Monday, February 23, 2009

a walk back in time

I was early again for the NYU tax seminar last week and decided to take a walk to 6th Street in the East Village, perhaps twenty minutes away. I went to nursery school in the East Village nearly 50 years ago, and have gone there perhaps once in between, to visit one of the Indian restaurants that were reputed to have a common kitchen in the early '80s. Aside from the obvious fact that nothing much changes in the neighborhood, the walk was interesting as an exercise in memory lost and refound.

One point was the vagaries of memory and how it inevitably betrays us. I went to nursery school on East 6th Street--or was it 7th?--just a block (or was it two blocks?) away from what became the Fillmore East, a famous rock venue. The principal was the wife of a well-known realist artist . . . or was his work more abstract? None of this really matters, of course, but if I'm unsure of this how reliable are my other recollections?

The other was how little New York changes, perhaps because it changes so much. I tend to get annoyed at New Yorkers' sense of moral superiority, the assumption that they know everything and anything west of the Holland Tunnel is, well, not very important. Yet I have a distinct memory of my teachers--a veritable caricature of early '60s Jewish liberalism--requiring us to sing We Shall Overcome in the Staten Island ferry terminal before departing on a summer outing. Did we seem equally overbearing to the commuters who heard us back then? And if so, does it mean that we were wrong to sing it? Depending on the year, Barack Obama was either unborn or a toddler in Hawaii at the time. It's a good thing he wasn't there: the inevitable crush of affection might have turned him into a Republican.


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