Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Bronx County Courthouse vs. the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is generally regarded as one of the eight wonders of the world. It is located outside the sprawling city of Agra, India. Some Western historians have claimed that the its architectural beauty has never been surpassed. The Taj Mahal, which means "Crown Palace," was built over a period of 22 years during the 1600s by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife who died in childbirth.

The Taj is essentially a mausoleum with a mosque, other palatial buildings, elaborate gardens, and reflecting pools in a vast complex bordering a narrow river. The Taj itself is built entirely of white marble with a central dome that rises to a height of 213 feet.

In 1857 a British nobleman, Lord Roberts, vising the Taj for the first time, wrote: "Neither words nor pencil could give to the most imaginative reader the slightest idea of the all-satisfying beauty and purity of this glorious conception. To those who have not already seen it, I would say, 'Go to India.' The Taj alone is worth the journey."

I have gone to India--not voluntarily, of course--and have visited the Taj many times. During World War II, the U.S. Army built an air base several miles away from the Taj to house the 3rd Air Depot Group. I was stationed there for about two months before being transferred to another unit in Bengal Province in eastern India.

During my brief stay at the Agra base, every weekend an American Red Cross lady would lead a group of about dozen GIs to visit the Taj. As I recall, the city of Agra itself was out of bounds to U.S. troops, and there was not very much else to keep off-duty GIs entertained. I believe that I went with the group about a half dozen times.

The woman was a knowledgeable guide, and lectured to us about the Taj Mahal's history. An extremely emotional person, she would discuss in ecstatic terms the Taj's beauty. On one of my night time visits with the group, I can still recall how she rapturously exclaimed: "There is nothing more beautiful in the world that the Taj by moonlight."

Responding to our guide's remark, I shouted: "The Bronx County Court House is more beautiful by moonlight." I was playing the role of a 19-year old wise guy from New York, tired of her repetitive claim about the Taj.

The Bronx County Court House, which is located within walking distance of my family's former apartment house on the Grand Concourse, is a conventional-looking, 12-story government building. Placing it in the same architectural league as the Taj Mahal was, of course, absurd. But I enjoyed the loud laughter that I had anticipated from the other men in my group.

The Red Cross lady, however, was infuriated by my rude behavior. As I recall, she was so upset by my impertinence that she halted her lecture and hastily called for a truck to return our group to the base.

Sixty-five years later, I am embarrassed when I recall my wisecrack. But, oh, to be a 19-year old "wise guy" again!

I doubt whether the American Red Cross maintains an enemies list. But if it does, I'm probably listed on it.

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Blogger Kay Dennison said...

Great and fun story!!!!!

LOL, Mort!!!! I used to tell my kids: you are young; you will do foolish things and add, "Oh, hell I'm old and I still do foolish things!!" Guest what? I hope I never stop doing foolish things until I go to meet my maker.

Sunday, March 29, 2009 12:04:00 AM  
Blogger Hoots said...

Wonderful story, Mort! Thanks, again. I'm a few years your junior, but I remember several times during my developmental years making clumsy moves to be embarrassed about later.

In my teen years I was blessed to attend an excellent music school staffed by a world-class faculty. It took two years of my life and a few thousands of borrowed dollars to learn that to be successful in music one should be rich or gifted (preferably both) and given to endless hours of disciplined wood shedding. After several decades I realized what a Philistine I was at the time.

Sunday, March 29, 2009 9:27:00 AM  
Blogger Chancy said...

Oh You Bad Boy...:)

Monday, March 30, 2009 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Lydia said...

O, that 19-year-old lives on inside of you and I liked getting to know him a wee bit from this story.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 1:34:00 AM  
Blogger Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Talk of the Taj Mahal made me wonder for the umpteeth time why every UK curry house is named after a famous landmark in India: would we go to India and find a restaurant called The Shepherd's Bush Empire? I somehow doubt it!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 7:21:00 AM  

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