January 8, 2010, Greenwood Park, Brooklyn:
My grandson Dmitri arranges clumps of icy snow in the dead-middle of the paved, spacious, open area of the park: “You’re building an igloo,” I say. He looks at me quizzically. So I realize he doesn’t know what an igloo is.
When we return to his family’s apartment, he sits on my lap and, together, we watch a 7-minute segment of “Nanook of the North” in which Nanook and his family build an igloo from scratch.
Which reminds me of a time maybe 40 years ago in the Central Park zoo when a peacock had unfurled his magnificent tail and the grandmother standing next to me had commented to her grandson: “Look! Just like TV!” ( A word of explanation for those too young to remember the early days of color TV. The NBC logo had been a stylized peacock opening his segmented tail, one color/segment.)
How I’d sneered at that grandmother! For right in front of us, in all his glory, had been a real peacock. Yet she’d referenced something fake, cartoonish, as seen on TV.
40 years later, I show my grandson a UTube video to illustrate the world “igloo.” And, I realize as we watch together, many of his references will be understood by his staring at a computer screen. And, indeed, as my time in Brooklyn progresses, he and I will watch many videos illustrating something that he and I had talked about. “Gram,” I realize, means the person who loves to google videos.
But one thing Dmitri does experience in living color: He knows, hangs out with, plays with a “rainbow” of people—as he would say. Very unlike my lily-white childhood.
I understand something else: “Nanook of the North” was the first documentary I’d ever seen (Yes, I know there’s controversy re its staging; I’m not denying that), i.e. my first experience of watching people whose lives were utterly different from my own.