Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Galleria Go 'Round

After living in Fort Lauderdale for two years, I had not visited its best-known mall, the upscale Galleria on Sunrise Boulevard. I decided to talk a 30-minute mall walk there today. The reports of its attractions have been greatly exaggerated.

What can I say? It is a collection of national chains in one location, a round-up of the usual corporate retailing suspects, from Bebe to Victoria’s Secrets. The absence of J.C. Penney’s and presence of Neiman Marcus and Saks identify it as a mall for the moneyed.

I understood my wisdom in not visiting before now. I have been living on a tight budget. I find no pleasure in competing for parking places in order to ogle the perquisites of the rich that I cannot afford.

The mall was not as crowded as I thought it might be on a cloudy day after Christmas. Nonetheless, it was challenging to keep up a brisk walking pace in the best traveled corridors. Malls are for dawdling and spending.

Saks has the strangest design approach of any of the major retailers, at least at the Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale locations. The goal seems to be to create simultaneously grandeur and intimacy, and the two elements clash. Everything is beige marble, soaring ceilings, angular lines, and brilliantly shined glass showcases. The displays are minimalist. These elements suggest grandeur and modernity. On the other hand, various products are tucked away in nooks reminiscent of the small shops that once existed on every town’s main street. I find this juxtaposition of the grand and the intimate jarring and uncomfortable. I wonder if it appeals to Saks’ demographic.

In conclusion, a mall is a mall is a mall. You can dress it up in marble or dress it down in cement tile, but the same old retailers hawk the same wares. The food court may have the name of an Italian piazza and be decked in fancy letters, but the kiosks are still Italian pizza, salads and wraps, and Asian. Malls are predictable and fundamentally boring.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Downsize Christmas

Christmas is in need of serious downsizing. Political comic commentator Lewis Black asks, "When did Christmas become about shopping?"

Then there is the silliness: the war against Christmas by stores who asked employees to say "Happy holidays" instead of Merry Christmas, so not to Jews and other non-Christians. An airport took down its Christmas trees when a rabbi asked that a menorah be added. Then the airport put them back up when the rabbi backed down from a lawsuit.

Downsize the whole holiday. Take down the tacky Christmas trees. End the holiday shopping binge, the high expectations for perfect family gatherings in our dysfunctional families, and restore a quiet focus on religion, family, and community.

Christmas needs some serious downsizing.

Birds at dusk

Birds swoop and call
Caw and chatter and screen
Sweeping in kaleidescope patterns
Black wings against the cloudy gray dusk.

A busy intersection full of Christmas traffic
Irritated commuters and hurried shoppers
The birds above clatter and rise up from the trees and power lines in clouds of darkness. Big and small, round heads and crested, beaked and graceful.

I am glad that I am alive to see this.