Thursday, December 19, 2013
My grasp of history might be different from yours. We all approach these things from, I think, a unique and not totally pragmatic perspective. Our take on human history will be colored by what we discover, coupled with the stories we've heard since infancy.
Much depends on our cultural experience.
Many of my cultural experiences took place in a car, when the parents would drive us wee kids and our sleeping bags, transport us in the back of a green '65 Rambler station wagon to the local drive-in.
As these were events of an educational nature, there was nothing fun nor remotely salacious promised. I.e, no James Bond; no popcorn. We were not on a pleasure trip.
We arrived at the Thunderbird Drive-In, all work, no play; to learn, history and literature. But mostly history, because Dad liked epic cinematic sweeps. And if we weren't prepared to learn, then we could just pipe down, stop cackling, or he'd turn this car around, and is that what we wanted, is that what we really wanted, because if we kept on this way, well, don't ask him twice, because he'd do it in a heartbeat, just try him. Go on, just one more word.
We decided to learn.
And some lessons have stayed with me all through life. The 60's cinematic epics taught me:
That during any significant period in human history -- the 20th C Arab uprising, WWI, WWII, or the Russian revolution -- Alec Guinness would be there, every step of the way, to bear witness. In some strange accent that one can only describe as Guinness-stan.
That everyone, from the beginning of time, all civilizations, spoke a common language, and that language was English, though with various results. Like, someone could live next door to a Russian, and the Russian would sound German and the neighbor, Italian; and the Polish brother would be Irish and the Irish brother from Cleveland. And the Arabs, don't get me started.
Plus, if Omar Sharif starred as the hero in and as anything -- a Mongol, Russian, German, or Swede -- don't get your hopes up, he's toast.
So, my grasp of international history is, well, wanting. Wanting for something other than David Lean.
In middle school, I had a history teacher, who was actually the boys' gym coach. I mean, he doubled as our history teacher; the real one was on sick leave. The school must have been desperate, because Mr. Burleigh seemed rather out of his element, talking about Sow-Doo Arabia, and such.
But I liked Mr. Burleigh, and he liked me. He knew me, through the gymnastics team. He never called me Karin, but Miss BOO-gay. And I rather liked that.
In history class, one day he unfurled a map of eastern Europe and touched the map with one of those pointy sticks, "This is the Soviet Union. Who is prepared to talk about it?" Because he obviously wasn't.
And Mr. Burleigh was sweating some, and had pushed his shirt sleeves up, exposing his muscular forearms.
Some in the class giggled.
I couldn't let them humiliate Mr. Burleigh. So I stood up and said, "Well, actually, Mr. Burleigh, I have a good story to share, and it starts before the Russian Revolution..." I talked for 40 minutes, about the Reds and the Whites, through a filter of Julie Christie, Tom Courtenay, Ralph Richardson, and whatever I could remember through a second filter, the Rambler, a few years back.
It went over well. And the bell rang.
"Thank you, Miss BOO-gay," said Mr. Burleigh. "Today, we learned something,"
I could only think we hadn't, much; except, maybe, how to be a friend.