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« Living in Another Era | Main | Margi Young 3 »

May 11, 2006

... And What Era Would You Like to Visit?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

In a recent post titled "Living in Another Era" (here) I asked what time/place readers might want to live.

Commenters Michael Blowhard and Lexington Green wisely noted that modern medicines and other essentials would be lacking. Lexington also stated that he's just fine with the here and now ("This is the golden age of health, wealth and opportunity.")

I think they are right, and have thought so for quite a while, though I had some doubts back in the 1970s. In the 70s, I figured that my parents (born 1907/08) probably had it best despite having to endure the Great Depression.

As a matter of fact, I consider myself extremely lucky to be living when and where I am: Consider all the less-pleasant alternatives.

Then Friedrich von Blowhard jumped in with the following:

I'd absolutely love to visit (not necessarily live in) two periods:

Florence in 1300 A.D., when both Giotto and Dante were in residence there. In addition to buying those two a beer, I'd love to have seen how pre-Renaissance Florence, an industrial city with a far larger population and with a far more dynamic economy than its Renaissance avatar, worked, as the Florentines of that era were really making it up as they went along.

Likewise, I'd love to have seen Amsterdam in roughly 1600 A.D. while the Dutch were fighting the Spanish, creating a world empire, and developing the first modern economy (to say nothing of inventing the microscope and the thermometer)--a good chance to catch the modern world 'in ovo'.

This is a better idea for a Comments feast. Experience the interesting stuff without the health dangers.

Lemme see...

I think New York City 1925-1940 would be fascinating. So would California in the late 30s. And Paris in the Belle Époque; London in the same era. Oh, and both in 1925-35.

For some reason I can't quickly come up with an earlier period that hops onto my "must visit" list. I'll mull it over and add a comment if something strikes me.

Now it's your turn.



posted by Donald at May 11, 2006


OK, if we are going to do "magic" and visit the past, we can have stronger "magic" and say that unless you do something stupid you get to come home in a reasonable amount of time safely and in reasonable health. Might as well top off the magic and say you get to meet even the most powerful and important people without having any formal introduction and understand their language. What the Hell. OK.

As a Catholic the first and obvious thing which comes to mind: Palestine in time to see Jesus Christ and the apostles and his mother Mary. All else pales.

Medieval Paris for a couple of day. Meet St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Louis, the king.

Eighteenth century England. Several days each during several periods a few years apart. Burke, Johnson, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin (he was in London for a while), Lord Mansfield, many others. Meet them. Have tea with them. Listen to them in person. Go to the House of Commons and hear Pitt in action.

The American founding. Maybe during Washington's first term. Meet the man. Meet Hamilton. Meet Jefferson, Adams, John Jay, John Marshall.

Ride the circuit for a few weeks with Lincoln when he was practicing law. Rap with him. See him in action in court, trying cases.

London circa 1900. Meet Lord Acton and F.W. Maitland, half a day each, maybe.

Fortunately, I have my books, which is the next best thing to this kind of time travel.

Posted by: Lexington Green on May 11, 2006 9:37 PM

Being a woman, I wouldn't switch with any other time. Not a chance. Ewww ewww ewww.

Posted by: Kirsten on May 11, 2006 9:52 PM

BTW, not trying to be a spoilsport with the references to dirt, disease, etc. Science fiction dealing with time travel usually addresses this very point, how do you fit in and function in another era? One boyhood favorite of mine on this topic is L. Sprague De Camp's Lest Darkness Fall. A guy goes back to 6th Century Italy and has to fend for himself. He does OK, but there are some close calls ... .

Posted by: Lexington Green on May 11, 2006 10:05 PM

I'd go for ancient Egypt during the pyramid-building era. Or possibly somewhere in Europe during the height of the feudal period in the Middle Ages.

Posted by: Peter on May 11, 2006 10:29 PM

1. 1920s Boston to have a chat with H. P. Lovecraft.

2. Sixth century Byzantium to meet Roman general Belisarius.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on May 12, 2006 12:00 AM

"how do you fit in and function in another era?"

A Conecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Posted by: Jacob on May 12, 2006 8:02 AM

I wouldn't want to be a streetsweeper in any era.

On the other hand, to be one of the rich and powerful is great -- in every era.

Posted by: ricpic on May 12, 2006 10:41 AM

Redmond, Washington - 1985-1995

Silicon Valley - 1995-2000

Bangalore, India - 2000-2005

Shanghai, China - 2005-2010

Posted by: James Dudek on May 12, 2006 10:50 AM

1. I'd want to be an american teenager in the 1950's. Maybe to actually live with Ward and June Cleever.

2. I'd like to have been a true hippie at Woodstock.

3. I'd like to have met and chatted with Abraham Lincoln. Who am I kidding? I'd probably liked to have flirted with him!

4. I'd like to have attended the Declaration of Independence conference, although this would necissitate switching genders.

Posted by: annette on May 12, 2006 11:36 AM

Dear Lexington:

Might as well top off the magic and say you get to meet even the most powerful and important people without having any formal introduction and understand their language.

I thought about those issue a bit in regards to my choices. I figured I'd be willing to learn Italian and Dutch to handle the language problem. As far as actually meeting people, somehow I suspect that would be doable with the right cover story, given how much of an advantage one could obtain by checking out the history books.

In purely human, strike up a casual acquaintance terms, I suspect it wouldn't have been too hard to buy a guy like Giotto a drink, let alone Franz Hals! One suspects Dante would have been a different story, however. I would also have liked to talk to Cornelis Drebbel, a Dutchman who Jonathan I. Israel claims invented both the microscope and the thermometer. (Granted, other people have been put forward as the inventors of the items, including Galileo for the thermometer and the father-and-son team of Hans and Zacharias Jannsen for the microscope.)

Ah, heck, I'm not sure why inventors intrigue me, but I'd be fascinated to go back and check into Guttenberg's "invention" of movable type and to see the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 12, 2006 12:27 PM

Okay, I scratched my head a little and here are more destinations:

  • Vienna around 1900 to check out what Klimt, Kolo Moser, et. al. were up to.
  • Rome and Athens at their architectural zeniths.
  • Alexandria when its library was still in business. Ideally, I'd know Greek and be packing a Xerox machine to record all the stuff that got lost.
  • There are all sorts of famous battles I'd like to witness, but there would have to be some assurance that I'd get through the experiences unscathed.
  • I'd like to spend a day or two at the General Motors styling studios back in Harley Earl's heyday -- 1936 perhaps.

I'll be back if I think of more.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on May 12, 2006 1:09 PM

Sicily in about 1160 AD -- the height of Norman power there.

Venice in the early 14th century.

Constantinople during the reign of Basileus II.

Constantinople during the reign of Justinian.

All assuming really good bodyguards and antibiotics, of course.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on May 12, 2006 1:14 PM

It seems that eras and places are inextricably tied together -- when we say we went to visit a different era, it's not that we want to be plopped down just anywhere. There's usually a very specific place that represents the "best" of a particular era.

So, that raises the question -- where is today's place? And why aren't you there? It would have been a shame to have been alive during, say, the Italian Renaissance, but to be spending those years in the Ukraine.

Posted by: Alex on May 12, 2006 3:03 PM

It would have been a shame to have been alive during, say, the Italian Renaissance, but to be spending those years in the Ukraine.

Very good point, Alex. On my bad days, it feels like that is where I spent my life! :)

Posted by: annette on May 18, 2006 1:29 PM

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