The Architecture of the Place is Killing Me

Pat Smyklo

The house Matsunaga built among the Yaw trees

I think of the house, the architect Matsunaga built for his sister with the Yaw trees. Architecture, he said should have many images just as there are a great variety of bird nests. Dropping this glass bottle is ecologically a million year mistake. Later, arriving in Tokyo, stunned by their new architecture. America with its architectural mistakes that are killing me. Is it a weakness that I can’t walk by the glass and chrome Kaiser building by the lake? Am I simply a weak person?

I cannot believe the coward you have become

I cannot believe the coward you have become! Your love of architecture, as I sit alone in the apartment, waiting for your call. How can the feelings we share in looking at the buildings have turned to such despair? I turn on the TV and the Japanese soap opera woman fills me with her honor and tradition.

I do love the actress!

Or, is it I thought I watched a Japanese soap opera? I do love the actress! I am jealous of every woman he could love, so I hate her too. Oh, but her lips are lovely, her shellacked hair so carefully done. Later, I will love her again.

Yes, you can live in a Maybeck house

What is it that the American architect said, “We have a right to expect our buildings to give something back.” Yes, you can live in a Maybeck house or visit one on a tour but one day you must leave the house! It is dangerous to form this sensitivity to beauty, so that without the Maybeck house, you feel emptiness.

His wife collects little soaps

If I can live in Tokyo, where I pass the building that he designed, I will find happiness. His wife collects little soaps. You talk of the three of us when at Harvard. After her baby is born, then she will know about our daughter. But he’s done this before, it has happened before. We are both women with daughters that may never meet. Or meet when adults, sisters lost from each other for years.

The towel from the Japanese love hotel

The towel, the night our daughter was conceived. It is some evidence. I keep the towel from the Japanese love hotel. The attendant never sees our faces. Is it a sign of weakness that I can’t give him up? For now he signs his letter, “Your fiancé.”

I want to fax your daughter’s pictures

Nights, alone in the small apartment, a phone call, difficult to make. “Are you there? Are you there?” I want to fax your daughter’s picture over and over into your office. So, the old worker when she sees her face and knows you are her father will feel shame.

Shall I enlarge her face, by 10, 100, 1,000 times? Whatever is technically possible now?

Valentine’s Day in Japan

The women in Japan buy chocolates for men on Valentine’s Day. Four hundred million dollars spent this year. One candy store had a form attached to the candy where you could send a message to movie stars, politicians, strangers about your feelings on many subjects, “No war, please,” “I loved your movie.”

Victorian circus

In the pavilion is an inner courtyard of light. A small women’s Victorian circus is performing. Carousel music, red tents draw you in. Zazel, Az, Mademoiselle Geraldine perform on the high wire. Zazel, human cannonball puts on her blue costume, combs back her boyish hair. Az suspends for a moment then falls into her partner’s arms.

The fat lady squeezes into her layered slips, pale organdy dress. Her foot poised on a stuffed armadillo. The dwarf puts on her red pointed children’s shoes. The band circles the tent. The snare drum, tambourine signs the start. As the curtain rises the performers feel as happy as women are with women.

How can anyone have children these days?

In the pavilion is an exhibition of an ecology workshop. The program includes addresses and panel presentations. The European legacy of technological expansion will be examined. The American wilderness tradition will be investigated. Two technological addresses will be presented. One discussion will have cross-cultural concerns and the second will present an eco-feminist view, linking the subjection of women with the abuses of nature. I overhear a woman say, “How can anyone have children these days? Believe me, we only have ten years to clean up the environment, and do you really think anyone is going to do it?” My daughter is part of this future of ecology and the frantic efforts to save the environment.

If I drop a glass bottle

If I drop a glass bottle, I am making a million year mistake. The brochure shows the rate of decomposition: Paper: 2.5 months; Orange Peel: 6 months; Milk Carton: 5 years; Cigarette Butt: 10-12 years; Plastic bag: 10-20 years; Disposable diaper: 75 years; Tin can: 100 years; Beer can: 200-500 years; a glass bottle, a million years, Styrofoam: never (immortal). Should I repeat the information from the workshop? Intellectually, there is much to learn. Or, is it as simple as the curator who said, “One man looks at a Sears Roebuck catalog and sees a total deadpan inventory, while another sees a hallucinatory fantasy of corsets running together with tractors.”

Something strong (like blue glass) brings me in the room, then out

Next, I see the Art Deco exhibit. Angular, I am the black Moroccan girl statue. Beside my hand, an Art Deco lamp with an exquisite Amethyst shade. It is dangerous to remember past lovers, places you went together, restaurants you now mark off on a city map. He is like the green oblique clock with slender towers. Something strong like blue glass brings me in the room, then out. Light always comes in lines through the Venetian blinds.

The architecture of thoughts/juxtaposition of days

Now, I realize the architecture of thoughts, juxtaposition of days against days, fashions that bring them. The blue Frank Lloyd Wright building, did I see something Deco there or Moroccan? It is dangerous to form sensitivity to beauty, or is it a new strength not realized? Something in curves, arcs, concentric circles. A mood, a feeling present in the architecture.

