Thursday, June 30, 2016

The King and the Doge

The sight of the above karaoke Elvis in a parking lot in Des Moines, Iowa recently made me think that America is no less bound to (and perhaps burdened by) its past as Italy is (and by) its own past. You see folks dressed up as doges (see below) or 18th-century ladies in Venice, as Romans outside the Colosseum in Rome or the amphitheater in Verona, and in the US you happen upon Elvis, or a life-sized bronze statue of Ronald Reagan in full cowboy regalia (hat, shirt, jeans, boots, never-used work gloves hanging flaccidly from his back pocket) outside the entrance of a shopping mall and must think of how to explain to your 8-year-old son that, no, that particular US president did not live in an era when people wore such gear as part of their daily life, nor did he ever work out on the range, but was merely a hammy actor whose carefully-crafted persona involved all sorts of old-fashioned ideas, fictions and fantasies.

An Italian friend I had twenty years ago in New York City told me he couldn't wait to escape from his native Florence and the crush of all its famous old stuff to the new world of America. Borrowing Prospero's famous reply to his sheltered daughter Miranda in Shakespeare's The Tempest I suppose I could have said, "Tis new to you;" for the past (or versions of the past) hover continuously like low cloud cover over the US--it's just a much more recent past than that to which my friend was accustomed back home.

Whether the presence of the past--or of various pasts--should be considered as good or bad to a nation's well-being depends, I suppose, upon what's being made of them.

In any case, we have just returned to a city, Venice, with its past abundantly, even overwhelmingly in evidence, and to the ongoing question of whether the best that can be done with such riches is to ruthlessly, shortsightedly exploit them. We shall see...

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