By Frank Gruber
Happy New Year -- although if your politics are like those of
a cousin of mine, maybe you're not celebrating until Jan. 20.
He told me that the new year won't begin until Barack Obama is
inaugurated president. I told him that although 2009 did start
last Thursday, perhaps future historians will mark Jan. 20, 2009
as the beginning of the 21st century.
That is, if Barack Obama as president achieves even ten percent
of what his supporters expect him to achieve. If he changes that
many political and cultural paradigms, then his peaceful inauguration
will mark the end of the 20th century much as a violent event
-- the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in
1914 -- truly ended the 19th. (When the 19th century began is
another question -- in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille,
or in 1815 at Waterloo?)
I don't want to say that the 20th century was a miserable century,
because it was good to me personally during the 48 years I spent
in it, but let's face it -- for sheer scale and scope of calamity,
it was uniquely terrible.
The 19th century was much better. Sure great strides were made
in the 20th in, for example, civil liberties, medicine, and science,
but in most cases the important battles were won or initiated
in the 19th, with everything from the Civil War and the 14th Amendment,
to the women's movement, and, with regard to medicine and science,
to public health (much more important for health than any medicines
or surgical procedures) and Darwin, who set up everything that's
happened since in biology and medicine.
Sure you had the rigors of industrialization, but you also had
such increases in productivity that there was no inflation for
generations, and along the way literacy became universal in the
countries that modernized.
As I said, personally the 20th century treated me well and I
like the music and living in an age when we have some idea how
big the universe is and how long it's been around, but it's time
to move on.
* * *
When not contemplating the turning of the historical wheel, I
spent the holidays in what people this year are calling a "staycation,"
meaning I stayed at home but didn't do much work. And, no, I wasn't
unemployed, which is a condition that is going around like a bad
flu, but I suspect that in these hard times staycations are going
to become popular even among those people with incomes, because
they're a lot cheaper than the go-somewhere variety.
We're lucky here, because it's easy to be a tourist in L.A. and
especially congenial in Santa Monica, a genuine tourist destination
for more than a century. My son Henry was home for the holidays
for the first time since going away to college, and naturally
we had a lot of plans.
Of course there was the Tonto question: "What do you mean,
'we?'" We -- Henry's parents -- had lots of plans to do all
the family/culture things we rarely did before he went to college
but which seemed like a good idea now. Such as go to museums.
But except for one trip to the Huntington none of that happened.
The Huntington is one great reason to have a staycation in L.A.;
we went to see an exhibit about Charles Darwin's work as a botanist
(he used botany to prove his theories about natural selection,
because he showed how even though plants were capable of self-fertilization,
they had evolved to encourage cross-pollination), but along the
way to that part of the library we managed to see artifacts of
the whole history of printed books and on the way back we saw
what seemed like the whole history of science.
And of course the gardens are worth a trip themselves.
|(Photos by Frank Gruber) The Huntington
Henry had his own plans; mainly, it seemed to us, to stay up into
the wee hours playing computer games with old friends from Samohi,
and then sleeping in all morning. We're happy that those plans panned
out for him.