Niagara Gazette

Columns

July 28, 2013

SINGER: The power of nostalgia

Niagara Gazette — Urban renewal in agglomerations like this one is often an attempt to regain and enhance a sometimes neglected architectural past via herculean, admirable efforts to make that past relevant, pleasing, and useful to the present. Call it perhaps the power of nostalgia, so evident in many other parts of today’s culture.

You see this well as you drive through lush countryside to Jamestown, where the down-sloping Main Street immediately brings back an old-time America that helped spawn the most celebrated expatriate from the area, Lucille Ball. And of course Ball-Arnaz remain great attractions there today.

Fine, old churches and refurbished, brightly painted buildings of yore are simply magnificent here (houses on side streets awaiting their refurbishers remaining a kind of poetic foil). Then you get to the Lucy-Desi Museum, and every photo of Lucy, as well as a magnificent family portrait dominating one room, really shows the character of this sad yet vivacious, intelligent, beautiful, and facile clown-genius, who had emanated from a relatively hardscrabble background in these parts. You also see the symbiotic enhancement produced by a marriage and showbiz partnership with one Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III, hailing from anything but a tough lineage; rather, from one of the wealthiest, most important and privileged families in Cuba, until ruined by the Batista coup of the early ‘30s (Arnaz’ father associated with the previous strongman there).

Onward went the family to Miami, and the world of music for this handsome, noble scion of privilege, who like many in history, was supposed to be a lawyer. Desi’s musical efforts included Latin innovations he brought to America, such as the conga line. And thence to Hollywood, where on the set of “Too Many Girls” he met the lovely redhead who at age 4 had lost her factory worker dad in Jamestown to typhoid fever; but whose grandfather had blessedly supported her fascination with glamorous movies and the possibility of having such a career — even in remote Western New York.

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