“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come, hear the music play.” —Joel Gray
Visualize you’re walking along a dirt path. There’s a fairly tall barricade behind you, of earth and vertical logs. You’ve just been let through the main gate. The path gets wider as you go — south, judging by the sun’s position. There are farm animals wandering among the people; picket fences keep them out of the many yards. A woman with an odd headpiece is carrying two buckets of water on a yoke, and wishes you a “Guten dag.” She’s followed by a sheep. At the end of the path, near the shore of a great sea, is a fort, a pair of tall A-frame buildings, and to the right, a windmill.
Quick: where are you? A fairer question: when are you?
It’s the mid-1600s, and you’re in America. No, not Jamestown. Not Plymouth. You didn’t just bid good-morning to a “pilgrim”. Where you are standing will eventually be the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, in Manhattan. (Careful you don’t get hit by a downtown bus.)
Welcome to the world-capital of historical incongruity that is New York City.
Since I was married, slowly at first but with gathering momentum, the history of western civilization has been one of my wife’s and my (Dare I use the word now? What will they all say? Oh, screw it, there’s no better word)… passions. This interest, this mental itch that demanded scratching, was vindicated in the 2005 publication of a book by then-fellow Putnam Valley resident Russell Shorto, titled Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America.
Meanwhile, on the home front, my cubicle job is ending, and the smell of change is intoxicating. The same kind of work I’ve been doing for a wage I used to do as an agency freelancer (okay, temp), and I got such a reputation that I was kept busy, working an hourly rate 10 years ago that my wages have only recently matched, but with 2008 dollars. If I went back as a temp, my hourly gross rate would go up 40% instantly. I could match my current income working four days a week. Whatever would I do in that fifth day? (And probably the weekend, and nights, till all hours?)
A blog. Spanning the Hudson Valley, western Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware — the boundaries of New Netherland — in search of remnants of our 17th-century colonial past, and the marks those Dutch, and the native peoples they met, left on the American psyche that remain today. In search of the stories, the folklore, the places off the beaten path and absent in the tour guides. The hard science and the tall tales, labeled accurately. The Dutch colonists had, and still have, a reputation as profit-seeking above all else. This blog will handle that issue forthrightly, dispelling falsehoods, admitting shortcomings, and defending Capitalism as a value the Dutch passed on to the English, for the benefit of the independent nation to come.
And the timing is ripe: next year marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s foray, past the straits already observed the century before by Verrazano, into what would be New York harbor and the river that eventually bore his name. From that moment until the Dutch gave up the colony to the English in the 1660s (not once but twice!), the Netherlands imparted a cultural and economic momentum so strong that the English were unwilling to fiddle with it, beyond some cosmetic changes. For generations afterward, on the northern frontiers (we’re talking Albany here), if the English wanted to communicate with the native tribes, they needed a Dutch interpreter.
Sounds good to me. Does it sound good to you? No? Too bad; I’m doing it anyway!
You who’ve followed this blog (my thanks to your readership and support!) will observe that this idea doesn’t appear in my Portfolio of Schemes. It is mentioned in the comments section as an idea I was mulling with marketing impresario Mark Davidson in his free one-hour consultation, which I can’t recommend enough. Not to say that I took to heart all that he suggested. He recommended go in with monetizing guns a-blazing (if I heard him right). I want to lead with my passion. (Yeah, I said the P-word again.)
In the book Freakonomics, there’s a chapter comparing beauty pageant contestants to drug dealers. (I haven’t read the book, but heard it discussed.) In both “industries,” the allure of riches at the top of a pyramid is made possible by a lot of strugglers below who, if they knew the odds they face of ascending the pyramid, might not have made that career choice. I’d add two others: Amway (of which I have experience) and for-profit blogs. And yet, here I go, into the latter. The difference is, I’m aware of the odds, of the links to a place where there used to be a blog, of the promise of a lot of hard work. On the other hand, it’s nuts like me who figure out ways of making things like this work. And of course, since I follow smart Twitterers (and FriendFeeders and Facebookers and Plurkers and Seesmicers and Stumblers and, oh yeah, bloggers), I’ve been for some months now in the path of a steady firehose of advice and tips and encouragement for doing just such a thing, from other nuts with whom I identify strongly. (I’m talking particularly about you, Liz.)
So what will you find on the site? Clearly blog posts about the above subjects, as they appear in the news. (Here is an example.) Anticipating the needs of tourists from both near and far, there’ll be plenty commercial content that advertising will bring. Affiliate marketing is a possibility, through Amazon with such books as Mr. Shorto’s, to period music, home furnishings, clothing, and home crafts via Etsy, all with as much of an emphasis on local artisans as I can manage. Other possibilities are helping the sale of historical real estate, and of tourist packages for visitors.
There’ll be much photo and video. Probably too little from others to consider the Ning-style social site, at least at first. Dependence on reliable third-party sites, like Delicious for links, Google Maps for a mashup, Flickr for photos, a site to be named later for high-res video. (Your suggestions welcome, for this, or anything.) And since I’m a fairly adept graphic designer, it will look as much like a blog written in the 17th century as legibility and clarity will allow. And in the works is a viral, DRM-free, whitepaper-style PDF that’s so hot, I don’t think I’d better spill the beans here!
Whither this blog? I’m certainly not going to kill it. I think it will move with me to a hosted WordPress site, where I will likely make “rickwolff dot com” land on my graphic design samples, and some other URL go to this blog. As things pick up with Dutch New York, though, expect my posts here to dwindle.
Whither the other items in my scheme portfolio? Collecting them, thinking about them, none of this actually got me out of my room and on a path somewhere. I have to pick something, and it may as well be something about which I feel strongly, for which I have a community for help, inspiration, and success stories. If my action doesn’t produce the blog I’m considering, or a blog at all, at least it will get me out of the house, starting something, and in front of other people with whom I can network.
But how do I know that this is the venture that will pan out? What if I picked wrong from the portfolio? What if I get discouraged? Will I revert to old habits? I don’t know.
But what the hell else am I going to do in the time I have left? You got a better idea?