I went to the cathedral in Los Ángeles yesterday for the first time, and mentioned to my friend that I was very moved by the fountain. My friend mentioned that his favorite fountain was the Fontana di Trevi.
Fontana di Trevi. Who doesn’t like the Fontana di Trevi? It’s the meeting point of three ancient Roman aqueducts, which are themselves each enormous feats of engineering, powered only by gravity, and not by pumps. The aqueducts brought drinking water to the people of Rome, who came with their buckets. It was supposedly the sweetest water back then, Acqua Vergine. They carted this water up to the Vatican Hill every day for all the dudes to enjoy.
The sculpture was done by committee. The intention was to impress the viewer with the grandeur and opulence, to impress upon the visitor that this town was, indeed, the wealthiest and most adorned in the world. Mastery of sculpture is demonstrated by the rippling muscles of horses and mostly naked men; by luxuriously curly hair and excessive fabric. It is impressive now, and must have really been impressive to people in the 1600s, who didn’t have Netflix but maybe could tell teach other the story of Oceanus and imagine the drama. It’s not really a story that I understand; I don’t know anything about the Oceanus, the Tritons, or the horses. I think it’s supposed to make you think about the ocean; wealth brought the ocean to the city.
The Gateway Pool at the Shepherd’s gate on Temple Street is not as much water as the Fontana di Trevi, but it’s enough to drown out the sound of Temple Street and the 101. The shape of it is a circle, symbolizing perfection, wholeness, simplicity, gentleness, and eternity. This is intentional; dinner plates do not have to be perfect circles, neither does sacramental bread. The circle is low to the ground so that anyone could reach it; children, lepers, people with disabilities, people of low social status. The water does not pool; it vanishes; nothing is wasted. Across the diameter of the pool is a row of small fountains that supply the water; which shoots up cleanly and falls smoothly on itself and spreads evenly and perfectly over the circle. Every once in a while the shooting water pops unpredictably as if alive, a kinetic expression of “living water.”
The story the fountain tells is the Woman at the Well; It’s a story about ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity; gender; equality; and class. Mainly it’s a story of redemption. The circle is inscribed with the words “I shall give you living water,” in many languages.
When I stepped away from the fountain, I noticed that the pavement was etched with circles and lines, clearly evoking a constellation chart; heavenly bodies. The intention: you are standing in the Kingdom of Heaven, and you have found the source of the waters of eternal life, and that water is for you, and the woman at the well, and every one else; it says as much in your language and in everyone else’s.
I know there are some anti-intellectual people who will say, “oh it can mean whatever you want it to mean,” or “you’re reading too much into it.” Frankly, that argument is dumb as a bag of leaves. The Gateway Pool cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of people were involved in the funding, the design, the engineering, and the construction of that work; to suggest that it was coincidental or accidental, rather than intentional, is an act of intellectual dishonestly.
Anyway, I liked it, and I got the message. Not everybody likes it; not everybody gets the message.