Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Our Lady of Eleventh

One of the first photographs I ever posted on this blog was of a Madonna shrine on 11th Street, in the front yard of a squalid frame house that had seen better days.  The house, with its crumbled 50's asphalt siding and aluminum awnings, had clearly become a stigma on a prime South Slope block, and its last, reclusive inhabitants, also the worse for wear, were equally out of place.  Outside and in, all sank into troubled seclusion, and eventually the house fell empty.

Well not entirely. Our Lady was still out front, and if you looked up to the windows of the house itself, you could see a host of other religious figures, somewhat hidden behind the dirt encrusted glass. There was something magnificently creepy about these little characters standing vigil as time passed. Though not in the least religious, I had a strange fondness for them all, especially the Madonna, and on many occasions I harbored fantasies of stealing her.  I tried to work out how I could pull this off, but figured it would be difficult.  She was too big to tuck in a bag or under a coat, and to be caught stealing a piece of religious statuary would be embarrassing.  I could imagine myself featured in some snarky Brooklyn Paper crime snippet  ("Woman Grabs South Slope Virgin!"),  and the thought was not pleasant.  How I regret my timidity.

I photographed the Madonna for the last time a few days ago, but passing by today, found her missing from her spot and the house being gutted. The Polish construction workers I spoke to told me it was a renovation job, and not a tear down, and when I asked hopefully about you know who, said that someone else had taken her.  Too late. I made a feeble bid for one of the figures above the door, but was told that I'd have to come back to speak to the owner, who thought they might be valuable.  I doubt they have much monetary value, really, but I'd have liked to clean one up and keep it around.  Everything disappears, bit by bit, and before you know it, you've forgotten the look of what was once there.  On my block alone, there are five long-empty houses, three vacant due to the death or illness of elderly neighbors, one hit by fire a year ago, and another on and off the market for years.  Their fate is a complete unknown. You accustom yourself to uncertainty, to the threat of demolition, and the bit by bit paring away of sunlight. Even to an atheist, a little plaster saint might be a comfort.

1 comment:

freckel said...

where is the madonna