Monday, June 2, 2008

Oh, Albany!

New York's illustrious state capital gets a bad rap from those city-folk forced to do business in it. It's small, far away, and there's nothing to do, they say. Personally, I don't see what all the fuss is about. Then again, I was only up there for one night.

The occasion was the annual Legislative Correspondents Association Dinner and Show, a black-tie affair where the Albany press corps gets to mock the state's powers that be -- largely to their faces. Let's just say they had a lot of material to work with this year. Video "rebuttals" were provided by Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco and Mayor Bloomberg (here and here, if you're at all curious). Perhaps more on this later.

But back to Albany. I'm something of a democrat when it comes to geography: every location has some hidden charm, whether we're talking about Willets Point or Staten Island. Albany is no exception. It's actually quite a pretty town in many respects. Plus it's right on the Hudson, and the train ride up from the city (a leisurely two-and-a-half hours) is absolutely gorgeous.

The centerpiece of all this is the Capitol building (above), a late-19th centure structure that (you can see) must be delightful to work in.

And then came Nelson Rockefeller. Here's the Capitol again, this time from the side. It's really the kind of building in which you can imagine big, important people like Teddy Roosevelt and Al Smith (for all their faults) doing big, important things:

Now here's what happens when you turn around:

And what on earth is this thing?

Welcome to the Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, home since 1973 to most of the bureaucracies that run New York -- and basically what Epcot Center would look like if DisneyWorld was in hell. Rockefeller, that playboy patron of the "arts," came up with much of the design himself.
When I was in Claremont, I remember several lectures put on by the American-founding types at the Salvatori Center about the role of architecture in expressing and nourishing a nation's values. It's at least interesting to reflect that this may well have been the view from Eliot Spitzer's window.

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