I couldn’t find a friend to go with me

The Frank Lloyd Wright building doesn’t intrigue everyone. I couldn’t find a friend to go with me. It’s outdated, he said, bad taste, a relic from the past. Go if you like but it really doesn’t interest me. I went alone past the blue stairs, Yes, definitely something Moroccan here and Deco too, I see it all in the columns, curves, thinking of you. We collect things from the past and future. Wright’s building with its intricate design, a mood I can hold onto as you very seldom call.

I live in rooms full of light

I live in rooms full of light. I am a good mathematician, am moderate in drinking wine. I use massage, baths, gymnastics to fight insomnia. Rock-to-and-fro, the sound of running water. Geometry shows how we occupy a position in space. A change of surroundings. I avoid all frightening ideas, I need cheerful conversations. Compulsive memorizing, dryness, a warm hand. The stars in the heavens, an unfinished building, a block of stone, a sphere, compass, molding plane, set-square, hammer, glass. A feeling of imprisonment within these enclosing walls. Ecstasy and curious obsessions when I think of you. The compulsive belief that I am a blue earthenware jar.

If I don’t memorize this block

If I don’t memorize this block I am afraid I may never find it again. He said, “You must orientate yourself to this city, not by book, by address, but by walking, sight, by habit, by experience.” Here, every walk is intense and fragile, it can be repeated or recovered only by memory of the trace it has left in you.

Tokaido Highway bends 27 times

If I leave now, no cab driver can show me the way. He will keep asking, “Is this the way, where shall I go now?” My six-inch miniature television shows the Japanese soap opera star’s small beautiful face that fades in and out. Maps collect on my table. Tokaido Highway bends 27 times crossing the town of Okazaki.

I look at other young Japanese men (is it a betrayal?)

In downtown Tokyo’s Shibuya district, the Reim Building is lit at night with neon. This area isn’t easy to memorize so I have taken a chance to come here. Elevators go to fast food restaurants, video games and bars. I look at other young Japanese men, is it a betrayal? Their faces, bodies flooded by this incredible neon. Is it a betrayal or am I orientating myself as the Japanese soap opera star does when she makes love?

I bend 27 times with the highway

Walking, by sight, now it’s a habit, down the Tokaido Highway. “Are you alright, young lady out on this highway?” I bend 27 times with the highway. Maps collect in the car, intersections that end in T or L shapes.

She is dropping her hand

The Japanese soap opera star, is she weak or has a new strength not realized? In Tokyo, alone, every day I am intense and fragile. Suddenly, not knowing her language isolates me more. She is dropping her hand from her lovely face. If I drop this glass bottle am I making a million year mistake? I see many bottles left in the street, if I pick them up, am I changing anything?

I start to ask a shoe clerk for help

I start to ask a shoe clerk for help in selecting shoes but quickly leave the store. If I ask her for help, I am somehow participating in wasting her life. “That’s ridiculous to feel that, she’s there to serve you,” he said in a way I didn’t like. Then, I remember how he never picks up his clothes in the apartment and talks fondly of his mother’s maid. “She loves to polish our silver. Believe me, she said this to me many times. It’s no crime to enjoy yourself.” If I waste her life how will I know it?

And you come less and less to the apartment

Since, I didn’t memorize your face and you come less and less to the apartment, I have now lost you. The Japanese soap opera woman touches her face. I may recover you or perhaps I may not. By memory, the trace you have left in me.

Japan’s largest manufacture of women’s lingerie

I visit the Wacoal Corporation, Japan’s largest manufacture of women’s lingerie. I think I see the Japanese soap opera star buying lingerie. I follow her along the esplanade. I start to ask her, “Is it really you? For today I need to speak to you.” She is dropping her hand. She is there at the turn of the stairs. “I know love in real life is difficult. It is only a TV soap opera,” she says sadly.

I can’t stand to be observed

As I follow her, observe her, I suddenly, believe me, this happened without warning, I had never felt this before, I had never thought of it! But I felt as I watched her beautiful face, turned away, but oh, I know her every move, I felt a fear of being observed.

I felt an animal fear

It was an animal fear, there at the Wacoal building. What was it, the Japanese soap opera star said about love? Love was difficult in real life, the way streets get crossed off maps. Bent over, alone at night to stop the pain. What was it, she said, about how it was only a TV soap opera, sadly? And you come less and less to the apartment. Today, I ask his wife silently to forgive me. The soap opera star repeats, “I know love in real life is difficult. It is only a soap opera,” she says sadly.

Here among the bras and panties

I was in the lingerie shop among the bras and panties. I never liked bras. I remember the old lady with the flat shoes who ceremoniously fitted me for my first bra, then said, “Shake yourself into it honey.” “Bras seem designed by men,” the Japanese soap opera star said and laughed, like music. She had a way of speaking that was soothing. I got the feeling that she could make love equally to a man or woman. It was only an impression, I got from her. Here among the bras and panties.

There are a number of bird nests

Still, the architect Matsunaga said that in architecture, there should be many images just as there are a great variety of bird nests. I think of the house Matsunaga built for his sister in his mother’s garden. What was his concept for the house? He said there was a tendency for humans to find affinity between their creations and structures of living organisms. The architecture of America was killing me. Could an architectural concept save me? I think of the beautiful house Matsunaga built for his sister, here among the harmonious Yaw trees.

The lost buildings, my Architect designed!

Back to top ↑

Sign up for Our Email Newsletter