If there were a museum of the great roads of the world, the Sibirskii Trakt would deserve its own exhibit, along with the Via Appia and the Silk Road and old U.S. Route 66.
In America, we love roads. To be “on the road” is to be happy and alive and free. Whatever lonesomeness the road implies is also a blankness that soon will be filled with possibility. A road leading to the horizon almost always signifies a hopeful vista for Americas. “Riding off into the sunset” has always been our happy ending. But I could find no happy-ending vista here, only the opposite. This had also been called the Convicts’ Road or the Exiles’ Road. Not only was it long and lonesome but it ran permanently in the wrong direction, from the exiles’ point of view. Longing and melancholy seem to have worked themselves into the very soil; the old road and the land around it seemed downcast, as if they’d had their feelings hurt by how much the people passing by did not want to be here.
It makes me wonder what people a hundred years from now will think of our popular fiction, our popular movies. What do we take for granted that they will find odd, and perhaps even distasteful? You can already see some obvious candidates in things that are still accepted, but barely, like smoking. How curious it is to see a movie in which everyone is puffing on a cigarette - for example, in Good Night and Good Luck, where Edward R. Murrow is shown delivering prime time television news with a cigarette between his fingers. What will people think of our enormous steak dinners and obese portions of food? That’s on the cusp of changing. What will they think of our profligate use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources? Our assumption that the American way of life will go on forever, just as it is, much as the British thought their empire would go on forever? What about our assumptions about unlimited technological progress? Will science fiction visions of star flight or “the Singularity” seem as quaint as “the White Man’s Burden”? Above all, what will they think of the appalling amount of waste in our culture? Have you ever walked through a tourist area - say Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco - and seen entire stores devoted to schlock, made in developing countries by people who must scratch their heads in wonder at a people so wealthy that they can afford to spend money on things that are so utterly and obviously useless?
I think about this sort of thing all the time. How we view the past versus how past peoples thought of themselves, and extrapolating that out to how future peoples will view us—it’s really the only way to keep any perspective.
Having said that, a lot of these questions are leading, eg: “Above all, what will they think of the appalling amount of waste in our culture?” Most likely something similar to what we think about the heavy pollution and exploitation of the Industrial Revolution now; it was appalling, and when it got to a point that financial gain didn’t outweigh the ethical horrors, laws were passed. No more chimney sweeps.
I just found out “Hey Paula” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” were both released in 1963. At first, I couldn’t believe it; really, were our folks honestly singing along to duets about post-high school marriage before spring graduation, then getting high and listening to Dylan in their dorm rooms come fall?
I did a bit of digging around to see if I could find a similar case. Turns out both “OK Computer” and “Spice World” were released in 1997.
Fact & a half: History comes up with some strange bedfellows.
July 17th, 2009
The Cornish, amongst other reasons, objected to the Engllish language Book of Common Prayer, protesting that the English language was still unknown to many at the time. Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset on behalf of the Crown, took no sympathy pointing out that the old rites and prayers had been in Latin—also a foreign language—and there was thus no reason for the Cornish to complain.
Inspired by byronic, here’s my favorite version of St. George battling the dragon. This painting is amazing. See those tiny tiny tiny people going up to the castle, way in the back? If you’re viewing this on a 15” MBP screen with 1440 x 900px resolution, you’re seeing the image about actual size. It’s really tiny, but incredibly ornate.
April 20th, 2009
In the United States a pressman is a man who runs a printing press; in England he is a newspaper reporter, or, as the English usually say, a journalist.
Kottke linked to Samuel Arbesman’s comparison of Cosimo de’ Medici & Justin Timberlake. I’ll take that comparison and raise the internet Filippino Lippi’s fifteenth-century “Portrait of a Young Man” versus Douglas Smith, who plays Ben Hendrickson on HBO’s Big Love.
February 19th, 2009
[ “A meeting regarding the 184-inch cyclotron project, held at the University of California, Berkeley, on March 29, 1940. Left to right: Ernest O. Lawrence, Arthur H. Compton, Vannevar Bush, James B. Conant, Karl T. Compton, and Alfred L. Loomis”, via Wikipedia. ]
January 21st, 2009
Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace. This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you.