On quaintness

We do many things we shouldn’t have done, not, I think, because we are psychopathic, but because of a deficiency of thought. The other day — mea culpa — I used the word “quaint” in a dismissive way. It was a habit from my distant past. On finally thinking about it, I realized that I was using a propaganda term of the progressives. Something that is “quaint” must be “past its time.” Today, almost anything that was humane can be dismissed as quaintness.

My voice carried back to my ears. I realized that, on uttering this word, it had even taken on that smug, obnoxiously progressive tone. There you have it. I sounded, to my own ears, like one of those people I affectionately call “commies and perverts.” I had employed insufficient irony.

Later, I entered a Public Library. This was only in hope of finding the “washroom.” (We used to say “toilet”; even that was a euphemism.) Our library, here in Inner Parkdale, is named after our sitting┬ámunicipal councillor (once called an “alderman,” before the feminasties struck). It does physically resemble a sprawling latrine, even more now that it has been expensively re-upholstered. The councillor is a socialist, multisexualist, environmentalist, and narcissist of the first water, of course, and thus a big spender (of other people’s money). The library named after himself began looking “used” when it was first built, just a few years ago. It was time to flush another few million, down the vestibule.

I looked around. They still have books in there, improbably, but fewer. More tech apparatus, and the ambiance of a social service centre. This is Parkdale after all. The “clients,” as the social workers call them, seem to consist only of rubby-dubs. (This Canadianism is derived from rubbing alcohol, a traditional local beverage.) Though a poignant symbol of civilizational decline, Gordon Perks Library will never be “quaint.”

But outside I found a stylish car; parked before a recently-opened, vegetabletarian grocery. The style of both was spanking new “retro.” All goods in the store were “organic,” a label that is used to quadruple prices. I further observed that all the labels were retro.

At first glance, I approved. They were fake, but they were something. Nothing in the library had even that. It is an aggressively boring, brick utility, useful enough for my purpose, but with none of that quaint architectural, municipal pride. Even the books are covered in plastic, an indication that all might be obscene. By contrast, my books at home are quaint. A visitor will see immediately that very few were printed in the current century; too much “patina” for that. Public and private libraries alike once had character. All I can remember were quaint.

More generally, as I look about town, I realize one thing I love about Parkdale. It is full of quaintness — mostly unintended survivals of old things, only partially molested. People were too poor to replace them; and so some beauty stayed. A lot of money, however, is finally steamrolling in. The arrival of funky, mostly talentless, (subsidized) artists was the signal. Time to go upmarket, developers realized, and to install new quaint — but in steel, glass, plastic, and not ambiguously, but explicitly fake.

Money buys style. It also buys cleanliness, to the point of sterility. A new class is invented, to displace the old. The nouveau fairly riche are arriving. They will annihilate anything that reminds them of their past, unless it can be used for sales purposes. Then it becomes appropriated charm, to be cleaned up, washed down, sandblasted — sterilized. (A dumpy old apartment visible from my balcony is being noisily tarted up as I write. When the workmen are finished, it won’t be recognizable. Neither will the rents.)

Looking about for the latest style, I notice one feature. Wherever there is visible success, the new style is “retro.” Perhaps that is an historical constant: for every new style is essentially retro, and must be, to sell.