Last week when Salmagundy came to you live from the Lilac Festival,
Brenda Tremblay tossed me a question. It was the always fascinating one,
if you could live in any other time, what period would you choose? I said
at the time, quoting the title of a recent book by the late photo-archivist
Otto Bettman, The Good Old Days They Were Terrible , that I'd prefer
to live right now. Nostalgia gives way to reality if you think about it
very hard. Life was a struggle for a larger percentage of the population.
Life expectancy was much shorter. Even though our air and water were cleaner,
sanitation was more primitive. And life without Chia Pets? Unthinkable.
Now choosing a period for a brief visit is a different matter entirely.
To have been on the scene in 1803 as Thomas Jefferson and Meriwether Lewis
plan their expedition into the unknown reaches of the continent. Or on the
banks of the Hudson the following year as John Stevens crosses the River
from Hoboken, New Jersey, to New York City in a boat fitted with an engine
run by steam. Or to be in England that year as Sir George Cayley attempts
to pilot a glider, and succeeds in a flight of 300 feet. To be with Lewis
and Clark on November 18th, 1805, as they first sight the Pacific Ocean.
To watch thier embarrasment three days later, when the wife of a Chinook
chief, innocently offers the expedition half a dozen willing nieces and
daughters for use as concubines. Talk about culture shock!
Other eras and locales would make fascinating stops on a meander through
time. The roaring eighteen nineties in New York City as Diamond Jim Brady
set off on his bicycle made of gold, riding up to Central Park with his
entourage of fellow cyclists. Or to watch him and Lillian Russell in a no-holds-barred
eating contest. Moving further back, the fascination of sitting in London's
Globe Theatre and seeing the debut of Hamlet . Or on another stage
in a still earlier era, to see one of the plays of Euripides that has long
since disappeared. To watch one of the great cathedrals under construction.
Or the giant stone heads of Easter Island.
Perhaps the most intriguing way to visit the past would be as the proverbial
fly on the wall, watching in secret as history is acted out. New York City
on August 6th, 1930, for instance. A well-dressed man in his early forties
enters a cab. He's had a busy day. Rushing back to New York from his vacation
home in Maine, he's spent the day gathering papers in his office and cashing
two $3,000 checks. After dinning in a midtown steakhouse with lawyer friend
William Klein and showgirl Sally Lou Ritz he enters a cab. It pulls away
from the curb. Only the cab driver, Judge Joseph Crater, and the fly on
the back window ledge know what happened next. Crater's never seen again.
(One warning about this fly-on-the-wall approach. Watch out for that rolled-up
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.