It isn't usual, I think, to quote the last few words of a book at the outset of a
review recommendation but they are particularly apt as the basis of a post for the Memorial Day Holiday - the dawning of summer as emblem for the birth of another summer long ago cut short, not only on this barrier island, but the world over.
"We cannot bring back that lost generation, but we can preserve its enduring artifacts. In his last public statement, Horace Gifford said it best:
'In the end, the past is personal, and that is what makes its preservation so urgent. It is our own memories intermingled with the collective memory that we call history; it is not so much truth as interpretation; but in that interpretation we can find beauty and wisdom, inspiration for living and guidance for the future.' "
I have never been on that long strip of sand called Fire Island, that runs parallel to the south shore of Long Island – never even knew where it was, though it formed a great part of my friends' conversations all through the 70s into the 80s. I lived in Europe and visited America each summer and my friends, who were much older, were more interested in what the city had to offer – a heady combination of sleaze, culture, freedom, friendship and community. In fact, a sense of community the likes of which has not been felt since.
There have been many achievements since the 1970s and continue to be, increasingly, so it is interesting to listen to Larry Kramer in a recent interview pointing out "Considering how many of us there are, how much disposable income we have, how much brain power we have, we have achieved very little. We have no power in Washington, or anywhere else ..."
The importance of the past does not guarantee survival. Can the lost generation's artifacts, the houses in this book, however important they may be as representatives of a moment in Gay and Lesbian history, given the inevitable and rapid rising of the seas, be preserved? We are as powerless as King Canute in this regard and, if Larry Kramer is to be believed, not only on this front. On the other hand, a book like this is preservation of a kind – the transliteration of memory into history.
From the book: the living room of the Wittstein-Miller house, as arranged by Scott Bromley in the early 1980s. An image I remember from either Architectural Digest or House and Garden.
From the book: the annual invasion by Cherry Grove drag queens
Would that there were more books like this – books that show Gay as both a cultural phenomenon and a human one.
"I began what turned out to be an immediate connection with Fire Island in the late 1970's. The world was less accepting but The Pines were a magical place where I learned what it was like to be main stream, to be welcomed and embraced. My own sort of Alice in Wonderland experience included beautiful architecture that filled the space between the bay and ocean. Wild deer and even wilder gay life filled the dunes and near by trails. Everything seemed perfect, and no one knew the plague of the twentieth century was right around the corner. Low tea and high tea connected the perfect day with exciting evenings. The big wooden box called the pavilion was the stage for late night and many an early morning, of course with a big crystal chandelier to hang above shirtless beautiful men dancing the night away. For the lucky ones this would be the material that you could reflect on for years to come, innocent times blended with the bittersweet."
Low tea from High tea
The Calvin Klein house
Those were the days, my friends, we thought they'd never end ... indeed.
Thanks (and copyright) to David for the photos.