In the early 70's I visited a friend at Princeton, and I dragged him to 112 Mercer Street where Einstein spent the last years of his life failing to conceive a Unified Field Theory. (Died with notes at his bedside; or so the story goes...) Anyway, he was a hero of mine at the time, and I spent the better part of half an hour assuming various positions on the front porch, making sure that we had shared some spatial coordinates.
On our first night in NYC we were out exploring the neighborhood on foot, and I snapped this picture of the old women next to the mosaic street pole. In the course of our week in East Village I walked by and admired that pole a dozen times and went back on my way to get the car out of storage to fully document the tile work.
As I’m looking over this thing in my viewfinder (Allman Brothers, Janis, The Fugs…it says Bill Gramm Way on the other side), I’m hit with the Hot-Kiss-at-the-End-of-a-Wet-Fist: I am standing in front of what was the Fillmore East! I am walking where all my Axemen Heroes walked (or stumbled, or whatever, and I realize the stage door must have been around the corner)! But which building? The Bank. Perfect.
And I realized in a flash that I most like my History (or otherwise teachable moments) in one of 2 ways:
1. “Sharing Space” – being EXACTLY where others have been while trying to sense what of the physical environment remains the same. (There will be a follow-up post on Ellis Island relating to this.)
2. “Worshiping Before the Alter” – being in the “space created” by a great work of art. The MET comes to mind.
The problem with the Hall of Fame stuff (if you’ll allow me to beat THAT dead horse some more) is that the artifacts have been taken out of their context, and they are for the most part incidental: A scuffed ball in a plastic case, that just happened to be the one that got the ride off Hank Aaron’s bat, might be one of the worst objects to properly illuminate whatever momentous event we’re taking about. One doesn’t worship the ball, one gawks at it! Know what I mean?
I suppose I can come up with personal exceptions. The mountains of flea market junk often delivered a strong jolt of melancholy (and a kind of historical lesson), but I’m trying to make a general point.
And, of course, life is for learning.