Went down to the Boston Public Library for the first time since the renovations. There are now two cafes, plus a sit-down restaurant, in the building. It got me to thinking that in our day Americans demand three things of all public venues:
-Refreshments, particularly coffee
-Video screens (displaying something, it doesn’t matter what)
If you don’t have those three, forget it. Americans aren’t interested. Malls, rest stops, libraries, college campuses, churches–all must have them.
I do not wish to see the modern funeral parlor.
(Lest I seem too grumpy, let me add the renovations turned out very nice, greatly mollifying the harsh Brutalist interior of the new wing. Also, I had a quite toothsome lunch in the new cafe)
Each generation of Americans dies in a country alien to that into which it was born.
Every fifty years, to arbitrarily pick a round figure, sees a new America.
I don’t like what’s about to happen to the United States. I’m scared. But when I look at it, at the great arc of history, I have to admit that there is something deeply on target about Donald Trump coming to the presidency. It is only what could be expected. And a phrase keeps popping to mind: the Gatsbyean Doom. Trump is the Gatsbyean Doom. There could be no other. There are no ifs in history. All of American history has been aimed at this. The Gatsbyean Doom. Like a bobbing styrofoam cup at the brink of Niagara Falls. There could be no other.
I will say this: in 1990, with the ending of the Cold War, America lost a raison d’etre. We have not yet managed to find another one. We have wandered in malaise. In Trump we find a thicker, richer, new & improved malaise.
Here’s an odd patriotic note as we head into the Independence Day weekend: Between the Great Lakes battles and the riverine engagements of the Civil War, the United States had seen more significant inland naval combat than any other nation on earth. China has the Battle of the Red Cliffs, East Africa the Battle for Lake Tanganyika, but no one can match the extent and importance of our fresh-water operations.
(We share the Great Lakes battles (which include Lake Champlain for these purposes) with Canada, but they don’t have the Civil War experience. And hey, we could throw in the riverine operations in Vietnam for good measure.)
As we were passing through a rest stop on the Mass Pike on Tuesday my eyes fell on the pair of TVs in the dining area and I found myself explaining them to an imaginary foreigner.
Imaginary foreigner: Why are zere TV screens in ze dining area?
Me: You have to understand: to the American mind, being out of sight of a video screen equates to death.