Monday, October 16, 2006

"That sunny dome! those caves of ice!"

"in Xanadu did Kubla Khan / a stately pleasure-dome decree" – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Now that I'm here / Now that you're near in Xanadu" – Olivia Newton John


Parents Reads believed in Family Vacations, and you can imagine, Gentle Reader, what that entailed. The three of us—-Mom Reads, Dad Reads, and Amy Reads—-piled into the Reads-Family Van, a large white contraption with no seats in the expansive rear, and went Cross-Country. I rode in the back most times, with my sleeping bag, my stack of books, my individual serving cereal boxes, my individual serving cartons of milk. There were no curfews on Family Vacation, and if I wanted to lie on my back and read all day while Mom and Dad Reads navigated the Open Highway, I could do so, no questions asked. No chores, no homework, no rules. Bologna and cheese sandwiches, sugary cereals, and fast food ruled the day. We had ice chests, we had maps, we had a CB radio, and we had a marvelous time.

Like all good middle-class families, we went South, to Florida, to the great and fantastic Disneyworld. Even now, some twenty-five years later, Disneyworld beckons to me with its alluring siren song. Mr. Reads and I took that great and fantastical honeymoon to Disney, and loved every second of it. As I believe I've mentioned before, we even headed over to Universal Studios, and Marveled at the Marvel Islands of Adventure.

But Dad Reads also believed in Visiting America, and as we drove along the highways in the late seventies and early eighties, we caught the tail-end of the Great Roadside Attraction Boom. One of those said attractions was on the road down to Disney. One of those said attractions was Xanadu: Home of the Future.

Do you remember, Gentle Reader, the bizarre yet oddly seductive movie Xanadu? I honestly don't, since the last time I saw it, I couldn't drive, date, wear makeup, vote, or even answer the phone by myself or stay at home without a babysitter. But I've just (just, Dear Reader!) discovered it is available for rent on my beloved Netflix, and I've Moved It Up In The Queue. Please, don't tell Mr. Reads, but it's been moved to Number 6, right after Prairie Home Companion (Short Wait), Slither and Monster House (Releases October 24), Short Cuts (which Mr. Reads has never seen, and we can all shame him and mock him mercilessly for it) and Art School Confidential (Available Now).

But what I *do* remember about Xanadu the Movie is this: roller-skating, Olivia Newton John, rainbow colors, Greek mythology, and a white fluffy Styrofoam house.

What I remember about Xanadu the Home of the Future is this: standing in line in the Florida sun—-which isn't that much different from the sun in Louisiana, but to a 7-year-old, it seemed monstrous-—losing my mother because I wandered away during the tour, and a white fluffy Styrofoam house that I got to touch, yes, touch with my own 7-year-old hands. Well, a version of it, anyways.

But isn't that always the way? You only get to touch a version of Xanadu and never, ever the Real Thing.

The two memories are caught up in my head: discovery and loss, wonder and anguish, joy and suffering. For one single moment I was *lost*, alone, surrounded by strangers in the House of the Future.

Coleridge lost Xanadu, too, supposedly when someone knocked on his door and startled him out of an opium-induced dream.

We've lost Xanadu, too, surprisingly enough, when someone knocked on our doors and reminded us that The Future Is Now.

What happened to the Houses of the Future? The Cars of the Future? The Clothes of the Future? Is the Future Right Now? Or have we passed our fantasy future by, and our real future, the Future That Is Now, is entirely too bleak for words, speculation, fantastical constructions, and Styrofoam houses? Where are our utopias? Our dystopias? Our revolutions? Where are our flying cars, our dogs-that-walk-themselves, our bubble skirts and Lives On Mars? I'm better acquainted with the Flintstones than the Jetsons, and that makes me feel cheated, somehow. We bemoan every cent NASA spends on space exploration, but turn the other cheek as our brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and friends are sent to the desert. We have lost our sense of adventure, and instead of exploring, we sit in our corner, hoarding our toys, and growling at anyone who comes near.

What will they say, our children's children, when they look back on our quaint and archaic selves? Or will they not say anything at all, because our vision is entirely too familiar to theirs?

What are our visions of the Future? Hollywood and Fiction Writers give us dystopian military totalitarian structures (Equilibrium) dominated by technology (The Matrix trilogy) and taken over by the technology we've invented (The Terminator movies). We have fears of genetic testing (The Island, Brave New World), of each other (1984), of aliens (Independence Day, X-Files), of planetary destruction (The Time Machine, War of the Worlds), of friendly-destruction ("Last of the Winnebagos"), of self-destruction (Firefly, Serenity), of male-destruction (Y The Last Man), of mail-destruction (The Postman-—ha, ha). But it seems that more often than not, we've lost our sense of wonder of the unknown.

When did the unknown become frightening? When did we look to the future and see not flying cars and foam houses, but rather, war and destruction and totalitarianism? When did we hunker down and decide that This is Mine and That is Yours and Never the Twain shall meet?

I was seven-years-old when I saw The House of the Future, and I remember, so very distinctly, how it felt against my hand. It was made of foam, and I expected it to be soft, malleable, but instead, it was hard, tangible, and resisted the pressure of my hand. The future was *solid* and I felt it, against my palm. That night I looked up at the stars and wondered what was out there. I wondered, for a long time then and since, what the future might bring us.

And now, I can't help but wonder why we've *stopped wondering* about wonder, and instead, wonder only about pain and fear.

I'm guilty of this, too, Dear Friends, and a part of me can't imagine why I'd rather write about the fear than the joy. Is it because fear is complex, and joy simplistic, and complexity sells when simplicity does not?

I don't have the answers, but I do have the memory of Xanadu, the House of the Future, with its sunny dome, and its caves of foam, all of it honey-dew fed and drunk on Paradise's milk. And that might just have to do for now.

