The Genius of Malcolm Wells

I think Malcolm Wells is one the most prescient people I know. Coupled with his self-deprecating sense of humor, he's unique. If Ralph Nader looked, thought, and talked like Mac, he would be THE contender for this year's election. Malcolm Wells is the proponent of Gentle Architecture, a formidable water color painter, writer and cartoonist. He's published a score of books and is famous as the guru of underground architecture.

Besides all that, he builds sand castles at the beach. He published Sandtiquity (Amazing beach monuments you can make in minutes with just a flat stick) in 1980, and a sequel in 1999 by Willow Creek Press. In between editions he wrote this in his newspaper column, Notes from the Underground:

"I I traveled recently from Cape Cod to France and back again in just six days.

It was not an ideal length for such a trip. An ideal length would be, say, six months or a year. Everything about France was new to me, every bit delightful. I was there only a few days but that was enough time for me to make five discoveries.

The first four involved language. I found that although French speech was to me almost incomprehensible, four things are exactly the same as they are in English. Coughing. Sneezing. Laughing. And whistling. I'm not sure what I'd expected, but to hear those rapid fire streams of words interrupted by the sounds of good old American laughter, for instance, was a daily surprise. If ha-ha-ha had somehow come out as wa-wa-wa, or some such unfamiliar sound, I would, in all probability, not even noticed its interjection into the word stream.

This discovery opened up a whole new world for me. Maybe, I'm thinking, Japanese people whistle in English, Brazilians cough in English, et cetera.

But, as I was saying, I made five discoveries on my brief trip. The first four, as I said, involved language. The fifth involved young women on the beach. I found they were suffering from an acute shortage of bathing suit tops. It appears that, as nice as France is, it doesn't have everything.

Here's how I wound up over there. Ten years ago, the pyramids and forts I built in the sand of Nauset Beach were published in a book called Sandtiquity. A few weeks ago I discovered that a French language version had also been published, its title Batissez Sur Le Sable. I heard about the French version because a woman, who turned out to be one of France's top fashion photographers, had been asked to photograph a new line of wristwatches and she, having seen Batissez, insisted that I go immediately to France and build my little forts and pyramids for her use in the background of her watch photos. She had to twist my arm savagely, but an all-expenses trip plus a nice fee forced me to take advantage of the U.S. State Department's three-hour passport issuance service, then rush to Paris.

Thus began a four-day whirlwind of sand castles and incredible meals in a beautiful old city -- Trouville -- of tall stone houses along narrow streets right by the beach. A tough assignment, I'll tell you.

Seven hundred and twenty photographs later it was all over and we were barreling back to Paris on the Autoroute... at 160 kilometers per hour. (Do you know how fast that is?)

Merci for the sneezes, and the coughing, and the laughing, and the whistling in English. And for the other discovery, which seems to have slipped my mind."

Malcolm Wells' latest book is Recovering America.

It's a full-color photo journal of his trip around the U.S.A. shooting, mostly from hired helicopters, American's sprawling buildings and parking lots. Also included are his earth-covered versions of many of the buildings. A publishing grant allows Mac to offer this hard-covered book for only $7.00 postpaid. It's 6-1/2 x 9 inches, 144 pages. I.S.B.N. 9-9621878-8.

To purchase books by Malcolm Wells write to him for a catalog:

Malcolm Wells, 673 Satucket Road, Brewster MA 02631. Or phone: 508-896-6850

Copyright © 1982, 2002 by Paul Giambarba. Not to be reproduced in any manner.