Monday, March 02, 2009

Where Ghosts Walk

For me the past, the present and the future all sort of walk together. I don’t know why I’m geared that way, but ghosts just seem to follow me around. When I’m in a house built in the 1950s, it takes no effort for me to see the original occupants and their furnishings, to feel the cadences of their lives.

I’m telling it wrong. I’m not claiming psychic powers. (I guess if I were I’d be writing very different books!) Rather, history just feels close to me. I’m always thinking about how we got right here, what contributed to this moment and made it be what it is.

And I’m not talking the big moments the history books chatter about, either. I’m talking about history on a more human level. How, for instance, women’s skirts left the floor in a serious way for the first time in the 1920s, to enable them to drive and do other fun things. And how WWII impacted women’s fashion forever: asked to work in factories during the war, there were certain items of clothing they’d never take back! Or the collars on men’s shirts? Removable until the 1930s. How to look tidy when washing clothes was a big, hairy deal? Just swap out the collar for something fresh or change up the collar for something fancy. A second in the other room and you’re good to go.

Or architecture. The jazz age designs are fanciful, delicious. The Chrysler Building does as much as any to illustrate what I’m talking about, but many cities have their own examples. Beautiful, imaginative and ridiculously expensive-to-create buildings, many of them designed before the crash but not completed until after, at which time their designs were often reined in and their original owners bankrupt prior to completion.

In the present -- our present present -- we’re going to see that again. You’re perhaps seeing it already. I know I am. The earlier parts of this decade were financially crazy. We saw the kind of excess that had not been seen since... well, since the jazz age. And the same cocky confidence: “All of this can only go up.”

And now? Now is the beginning of a time that will be more austere. That’s from my crystal ball. All things: fashion, art, architecture, everything. We’ve seen it before. Will probably see it again. There’s comfort in that, don’t you think? We’ll get through this because we got through that and we’re not better now, no. In some regards we’re just so human and we’re just the same.

We’re always just the same.

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