57. Breakfast With Phil

As it turned out, Ralph was free the next morning and so the three of them — Ralph Deigh, Phil Anthropod, and Daniel Messinger — met for breakfast in the coffee shop that was part of the cooking school at the Mechanics Institute. Serge Amien, the lead instructor in pastry at the school came out to greet them, and since he didn’t have his regular bread baking class until 11, sat down to join them. Phil was delighted at this, since it gave him an opportunity to get several different perspectives on what he called the Eden Experiment.

The first thing Daniel noticed was that Ralph turned unusually shy and reticent when Phil mentioned Eden as an experiment. Serge, on the other hand, was his usual voluble self, laughing and cracking his old jokes which seemed to be familiar to everyone except Phil. He was particularly witty in teasing Daniel about his budding relationship with someone he called “that girl from Ohio.”

As they were talking, a tall, lanky brunette came into the coffee shop. She was very attractive even in the ill-fitting bib overalls she was wearing and obviously very comfortable in her clothes and these surroundings.

“Hello, Barbara,” Daniel said as she approached their table. “What’s new?”

“Hey, Dan. Ralph.” Then turning to Phil, she said, “You must be that writer they said was here in town to hear all these guys lie about what’s been going on up there in that secret government patch. I call it Area 52. God knows what kind of experimental secret stuff they got goin’ on up there. Probably even got a few alien corpses or something like that.”

When this got no reaction, she continued. “All this nonsense about a village with Europeans and Spanish and Indians and Nee-groes livin’ together up there in secret for 500 years is just one great big load of bull crap. Same kind of political correctness B.S. we been hearin’ from them Washin’ton liberals for years. Ain’t that so, Barry?” At this she turned toward the coffee shop manager over by the door. As she did, he turned several shades of pink, fuchsia and then scarlet, before stammering, “I. I. I. I don’t know anything about that, Barbara.”

As planning for the Eden project had evolved in the first few months, it was increasingly obvious to the members of the planning committee that not everyone was happy with Ralph Deigh’s commitment to modern design and some locals were even more disturbed by the idea of rethinking rural communities. Barbara was clearly one of those, although she didn’t let her objections keep her away from the delicious pastries at the Mechanics Institute cooking school restaurant. Some of the residents of Barley Mill who were otherwise committed to relocating in the new town of Eden had given decidedly mixed reviews to the model houses they were shown. And it soon became clear that the objection wasn’t just to what Ralph considered the key features of modern design, whether it was the use of central heat and air conditioning, structural steel and concrete, open floor plans, cantilevered porches and balconies, large expanses of glass or easy, open flow between interior and exterior spaces. “I think what many people object to most,” Ralph told Amy one evening, “ are the plain, simple, unadorned exterior facades they associate with modernism.”

“I like the idea of having bathrooms with showers and central heat and an up-to-date kitchen and all the rest,“ Gina Millsap, one of Barbara’s close friends, had told the planners at a recent community meeting, “but I don’t like all those la-de-da modernistic Franky Wrighty designs with their six sides and glass walls hanging out in space and all that. I want a house that looks like my grandma’s house. A place you want your kids to grow up in. Something really sweet and sentimental, nestled in among the trees like those paintings by Thomas Kinkade. Something that will give me a warm feeling inside.”

The following morning Madeline and Lil. . . had been having a laugh over Gina’s approach to modern design in the kitchen of the FEMA trailer that was serving as the on-site office for the Eden Project when Ralph arrived.

“I think I know where Gina’s coming from,” he told the two young women. “She doesn’t like the spare, featureless facades of so much ‘modern’ architecture. She wants a house that looks like her idea of a house. And I’m sure she’s not alone in that. And for what it’s worth, I agree completely that ‘modern’ flat roofs are a very bad idea, especially here in Appalachia where we get so much rain and snow. Flat roofs have been no end of trouble in a whole variety of modern homes.”

“I could argue,” he continued, “that those early modern architects did plain facades just to highlight the really innovative structural features of their designs and their new uses of materials — the glass, concrete, and steel. More traditional facades like Gina wants in her house would have minimized, even hidden, the real innovations.”

Neither Madeline nor Lil. . . knew quite what to say to this so they said nothing, and the conversation soon turned to other, more mundane matters on the daily construction schedule for Eden.

After a few more community meetings and some sampling of local opinion, the planning group determined that community views were almost evenly split on this question of modern facades. Some people really loved the idea of ‘modern looking’ facades, whether the clean geometric lines of a Wright design or the voluptuous curves of Geary, Hadid or the MAD group’s Huangshan Village, and another group of almost equal size really hated that look and wanted housing that “actually looked like houses, and not space ships.”

After a few more weeks of discussion with Madeline, Lil. . ., Adam and others, Ralph finally arrived at what appeared to be a suitable compromise. “I think,” he told the group, “that if we wrap thoroughly modern designs and material and features in some very traditional looking English cottage and log cabin facades, it looks like we can make part of the community very happy.” And so it was that the basic plan for two of the additional villages of Eden began to fall into place. Housing in ne of the six villages of Eden would have the appearance of a Currier-and-Ives-meet-Thomas-Kinkade-inspired traditional facades, and the second would consist entirely of modern, log cabin designs. The first would be named Sunlight Village and the second would be called Pioneer or Frontier something. Ralph objected for a brief time to the latter, in particular, because it violated one of his principles of organic architecture — the use of local, indigenous, materials. “We’ve got millions and millions of trees in Appalachia,” he would point out, “but almost none of them are big enough or straight enough to work well in the kind of log house construction people want. For that, we will have to import all of the logs from Canada and the Pacific Northwest.”

“Make no mistake,” Ralph assured the assembled design staff and planning group, “all of these houses are to be completely modern on the inside, right down to the most melding of inside and outside that we can fit in. But, when it comes to roof lines, overhangs, outside facades including landscaping, the model for Sunlight Village will be the English village and those very popular Thomas Kinkade paintings. In terms of landscape design,” he went on, “for this particular village we want lots and lots of paths through the woods, criss-crossing creeks, wishing wells, arbors, dappled light through the trees and all the rest.”

“The log cabin village doesn’t have a name yet. I suppose some historical reference invoking Lincoln or Daniel Boone might be appropriate, but here too the log cabin facades will be just that — traditional faces on some strictly modern designs.”

And so it was that what others later called “the great compromise” was struck. Four of the seven villages of Eden were to be — in terms of external appearances — completely modern in design, while two others would be equally modern in their basic architectural features but with more traditional-appearing facades. The basic configuration of the seventh village had yet to be decided. From the first moment that Gina Millsap and a group of her friends were shown some of the preliminary sketches that Ralph had authorized they were equally ecstatic in praise of the bathroom fixtures in the master bedroom suites and the “really cute” scalloped window boxes overlooking the faux back yard wishing wells.

Ralph recounted all of this in their breakfast meeting that morning in the coffee shop at the Mechanics’ Institute. Daniel had said very little during breakfast. Ralph noticed his unusual quiet even as he and Phil talked through the past, present and future of the Eden project. Daniel was preoccupied on that particular day with a conversation he had with Cane Sennett the previous evening. Can had told him all about the drive he and Freddie had made out to discover the crowd at the Proffitt place, and their subsequent hike to the ridge where they were able to observe what Cain had described as “the full militia in training.” Cain told him also about his subsequent conversation with his brother Abbie and how Abbie was part of a unit in “the agency” that had infiltrators attending that very militia event.

After another hour of conversation, mostly between Ralph and him, Phil announced that he must be on his way west to wherever it was that he was really going. Ralph and Daniel walked him out to his car and went their separate ways without discussing what was troubling Daniel on that morning.

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