14 Comments:

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

Intersting post. I too remember Xanadu (the movie). It's funny -- I have learned to embrace the roadside attraction as an adult. Wall Drug (SD), South of the Border (SC), Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame (WI), Mt. Horeb Mustard Museum (WI), The Blue Hole (OH), Mystery Spot (CA) are some of the best. As is the trailer park in Gibsonton, FL that is the winter/retirement home for retired carnies and circus freaks, but that's great for all of the WRONG reasons. FL has lots more but I try to leave the state as soon as possible upon entering. One should not linger there. Bad things happen.

 
At 9:30 PM, Blogger Ragtime said...

I think the secret to Xanadu is to watch it right after "Singing in the Rain". Or maybe Grease. The music to me, though, was so horribly unmemorable, that as I try to recall it, all I can come up with is "Waterloo" by ABBA (with Xanadu replacing the word Waterloo).

Your post, though, primarily reminded me of "Another Roadside Attraction" by Tom Robbins, which is a great send-up of the boom. I believe someone was touting Jesus's corpse as a roadside attraction in the book.

 
At 11:08 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
Florida is indeed the place where roadside attractions seem to go to die. Have you seen the X-Files episode about Gibsonton? It's fantastic, truly.
I shall write a review of Xanadu once it comes in from Netflix. Do wait with baited breath, as it promises to be Great.
;)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 11:14 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
You know, I may be remembering the wrong song, too, and I'm going to try and figure it out.
Okay, here it goes:
This is Waterloo
and This is Xanadu.
Strangely, creepily similar. Sure, Waterloo's perkier, but there's that frightening, high-pitched tone that just freaks me out.
Yet, I feel so compelled to dance... or rollerskate.
:)

Your post, though, primarily reminded me of "Another Roadside Attraction" by Tom Robbins, which is a great send-up of the boom. I believe someone was touting Jesus's corpse as a roadside attraction in the book.

I've actually only read one Tom Robbins in my life, Still Life With Woodpecker, and the only reason I read it was because a cute boy suggested that I should (shameful confession, I know). I'm not much on postmodern lit, and Robbins is just a little too out there for me. But how is the Robbins you suggest? Worth picking up?
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger Ragtime said...

Eh.

If you didn't like Tom Robbins ten years ago, try a couple of chapters again. You'll either like it, or hate it even more. My theory is that there's a time in everyone's life when they'll like him, but it's a different time for everyone.

I liked Another Roadside Attraction, but I can certainly understand why other people don't.

 
At 9:17 AM, Blogger Matthew E said...

The book you want for roadside attractions is Will Shetterly's Dogland, which is a part-fantasy (but the fantasy part is easily ignored if you'd rather), part-coming of age story that's about halfway between To Kill a Mockingbird and Gaiman's American Gods. Robbins can eat applesauce.

My partial theory on what happened to the future is this: the 1980s were a decade in which we thought we had arrived in the future. Consider how glossy everything was, consider new wave music, consider Reagan, consider the Boom generation.

Then, in the '90s, we realized that it was still just the present after all, and we haven't really gotten over it yet.

 
At 10:10 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
If you didn't like Tom Robbins ten years ago, try a couple of chapters again. You'll either like it, or hate it even more. My theory is that there's a time in everyone's life when they'll like him, but it's a different time for everyone. I liked Another Roadside Attraction, but I can certainly understand why other people don't.

I'll give it a try again. I tend to trust the opinions of Smart People, so if you say it's good, I'll give it a whirl.
:)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:12 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Matthew,
The book you want for roadside attractions is Will Shetterly's Dogland, which is a part-fantasy (but the fantasy part is easily ignored if you'd rather), part-coming of age story that's about halfway between To Kill a Mockingbird and Gaiman's American Gods. Robbins can eat applesauce.

Goodness gracious, that sounds interesting! Will note it as well and give them *both* a whirl.
(and the true insult is "eat tapioca" not applesauce. Applesauce can be tasty; tapioca, never).
:)

My partial theory on what happened to the future is this: the 1980s were a decade in which we thought we had arrived in the future. Consider how glossy everything was, consider new wave music, consider Reagan, consider the Boom generation.
Then, in the '90s, we realized that it was still just the present after all, and we haven't really gotten over it yet.


This is a really fantastic theory, and I think I definitely buy it. There was the 60s dream of the future, too, though. All Jetson and space age materials. Spandex, right? And Disneyworld's Tomorrowland. I want my anti-gravity boots, as I was promised!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:51 PM, Blogger Matthew E said...

the true insult is "eat tapioca" not applesauce

F.X. Flynn says 'applesauce', and that's good enough for me.

 
At 11:13 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Matthew,
F.X. Flynn says 'applesauce', and that's good enough for me.

And now, me as well :)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 3:45 PM, Blogger Ragtime said...


I'll give it a try again. I tend to trust the opinions of Smart People, so if you say it's good, I'll give it a whirl.


Well, I wouldn't go that far. Decide how smart I am after you read it!

 
At 12:21 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

It's now Thursday and I've had that damn Olivia Newton-John song in my head since Monday. Thanks Amy :). At least it's not "Let's Get Physical."

 
At 3:14 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
Well, I wouldn't go that far. Decide how smart I am after you read it!

Eh, I decide now. You argue and disagree intelligently and calmly and convincingly. That's good enough for me!
:)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
It's now Thursday and I've had that damn Olivia Newton-John song in my head since Monday. Thanks Amy :). At least it's not "Let's Get Physical."

Amy Reads: Pissing Men Off Since 1976.
:)
Don't worry. I have something even worse lined up for next week.
*mwuahahaha*
Ciao,
Amy

 

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