Sunday, June 14, 2020

Looking Back to the Future

I am 75 years old having lived, to put in historic terms, ¾ of a century, from the 20th into the 21st. I no longer have the physical abilities I once had, nor the memory, but I do have many stories to tell of the past.

Have you ever thought that just a few decades ago if you told someone what life would be like today, they would have shaken their heads and dismissed it as total fantasy or even science fiction?

Although the Wright Brothers achieved flight in the first decade of the 20th century, the first milestone of space travel, according to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, took place on a New England farm field, where on March 16, 1926,  when a flimsy, liquid fuel-driven rocket lifted off and flew 41 feet into the sky.  Then in 1969, my 2-year-old daughter stood between my wife and me on the sofa to watch the first landing of a man on the moon. I don’t believe she was particularly interested!  Now we have a space-station and our quest continues.

I remember a flight with my parents from New York to Los Angeles on a prop plane with 5 stops in between.  I threw up on every single leg of that flight.  Then in 1959, I flew to Europe on my own on one of the early commercial jets.  Pan Am had inaugurated jet travel to Europe in the fall of 1958. My mother took me to the airport and was so happy that Archbishop Fulton Sheen was on the flight.  I guess she thought that God would be with me.  We did have to land twice to refuel but my stomach was fine … a very smooth trip!

When I was born in 1944 not only space travel, but things that are now part of our everyday life, belonged to science fiction.  My parents got their first TV in 1951 to watch the McCarthy hearings. Of course, I was more interested in the Howdy Doody Show.  When I became friendly with the son of Jack Gould, the television critic for the New York Times, I got see the first TV show in color.  I remember it well because it looked like watercolor to me.

In England, which was one of the countries my parents fled to from Germany, the radio was known as the wireless.  My father’s favorite joke was, “how do we know that they had the radio in ancient Egypt”.  Answer, “because they did not find any wires.” Today we can tell the television what we want: no need to turn a dial or push a button to switch the channel.  Here is a Native American Cartoonist’s take.

Ricardo Caté, Santa Domingo (Kewa) Pueblo

I remember very well the old dial phones which were metal, and your finger could get sore if you made a number of phone calls.  Then came the push button phone. What a relief! Around 1983 we went to Buenos Aires, Argentina to stay with a major art collector.  As I sat on the couch opposite her, I saw her suddenly start reaching into the crevices of the sofa and between her legs … I thought to myself, most strange behavior, until she finally pulled out what looked like a small black box that she put to her ear.  I realized it was a wireless telephone.  Then there were cell phones that weighed several pounds at first.  Later they became more easily portable and we no longer needed a phone booth to make a call from the street. Further you did not need to memorize phone numbers as your phone stored the numbers you frequently used and had a way of looking up any you might not have.  The last number I remember was CIrcle-6-2417 the home phone in the apartment I left at the end of my teens.

The marvels we all deal with every day are the smart phone and the computer.  The closest thing to a computer my father had in his early career was a secretary who could take shorthand.  To keep a copy of the letters she then typed either with carbon paper or retyped the letter.  When I came full time to the gallery in the mid-sixties, I bought the first copier which took two passes through the machine with an intermediary piece of paper.  Then with each new copier I expected it to be faster and the printer today still seems slow. Here is an image of the 1940’s typewriter of the kind that I was told I had wrecked by banging on the keys as a little boy!

We have become so spoiled. 

What else can you think of that would have been science fiction in your youth but that we now take for granted.


NB: In my last Missive I wrote that the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian would be the first museum in Santa Fe to open its doors.  This was based on an email to that effect from the museum.

On reading my Missive an individual close to the museum wrote me the following:  “The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian opened briefly on June 3rd, in accordance with its interpretation of New Mexico’s pandemic policies for businesses, with all the precautions it could manage (masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, reduced number of visitors, etc.)   The Museum was immediately notified that it was in violation of the Public Health Ordinance in that museums are considered “recreational activities,” not “businesses,” and had to remain closed until July.  The Museum immediately had to close again, reluctantly.  It remains so.”

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