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Modern Day Medusa

Sometimes downtown issues can be better understood by thinking in terms of a certain Greek myth. I know, it sounds silly, but it’s not.

First let me explain how I stumbled upon the comparison:

It was Medusa. I was reading up on her one fall afternoon while the weather permitted not much else. Medusa is known as a monster, if you look into her eyes you will be turned to stone, instantly. She has hideous facial features. Her hair is not hair but snakes. She was one of three sisters, monsters, known as the Gorgons. She was the only one of the three who was not a god, therefore she could be killed.

But that wasn’t it. That’s not what reminded me, with an uncanny likeness to downtown issues, it was this:

Myths, being what they are, evolve over time. Pindar, Greek poet from Thebes, was born around 522 BC. I was reading about how he changed the myth a little. Instead of being born an ugly monster Medusa was once a ravishing beauty.

And this is where a chill ran down my spine as I thought about our beautiful town center and the issues surrounding the evolution of it’s development, into …….

According to later versions of the myth of Medusa, primarily Ovid and his Metamorphosis(about the time of Christ), she was being raped by Poseidon, Lord of the sea, in the temple of Athena. Athena, the daughter of Zeus, became enraged and turned her face into that grotesque person we know her as today.

So to was our downtown once a fair cheeked maiden sought out by many suitors. The exacting parallels of our misfortune would have it that those in power could not resist her beauty. The beauty period could be considered from about 1920, when Zelda Fitzgerald moved to town, to about the mid fifties when Marilyn Monroe moved to town. During this time downtown was virginal, so to speak.

Then, though unlike the myth where the affair was rather a quicky, the town center became the victim of a repeated violation by a force of nature, commercialism. Commercialism, capitalism—whatever–is very much an unseen power not unlike that which we ascribe to the God of the sea. It’s not good or bad it just has it’s way with what it will and our downtown became dominated by this power.

We didn’t see it happening. It was gradual but just the same more and more out of town conglomerates began to take advantage of her charming beauty. For you see country charm and flat out commercialism just don’t sleep in the same bed. The god’s became angry and turned downtown into an ugly monster.

Now Perseus knew that if he actually looked at downtown he would be turned to stone. He devised an ingenious plan. He realized that by looking at downtown through a mirror he would be immune to the terrible effects of her stare. He chopped her head off and gave it to Athena.

But there’s more. The snakes. This is the part that get’s creepy because the comparison is so clean:

Snake 1. Parking—who will pay for garage? Nobody wants to. In fact many town plans call for elimination of parking in front of the stores. That is not a good idea.

Snake 2. Flooding becoming more and more of a problem with climate change. Downtown is only like a foot above high tide.

Snake 3. Mom and Pops can’t hardly afford to operate there any more.

Snake 4. A lot Westporters I’ve talked to wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out there, reminds them of disgusting commercialism.

Snake 5. A lot of the properties are owned by out of town commercial real estate companies, they don’t have a personal stake.

Snake 6. The town government really has no power to change anything, unless they start subsidizing Moms and Pops or put in an art school at the Baron’s Land.

Snake 7. A lot of the people who cared about this stuff moved out years ago. The new people have no reference as to how magical a place it was.

Snake 8. YMCA sold off, Post office sold off, old library sold off, old fire house sold off, old town hall sold off. Why go there at all. Unless you want 800 dollar handbag, for me that’s just a once a year thing.

Snake 9. The other side of the bridge, nobody goes there, in the old days people walked across the bridge all the time.

Snake 10. Public transportation, we need more like we had in the 70’s.

Snake 11. We need more diversity in stores and people. We need young artsy people hanging around town. We should bus them in everyday from Brooklyn. Oh maybe i should move there. Not a bad idea.

Snake 12. No town plan has ever been acted upon, yet every five years we pay for another one, so …..

Snake 13. Medusa’s head only had 12 snakes

As you can see by studying Greek myths we can look at downtown in a whole new way.