It returns the child's eye to the retinas of men. Emerging from subway, train or even hydrofoil, the visitor to the New York World's Fair feels that he is in a special world, full of runaway pylons, impossible cantilevers, and buildings that look like flowers or accidents of flowing lava.
Is it the future? Not exactly. The 1964 fair both celebrates and illustrates the fact that in the last 25 years science has so far expanded the human imagination that anything seems possible. Crowds at the 1939 New York fair stared with skepticism at exhibits of air conditioning, television and the first nylon stocking. The 1964 fair displays not what might be done in the future, but rather what has already been done. The 1939 fair was a promise. The 1964 fair is a boast.
Much of it, to be sure, has a tacky, plastic, here-today-blown-tomorrow look, as if it were a city made of credit cards. But much of it has grace and substance. From nations to corporations, everybody is there to hawk and hornblow. All the crammed buildings are engaged in a mad struggle for attention. And somehow, in its jostling, heedless, undisciplined energy, it makes a person happy to be alive in the 20th century.
The place has been open for a little more than a month now, and has at last settled down so that it no longer rings with hammers and confusion. More than 6,000,000 people have been there already; and the question in millions of other minds is whether or not to go. The decision should be yes.
Scant Martini. With more than 300 companies, 66 nations, Mormons, Methodists, Catholics and assorted amusement-park types all reaching for him, a fairgoer is lost without a plan, since it is possible to spend a whole day in a series of places that might better be avoided for a whole lifetime. A casual browser is better off in Death Valley than in Flushing Meadow, and the fair's avenues and promenades are already lined with the whitening bones of people who did not read up on the fair and map out their itineraries in advance.
One good way to start is to float over the grounds in a Swiss cable car. At 115 ft., the ride goes high enough to offer a sweep of the jumble below, but still low enough to make the rider feel the clash of the architecture and the overall dynamic of the vast bazaar. If his timing is lucky, he can almost feel the heat as tawny Samoan youths prance beneath on mats of fire, and only moments later he may be staring down into the whites of the eyes of a dozen Zulus. He flies from Denmark to Switzerland via Ko rea, Venezuela, Central America, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Polynesia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, Malaysia, and most of Africa, with the rest of the world stretching one way down a series of pools to the Bell System, and another way across the Unisphere to the sovereign republics of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.