Hodge Podge: On Memory, Weddings, and Original Recipes

I have been working on this post for a few weeks, but alas the post-wedding catch up has taken over, plus every time I think I am done something else comes up that I want to add to it. But sometimes you just have to hit publish!

We will start with a quick word about weddings. Historically speaking weddings are the bringing together of two families and thus creating a new path of history. Two stories become one thus creating a new narrative.For those who love genealogy these events and the documentation of these events will one day let our great, great, great, great, grandchildren trace their own ancestry.

In addition to the immaterial the actual physical landscape of a marriage reveals heritage and culture, an opportunity to show the more recent past of the bride and groom. For my sister it was the trappings off India mixed in with with the quintessential American rituals (the first dance, cutting of the cake). My friends Mary and William embraced their inner Irish and love of fantasy for a ceremony filled with beauty and heart a week later.

For this hodge podge I’ll talk about This American Life episodes, a play on memory by Harold Pinter, a short conversation about fictionalizing the past through Geraldine Brooks’ work People of the Book and Year of Wonders, and finally a pop culture meets history link.

This American Life

There are actually three episodes that I wanted to talk about here. The first was an episode about Kid Politics. Where reporter Starlee Kine describes a program at the Reagan Library which asks kids to reenact the invasion of Grenada. While the show looks to see if kids make better decisions than adults, I found myself reacting to the subtle cues the library educators used to emphasize that the presidents decision was the “right one”. The kids who spent some time learning about Grenada before arrival are divided into three groups “the president and his cabinet”, “the military”, and “the press.” Than whenever the student makes a decision that Reagan did not make a light flashes along with a loud buzzer and a red light. On one level it is one way to indicate that the President made a different decision, but I think that by painting other options as wrong or right pushes kids away from critical thinking/analyzing presidential history as a series of decisions rather than because it happened this was the only course we could have taken.

The second episode had a segment that examined a television show, “This Is Your Life.” The premise interviewing individuals, and then surprising them with a carefully constructed vision of their life. Two separate episodes brought on a Holocaust survivor and a Japanese man who survived the atomic bomb-introducing these very sensitive subjects to the American audience in a way that they had never been discussed before. Each person also had a “surprise” guest–in the case of the Holocaust survivor it was a fellow camp mate, while the Japanese man (who was in the United States getting operations for girls who had been disfigured from the blast) was presented with one of the pilots of the Enola Gay. “This is your Life” seems almost like a modern day reality show. In both cases described above the individual being profiled used the show to bring awareness to what had happened to them, despite the shows structure feeling a little intrusive and voyeuristic.

And finally, for a light-hearted turn. Ira Glass believes he found the original recipe of Coke. While it is possible that it is a version of the drink we all know and love, this episode is a testament to the power of the document. Of finding things in boxes years from now that can tell a missing story. Above all else this episode showed that history is fun…especially when it involves an element of food ways and a little history of an American industry, regulation history and pop culture all at once.

Shakespeare Theatre: Old Times

The second to last show of the 2010-2011 season wasn’t a traditional tale by the bard but rather a reflection on memory written by Harold Pinter. The two leads are a married couple Kate and Deeley (played by Stephen Culp, of West Wing Fame, and the Tracy Lynn Middendorf who played Bonnie in LOST), who are expecting an old friend of Kate’s named Anna. In the course of the show, the play becomes less about a visit, and more a battle of remembrances between husband and guest. It is stark full of imagery that asks the audience to question, what is real what is true, did that really happen. It’s at times funny, yet equally gloomy as tension rises. Yet the woman at the center of each memory, Kate demands no attention. She seems content to live merely as an object of this memory, trapped in her own thoughts, often letting her husband’s former friend memorialize her as if she does not exist. The show ends in a bizarre parody leaving us to wonder about what memory really is.

I know that we see things one way in the moment, and that with time that vision shifts and is colored by the receding years. Collective memory works the same way. This play fiddles with the past, and illustrates in an evocative way about how even what we believe to be true can change in an instant. Old Times is playing at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC through July 3.

Of the Book: Two Titles by Geraldine Brooks

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, as usual. From fantasy, to catching up on my Public Historian, I find reading to be incredibly cathartic. Occasionally you come across a text so engaging that you feel inspired. This is so with books by Geraldine Brooks. Best known for winning the Pulitzer Prize for March which follows the father in Little Women through his wartime journey, I picked up People of the Book and Year of Wonders. Both books use history as the backdrop for remarkable examples of storytelling. Year of Wonders is the story of a town hit by the plague, and how it voluntarily closes its boarders to keep those outside safe. People of the Book follows a book conservator and narrates her story and that of the object she is trying to save–it is the Sarajevo Haggadah, a real book with a really engaging past. It is an amazing piece of writing–in that as we step back in time with the book’s history we see fragments of the world, of Europe during times of intense upheaval before being brought back to our guide’s life. For anyone who is not convinced that material culture tells us more about the past than anything else–I would pick up People of the Book immediately.

.…and finally

I took a moment for fun and went to see the latest X-Men movie. It was fairly well plotted and takes place during a particular part of the cold war (1962 to be exact). However, like most movies–it gets some things wrong. Ta-Nehisi Coates went to see the movie with his son and tells us about it in “You Left Out the Part About….“. A good opening for a discussion….so tell me what you think in the comments.

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