September 8, 2007
Summer and the start of school
In one of his most famous works, the French poet Francois Villon asked: "Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan? (But where are the snows of yesteryear?)." I might ask the same about where this summer went. It seems like just last week my daughter was getting out of class, and now she's about to start up again. This year, summer just slipped through my fingers.
Americans are often chided for their inability to go on vacation -- a problem I've never had, but this year work beckoned louder. I don't think I was alone. Given the volatility in the stock, real estate and mortgage markets, and the potential of a strike in Hollywood, it seemed to me like fewer people I know took lengthy vacations.
My summer idyll was but a few days in Laguna. However, it made me think about those qualities that define a summer. If I close my eyes to conjure up the spirit of summers past, here's what comes to mind:
Sleepaway summer camp, which was all about summer friends and another chance to be the person you wanted to be, unfettered by how you were defined at school. It was about trying new sports, and progressing in others (like finally getting up on the mono water ski); it was about peer education on a multitude of subjects including, but not limited to, sex education (both theoretical and applied); it was about a world without parents, where the authority figures (the counselors) were not yet adults themselves (although we thought they were).
Summers were also about travel and being on a beach. My parents were big proponents of traveling to places in "the off season" and of staying in the worst room at the best hotel. It was a strategy that sometimes backfired (summering in Miami), and occasionally succeeded (a very strange room at the very wonderful Carlton Hotel in Cannes).
Each summer, it seemed, had its book, its movie, its song. For me, summer reading (as opposed to required reading) was the alternative education that took place outside of school. Dog-eared copies of books passed from friend to friend and traveler to traveler such as "Siddhartha" (Hermann Hesse), "Children of the Albatross" (Anais Nin), "The Dharma Bums" (Jack Kerouac), "Cat's Cradle" (Kurt Vonnegut), "Still Life With Woodpecker" (Tom Robbins), "Snow Crash" (Neal Stephenson) and "Tapping the Source" (Kem Nunn).
"Jaws" became the prototype for the summer movie, creating a monster that today exists independent of the taste of most adults. While the summer song was a pop confection that has traveled from rock (The Doors' "Light my Fire"; The Stones' "Some Girls") to pure pop (Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine") to increasingly suggestive or explicit slow raps (Kelis' "Milkshake").
Although The New York Times anointed Rihanna's "Umbrella" as this summer's tune, it was not for me (not Rihanna's version, nor Mandy Moore's cover). Instead, I found myself listening to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend," when my daughter was in the car, and Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" when she wasn't. At the movies, this summer belonged to Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan. In "Knocked up" and "Superbad," they found a way to toggle among honesty, absurdity and vulgarity in a most entertaining way. As for books, I confess to being in a bit of a rut. I read little for pleasure, and what I read didn't grab me.
This summer I watched a lot of cable -- there were a lot of shows to TiVo, including "Damages" and "State of Grace" for the performances of, respectively, Glenn Close and Holly Hunter; such guilty pleasures as "Burn Notice" and "Hotel Babylon," and such old but still good shows as "The Closer," "Monk," "Entourage" and, more recently, "Weeds" to remark on how good it is or "Californication" to talk about how bad it is (can someone find me an agent who lines up paying gigs blogging? -- even if it's a setup).
This may also be remembered as the summer of the iPhone -- which I say not as an indictment of entertainment but surely a sign that the technology is becoming more important than the product, or the product more important than the content.
For me, this summer was also about learning new things about the Internet and gaining a deeper understanding of online ventures -- I learned new (to me) words such as wireframes, folksonomy and tag clouds (go ahead, look them up). I discovered the strange worlds of twitter, twittervision and yurth.com, and began to sense that Google Earth was becoming as important an organizing principle to information on Internet pages as the shuffle feature had become to music.
And so back to school. With slight trepidation, the new year stands before us, calling us to dive in and embrace the fall.
One of the great movies of my youth was "Endless Summer," a surf documentary whose title embraced the dream that summer could go on and on (if only). This year, I didn't stop for summer, I kept keeping on. What I missed was not a book or a movie or a song, but a feeling as inchoate as the sand between your toes or a warm breeze at night -- a feeling that is already gone.
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.