I’ve been in St. Louis for the last 36 hours, and the Gateway Arch has loomed above my visit the entire time. It’s an omnipresent reminder of so many things in this city.

The national park itself is a tremendous and breathtaking visual: One feels like Alice, peering into the past and the future at an incomprehensible scale. The arch is pure 1960s expressionism, a bombast for the purest intent of America. It’s awesome, in the older translation of the word, and it should remind any truth-seeking citizen of the chasm in our histories. Westward the course of empire made its way, indeed, leaving behind a yawning library of death and pestilence and creative depth the country had yet not witnessed. What’s left in its wake is a touristy Sunday afternoon and a $13 ride to the top for photos.

Of what?

People on the ground take photos of people at the top, who take photos of people on the ground. The arch is stuck in the middle.

What’s true of arches is true, of course, of cities and countries.

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