhaps in the gnarliness of stone or the mottledness of brick. In imagination, this roughness retains a natural condition, as if the building were only slightly removed from its origins in the rock and mud below it. When ivy (or creeping fig) grows, it carries living part of the earth up the walls as if to reclaim them. Building maintenance supervisors fight back with keen eye and sharp blade. To let plants advance unchecked suggests an exquisite negligence or perhaps tolerance that remains part of the collegiate imagination. Deep in ivy-covered walls, perhaps scholars like St Jerome in his study have more on their minds than pruning, and perhaps willingly make room in their world for other living things. In the presence of big thoughts, clean buildings seem rather shallow, and all the pruning and trimming obsessive, even violent. When you think about it, a smooth surface doesn’t offer much to think about and requires a lot of repetitive work to keep it that way.