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Dan Mackie: The City of Fountains Rises Again

I noted recently that Lebanon is looking for design ideas for a new fountain project. The right one could help restore its onetime status as the “City of Fountains.”

Now you might say “city of WHAT?” — if you hadn’t heard of the aqueous claim to fame of Lebanon, which admittedly lags behind Paris, City of Light, in name recognition. A job well done by the Paris Promotions Board, one supposes, in avoiding obscurity for that burg, which is just outside of Neuilly-sur-Seine. In France, more or less near Belgium.

Name recognition matters. Just this week, the Huffington Post website unfavorably included our fair Lebanon in a snarky article headlined, “22 Places That Have The Same Names But Are Actually Absurdly Different.’’

It says: “The country of Lebanon in the East Mediterranean boasts the Temple of Jupiter, a pre-Hellenistic structure that may find its roots in Biblical literature. Lebanon, New Hampshire, on the other hand, has a City Hall building.” (A photo of the columns embedded on the front of our city hall under one of the ancient Temple of Jupiter visually drives home the point, whatever it may be.) Well, our columns are newer and in much better shape, thanks to our renowned capital improvement budget.

Domestically, Lebanon faces stiff competition for the City of Fountains crown, since Kansas City, Mo., also clings to the nickname. Kansas City has something like 200 fountains, so Lebanon won’t catch up in the fountains race without a miracle, or federal funding, neither likely in these secular and budget-conscious times. (Although we might hope for resources if we could tie the fountains to homeland security or corn production.)

As a Lebanon resident and booster, I don’t actually think of our fountains all that often, but I like the nickname. City of Fountains has grace, even if we are the ones who will have to keep bringing it up.

There remains the issue of what manner of new fountain would help Lebanon puff up its civic pride. Residents of a certain age might welcome a Singin’ in the Rain fountain, a la Gene Kelly, star of the glorious movie of that name. It’s an iconic American image, and could attract corporate sponsors, such as the makers of Gore-Tex, or the Shanghai People’s Umbrella Factory.

Fans of politics might enjoy a “Weeping John Boehner” fountain, after the House Majority Leader known for his ready tears. But like most every theme out of Washington these days, this one risks being divisive. And political things tend to fade so quickly, which is a source of hope, when you think of it.

“Children on a Slip ’n Slide’’ would look playful, but might invite more interactivity than the City Fathers and Mothers intend. And the concept raises liability issues, which no one wants.

The city’s Code Enforcement Office might back a “Sprinklers Save Lives’’ fountain, demonstrating how sprinklers enhance public safety. It could even be reactive to actual smoke sources, but that might discriminate against smokers.

Artists, who tend to be ironic, might envision “Soaked Man Waiting for Bus,’’ but that fountain would not be uplifting, and could be something of a wet blanket for encouraging mass transit

Oh, let’s give in to the reality that’s staring us in the face like a Chihuahua begging for a Cheeto. No one loves fountains more than dogs. A “Carnival of Canines” could have sculpted Toy Terriers and Great Danes happily lapping up the waters — a statement for diversity among all God’s children — and a black lab forever shaking itself after leaping into the fountain.

I could also envision an embarrassed dog owner tugging on a leash to stop a pet from relieving itself in the fountain, but I’m not sure if that would be part of the fountain proper, or the aforementioned interactivity.

Of course, cat people might lobby for a tribute to felines, but I don’t think such a fountain would do, owing to cats’ well-known aversion to water and most public works projects. I like cats, but they are status quo sort of creatures, and that kind of thinking can’t guide the City of Fountains.

The writer can be reached at dmackie@vnews.com.