Friday, February 01, 2008

I Heart Milk

Right now, they're filming Milk, a movie about the life and death of Harvey Milk, on location here in San Francisco. Certain parts of three blocks of Castro street have been made over for the movie, with storefronts returned to their 1970s facades, and era-appropriate cars parked on either side of the street.

It's a funny effect -- fliers and signs from 1974 visible in one store window, while next door Gay Porn DVDs and erotic devices Barbarella herself could have never imagined sit proudly on display. Walking down Castro street the other day with Brian, I was reminded of one of my favorite passages from Civilization and Its Discontents, where Freud describes the mind as being like a city where nothing is ever torn down. Rome the palaces of the Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimus Severus would still be rising to their old height on the Palatine and that the castle of S. Angelo would still be carrying on its battlements the beautiful statues which graced it until the siege by the Goths, and so on. But more than this. In the palace occupied by the Palazzo Caffarelli would once more stand -- without the Palazzo having to be removed -- the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; and this not only in its latest shape, as the Romans of the Empire waw it, but also in its earliest one, when it still showed Etruscan forms and was ornamented with terra-cotta antefixes. Where the Coliseum now stands we could at the same time admire Nero's vanished Golden House. On the Piazza of the Pantheon we should not only find the Pantheon of today, as it was bequeathed to us by Hadrian, but, on the same site, the original edifice erected by Aggrippa; indeed, the same piece of ground would be supporting the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva and the ancient temple over which it was built. And the observer would perhaps only have to change the direction of his glance or his position in order to call up the one view or the other.

Here in San Francisco, perhaps because it's my adopted home and therefore one I'm less likely to take for granted, I often feel like I'm catching glimpses of other eras, walking on streets downtown where there are shipwrecks in the landfill beneath the cobblestones or passing the spot on Ashbury street where Charles Manson and the Grateful Dead were once neighbors with a convent of French nuns (only the nuns still remain). Seeing the past made real on Castro this week is an odd sort of delight, a sense of a world made new and old again at once, and a reminder that our lives, our pasts, do not perish entirely, so long as time and memory conspire to keep us present in the people and objects that take our place.


momeester said...

Five or so years ago, I was in Winston-Salem, a city that, even for a southern city, is in love with its past. They were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the restoration of Salem, the part of the city founded in 1766. For this anniversary, they were trying to evoke, not the early days, but early 50's. There were only period cars on the streets, many women were wearing "the new look". Krispy Kreme donuts were being given away in the restored garden that is on the site of the first KK store. It was like waking back into my own childhood, and also, because of all the restoration, like waking in the late eighteen century and walking in the present all at once. It was a very magic moment.

seester said...

Man, you are good at the writing.