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Random Thoughts: Beyond Ourselves by Tom Gruning

Written By Editor on 12/13/13 | 12/13/13

Dr. Gruning is an independent ethnomusicologist, author of Millenium Folk: American Folk Music since the Sixties, Deputy Mayor in the Village of Middleburgh and columnist for the Schoharie News.
 
In October of this year my wife and I were fortunate enough to spend a few days in Barcelona. The weather was sunny and warm, the tapas were plentiful, and the wine was sublime. One aspect of life in Barcelona struck me almost immediately upon our arrival: an architectural sense of timelessness; practical thinking beyond ones own temporality.
 
As we walked miles and miles through the city it seemed that we came across some bit of sculpture, or mosaic, or mural in most neighborhoods. Many aren’t forgettable scribblings by unknown art students: these are works by Miro and Picasso among others. And they aren’t confined to main streets and scenic parks; there are various objects d’ art here and there on side-streets and back alleys as well. Well, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but the point is there’s a bunch of public art throughout Barcelona and Spain ’s larger cities generally. The fundamental importance of art in the public sphere is nowhere more apparent than in Barcelona ’s architecture.
 
            Certainly volumes have been written about Spanish architecture, both ancient and modern, but in this article I am concerned with one specific structure, La Sagrada Família, designed by architect Antoni Gaudí. La Sagrada is a huge and terrifically ornate basilica (it can’t be a cathedral because there is no resident Bishop) that has been under construction since the early 1880s and is projected for completion sometime between 2026 and 2041, although some critics doubt that it will meet either deadline.
 
In and of itself, the basilica is quite impressive and is one of, if not the most visited attraction in Spain . Walking through La Sagrada was a deeply moving experience for me, not for any religious reasons, but because of the sheer magnitude of the project in terms of an in-progress time frame spanning multiple generations. This is an edifice conceived and designed to be built over several lifetimes. In some cases Gaudí’s plans anticipated construction techniques that did not yet exist during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That’s some powerful thinking ahead.
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What does any of this have to do with life in Schoharie County , you ask? On the surface it has nothing to do with whether the price of gas goes up or down at the Red Barrel, or how much Stewart’s charges for that morning coffee. And to my knowledge no one in the county has suggested any seriously long-term building projects (although I think a coliseum would be fun). However, in a conceptual sense, I believe we have something to learn from Mr. Gaudí and La Sagrada Família: thinking beyond ourselves.
 
In my capacity as a village trustee, I have recently attended two presentations on solar energy. Both presenters were interested in brokering deals whereby municipalities, businesses, and schools could essentially join together in leasing solar systems at no cost netting an energy savings of between ten and forty percent. The leases would be for a twenty-five year term. Under some scrutiny, the ten percent figure seemed more likely than the forty. The broker would take advantage of the generous tax incentives provided by the state and federal governments and presumably would also pocket the volume discount for signing up multiple users and systems.
 
One forward-thinking attendee asked if our array would be updated as the technology improved over the lifespan of the lease: nope, “we don’t expect any great leaps in the technology to occur…” Well, yeah…nothing much has happened with technology in the last twenty-five years (say what?). Another asked what would happen at the end of the lease to which the broker replied that the equipment would be “removed.” And what do we wind up with? Bupkus.
 
It strikes me that participating in this sort of leasing program is ultimately short-sighted. Yes, it doesn’t involve any initial financial payout. Yes, it’s easy to let someone else do our thinking and our work for us. However, we (the collective, community WE) are reasonably intelligent, creative, and hard-working people. I think we can handle the footwork for this sort of project. Will it cost money? Absolutely, but doesn’t everything of value have a cost? In the long term, it seems much more satisfying and economically sensible for us as municipalities, businesses, schools, and residents to bite the bullet and make an investment in an energy future we can leave our children and grandchildren. It ain’t La Sagrada, but it would be something beyond ourselves.   
 
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