Bear with me for a moment while I gush about the carillon. A magnificent instrument sits in the center of the room, like a giant piano with wooden handles to depress instead of keys. Each of those "handles" is connected to a gargantuan bell suspended overhead by cords much thinner than I expected. As the man played the carillon, the sound surrounded me. It pressed against my feet through the floor and clamored for attention. The chimes ended arrhythmically as they bounced around in all directions, folding me into an aggressive embrace.
Music wasn't the only reason I had made the trip up. I had climbed the chapel before, but I had been so paralyzed with fear from my ascent up the ever-narrowing stairs that I entirely forgot to document my accomplishment; instead I hung back far from the edge in a state of near-panic. This time I was ready. When I first got to the top, I bounded out of the elevator to take pictures from outside. Immediately, I resented myself for forgetting my camera and opting to bring only my Windows phone, but that would pass. There was that feeling—that unbelievable, euphoric, wow-the-ground-is-far-away feeling—that you only get when you finally reach the top of something you have only seen from ground level.
But then that feeling subsides. You try to capture something better than the disappointing reality you see through the screen of your camera, but you can’t. Your desperation rises because of your desire to capture the perfect Facebook photo. No matter how far you tilt your camera down, you can’t capture the excitement and dizziness that you’re now slightly embarrassed to have felt. My hands were talon-like as I hovered my phone over the ledge in vain, searching the ground for photographic prey. Maybe if I had a better camera? Maybe if the sunset wasn’t blocked by clouds? Maybe if I leaned further from the ledge? You find yourself asking these questions, but the answer is simple. Duke is prettier from the ground, at least for now.
Duke’s ongoing construction has made it impossible to get a great picture from above. Let me help orient you a bit. Angling my phone towards the bus stop from the front of the chapel, my shot is flanked on either side by Perkins scaffolding and the mess that is the West Union. From the opposite side, you look down and see the cross-shaped back of the chapel. And what do you know? It’s also undergoing construction. A rickety wooden platform blocks any hope for a picture to prove how much more beautiful Duke is than anyone else’s school. Foiled again.
Moreover, everything is tainted with the eyesore that is the faux-stone wall that was put up over the summer. There’s been surprisingly little discussion about the fake wall (insert FakeBlock joke here). Yes, we all mock it for its obvious glossiness and its tendency to peel away, revealing gashes of white behind its wallpaper-y surface. But I think we’ve stopped questioning it. What is its purpose? To serve as a slightly more attractive and undoubtedly more costly version of a plain wall? Why don’t we just have a fence? If it’s meant to hide the construction going on, I think the aforementioned scaffolding is giving Duke away—provided that the hellmouth that the Bryan Center Plaza has become hasn’t already done that. To find a beautiful image from such an elevation, you have to look beyond Duke’s campus, towards the forest or out into Durham—anywhere without renovations or “improvements” going on.
Then again, there are still a few remaining places to find an untouched image of Duke. The greenhouse behind BioSci looks pretty cool, and there are some residential quads where independent housing signs have yet to take up all available wall space. If you have a good angle, you can even get a decent Chapel pic these days. From the ground, close up, there’s still beauty at Duke. It’s only when you get a view from the top that you realize it’s a big ol’ mess. I’m looking forward to a time when I can reach the top of the chapel to hear the carillon, look out, and see something as beautiful as what I hear.