The Past is a Foreign Country


(*L . P. Hartley, The Go-Between 1953)

The old year closes, a new year looms. I start my 74th year thinking about the previous 73. I come across L. P. Hartley’s observation, above. If the past were, really, a foreign country, how might we get there. The technology may be within our reach, if the folks at CERN are clever enough. But what about the bureaucracy of travel into the past? Let us consider…

L. P. Hartley

Burrow House



Dear Mr. Hartley,

Thank you for inquiring about travel to Hastings for 1066. We have attached a list of small Saxon H&Bs in the area but if a hovel is not what you are looking for, there are some keeps and a few wattle and stick single occupancy huts still available for April.

If you don’t mind, we’d like to know what interests you in southern Angleond these days. We haven’t had much travel, although there has been an increase in cross-channel day trips of late. Yours is the first inquiry we’ve had from the twentieth century. Let me remind you that a visa is required for travel from any date later than 1105. Forms may be requested from Harald, Scribe, Weir-next-to-the-Suge-Brush, Essex 20012.

Hope to see you soon,

Aethelred the Ready (lol)


Hon. Anthony Scalia


Washington, DC 20543

Judge Scalia,

Matters here are running ahead of our ability to keep account but your request to attend the Constitutional Convention has been forwarded to me here in Philadelphia. As you may or may not know (I see your letter is dated January 1, 2014), 1787 has been an hectic year and to tell you the truth, our “national State Department” exists in name only; the “states” are fairly jealous of the right to control traffic in and out of their borders. So, if you wish to come to Philadelphia from 2014, I will have to ask you to submit proof that you are a white male landowner born on the continent of North America (excluding Canada and not in any land claimed by the French or Spanish crowns).  And could you perhaps give us some account of the origins of the name “Scalia”? You are not a Papist, are you? It would be good if you are a Quaker or a slaveholder in 2014.

As trade relations between the twenty-first and the eighteenth centuries are still in negotiation, I have to ask you the extent to which you intend to engage in commerce or labor while in the state and whether you intend to reside permanently. If the latter is the case, please give the names and addresses and titles of three (3) white male landowners who can sponsor your residency here.

Please apply for a visa for Pennsylvania, 18th Century, tour or guest worker as the case might be, at our office in the National Archives, your city (Washington? Really!?) and include the information and documents requested.

Please study the enclosed list of items not provided by the state and come prepared.

Hasbrouck Hollingsworth

Sec’y to the Undersecretary for Foreign Times and Places


The United States of America (more of less—lol)


Phillip Roth

c/o The Wylie Agency

250 W. 57th street

Suite 2114

New York, NY 10107

Dear Mr. Roth:

I’m afraid this office must deny your request for a visa to conduct research for a novel in Newark, 1933-35. We are aware that you have visited Newark in memory several times but that is just not the same thing, as I can imagine you already understand. Merely remembering a time and place does not establish permanent residency or right to re-entry. You are no doubt aware of the “Madeleine” case (documents attached). I am sure if M. Proust can make do, so can you.

We do not like to appear arbitrary, so let me remind you that certain protocols were established between the twenty-first century and the twentieth century, protocols that are designed to protect, in this case, Newark during the Depression, from exploitation and from unanticipated claims on our already strapped resources. It IS the Depression, after all, and if every son and daughter of old Newark rushed back here just as soon as technology allowed, how could an already distressed infrastructure manage the increase in demand for services?

On a personal note, let me just say that I know your folks and I remember you from temple and I was disgusted that day on the bus with you and the baseball mitt. I am sure you must have retired by now; you should leave well enough alone.

Elizabeth Slipmann (I’m not laughing)

Assistant to the Supervisor

Port of Newark

New Jersey


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