I went to a presentation at the National Yiddish Book Center on the campus of Hampshire College on Sunday. All in all it was an enjoyable experience. The building looked to me to be an homage to a Central European village of the Ashkenazi, which would make sense under the circumstances of course. The viewing and lecture were in an intimate theater located within the interior of the building and worked well for celebrating the 100th anniversary, more or less, of the birth of Danny Kaye.
What struck me after watching the four rare comic shorts from Danny Kaye’s early career and a montage of some of his finest moments was that once the group of us movie buffs departed from the structure all of the intellectual energy that the presentation had unleashed was lost. As spectacular a backdrop as the Holyoke Range offers, it was no match for the stultifying and diffusing impact of the asphalt stretching before us. Once we had left the footprint of the Book Center, we might as well have been at Wal Mart, Best Buy, or, perhaps more fittingly, Trader Joe’s (Amherst is a very crunchy place).
The space within the building was interesting, the presentation in the theater was invigorating and, had we been in a traditionally designed place, I am sure the conversation would have spilled out onto the street, or perhaps onto a university promenade. There is something about a parking lot which does not love human interaction. It is enemy territory, alien space, it both opens up too broadly and disaggregates us, and funnels us into narrow, hostile channels. It sucks the life out of our conversations and leaves us feeling naked when unsheltered by our shiny metallic shells.