Musings from the Bunker 2/9/21
I am in the midst of the book An Inventory of Losses, by Judith Schalansky. It’s a short book, consisting of 12 chapters about places, animals, and objects that are lost to history. Among the lost items are a Pacific island, the Caspian tiger, and the love poetry of Sappho. Despite being middle of this one but I figured I would share why I chose it and why I like it so far. The notion of remembering things that are lost to us is a great conceit and makes for an interesting read.
I’ve always been fascinated by things that are lost, never to be recovered. In Los Angeles, the drive to continue reinventing itself often has meant tearing down the old to make way for the new. Old College Hall at USC, the Brown Derby, and the Ambassador Hotel are just a few local places that are gone. There are whole neighborhoods of Los Angeles, most notably Chavez Ravine and Bunker Hill, that were leveled to make room for progress. There are several Facebook groups with wonderful photographs of famous places in Los Angeles from times long ago.
In the news these days is the Moynihan Hall at Penn Station. It is an attempt to restore some beauty and dignity to the horrific abomination of Penn Station. If you have a moment, you can find pictures of the glorious “old” Penn Station, one that rivals Grand Central, before is succumbed to the wrecking ball.
There are some things that are lost and yet have tangible evidence of their existence—not the least of which of course are those whom we have been close to, whose photos from weddings, holidays, and happy events are treasured. I think I am not alone in a desire to capture the past before it is lost or rescue the past from obscurity. What else can account for the vast expansion of the “genealogy industry”?
People have been buying up genetic testing kits like 23 and me in droves, as they seek to understand where they come from and find truths about their backgrounds. An amazing book, Slaves in the Family, is an author’s journey into the past of his slaveholding forebears and the descendants of slaves who share his genetics and family history. History not only is a source of lessons regarding human successes and failures but it is a record of things that we desperately don’t want to lose—not only for nostalgia, but for a sense of context, belonging and purpose.
FINDING LOST THINGS ON THE INTERNET
There are great websites to experience lost times, including the Library of Congress and elsewhere, with pictures dating back to the early-19th century. One of the most interesting is the earliest known photo that included a human image. It comes from Louis Daguerre (the creator of the eponymous Daguerreotype), showing a Paris street. At first the people can’t be seen. But upon careful examination, one can see a man standing having his shoes shined. Recall that in these old photos, the shutter is opened for a long time, rendering all moving objects either invisible or blurs. It took someone actually standing in one place for a reason to forever memorialize that anonymous person in this first photo of a human: https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/did-you-know-this-is-the-first-ever-photograph-of-human-captured-on-a-camera-2800289.html
Most of the seven wonders of the ancient world are long gone. Only the Great Pyramid at Giza remains in situ. But remnants of a couple of others can be found at the British Museum. The rest are described in contemporaneous writing but are otherwise lost to history.
We are now in the midst of the loss of species at an unprecedented level in human history. While we cannot yet “de-extinct” a species, scientists are capturing their DNA for future use (and perhaps repopulation). Meanwhile, efforts have been made to increase the numbers of dwindling species, even if this must occur in captivity. But the fact remains that many of these animals will be lost forever. Lest we forget, the bison herd in North America once exceeded 60,000,000 (now only 200,000), and carrier and passenger pigeons, once representing a quarter of all birds in North America, also are now extinct.
I suppose the message in all of this is to treasure that which we have to enjoy while it is still here, whether an animal, a place, a person, a memento. At some point, everything will leave us. After all, even the Earth is on a collision course with destiny (well, actually the sun) in only four billion years. So let’s make the best of these last 4,000,000,000 years!
FINALLY, FROM MY FAVORITE JOURNALIST
For an interesting perspective on the current impeachment trial, from someone well-positioned to opine on such matters, check out the interview of Norm Eisen, conducted by one Lauren Sonnenberg and published in The Forward last week: https://forward.com/news/463561/to-norm-eisen-trumps-big-lie-rhymes-with-nazi-tactics-and-warrants-second/. From the article:
“Norm Eisen, the Constitutional lawyer who served as House counsel in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, lives by the three rules his immigrant parents taught him: always be loyal, always do the right thing no matter the cost, and always serve the best hamburger you can.
His immigrant parents, not surprisingly, ran a hamburger stand in South Los Angeles.
House Democrats are not serving hamburgers, but as the former president faces a Senate trial this week, Eisen said in an interview with the Forward that he believes it was the right decision to impeach Trump again, no matter the cost, in a decision he described as ‘Kantian, not utilitarian.’”
Have a great day,