I live on a small island in the Puget Sound. This island has a town called Winslow and a main street called Winslow Way. The main street is about two blocks long, from the clapboard church on one end to the false-fronted building that houses the pizza place on the other.
It's a little one-horse town, though the horse died years ago. And it resisted making a mockery of itself with the fake country duck cut-outs that plagued small towns in the Nineties and the Scandinavian blue and white checks that hit country decoration in the early 2000s. But changes are occurring.
A large new LEED- triple platinum-y museum is being built between the pizza place and the ferry. Across from it, the site of the old gas station is being reworked into a little park. I applaud the environmental notions of the museum structure, though it is scary to see that big wall coming at you as you trudge from the ferry after a long commute, and I'm for the appreciation of art and pocket parks and all that. But the clash of the neo-modern-museum-and-sustainable-park-aesthetic with the old two blocks of false-front stores is a bit rough on the old eyeballs. And nowhere is the clash of old and new more evident than in this year's mash-up of mercantile holiday decor.
Up until last year, around the end of November, you'd turn left from the ferry onto Winslow Way and be happily surprised to see that the Downtown Merchants Association had put up a few stars over the street and that the merchants themselves had strung up a bunch of plain old white lights. The Mexican place always put up those big, old Christmas tree lights but we were used to it and considered it a bow to the appreciation of other cultures. That was it. A few stars, a few lights. Nice.
This year I turned the corner and almost went blind. Evidently the Downtown Association decided to match the Museum's sparse, Modernist aesthetic, and bought a large number of objects which I believe are supposed to look like festively lit small trees. Twisted, black wire objects, about four feet tall, bristling with LED white nodules at the ends of the branches, they've been placed in front of each store along the two blocks of main street. It looks post-apocalyptic, twisted blackened trunks still glowing with radiation. And it's pretty clear that the joy of the Nativity, that the happiness of Hanukkah, was not coursing through the veins of the poor Chinese factory-working soul who was tasked with twisting these babies together.
LED white is WHITE. The white of a subway station at 1 am. In the right context, it can look pretty Modernisty- happy. But it makes normal strings of white lights look yellowed and dingy. People who drive around to look at lights are driving out of their way to avoid the clash of white lights on Winslow Way.
Evidently, the LED trees, which provoke a feeling of alienation and existential malaise in even the heartiest shopper, were not enough for the Downtown Association. This week, many large, bright-white, two-foot-across LED-lit snowflakes appeared in front of every store.