Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fickle Memory

Trying to cover My Way from Berkeley to Greece, I encounter treacherous memory. All the scenes, all the odors, even, all the atmosphere, many of the minor conversations with strangers on trains, are vivid. The part that seems to have been jumbled is that having to do with plans and schedules. Take ships and ports, for example.
Canadian Pacific's Empress of England, her older ship, sailed from Montreal. I took this ship when I was teaching at the University of Oregon, because a very nice train ride at a very nice price could be had in the bargain and a nice slow ride, gaining sea legs, I hoped, down the St. Lawrence. I had to take the bus to Vancouver, but the rest of the journey was wonderful. Many of the passengers on the Empress of England had embarked in Australia or New Zealand; they were at home on shipboard by the time I joined them, whole families, either going back to England to visit or to return from some posting in SE Asia. It was such a civilized and not at all pseudo-ritzy trip. But where did we land? I think Southampton, because I remember going to see the great newly excavated villa that Barry Cunliffe had uncovered at Fishbourne. Also, I have a slew of color slides (album at http://picasaweb.google.com/slokind/ENGLAND1959And1969# ) several dating from my first arrival in England, I think, and then many in October of 1969 and April of 1970. This latter year is OK for the Empress of England, and I think I probably sailed home from Southampton, too, and we had a day's stop at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I bought some yards of Scotch Harris tweed (a seamstress in Oregon made it into a fully lined skirt and vest, ideal for Oregon, which is colder than the natives like to admit).
So the landing of my first ship, named the TSS New York after 1955, previously TSS Nea Hellas (then a troop ship during WW II), originally TSS Tuscania (leased to Cunard for part of the 1930s), built and launched in 1922, must have been that at Liverpool, where at least three of the first five slides in my album were those recording my excitement at landing, really away from California (though I'd had a summer in New York, for a seminar in 1958), surely were taken with my first camera. Besides, I remember Liverpool very vividly, because of the Walker Art Gallery and the grand beauty of St. George's Hall.
Yet I must have returned to Liverpool a decade later, because my photos from Chester have OCT 69 stamped on the mounts, and two views of St. George's Hall look as if taken with the better camera, a Nikon F1 bought in 1965.
There is no chance that I took the TSS New York later than 1959, though she did not always go to Liverpool but sometimes to Southampton, because, though she went on to Bremerhaven from Liverpool, having a sailing crew of Greeks and a service crew of Germans, that may have been her last voyage. The Web records, after listing the Tuscania and her sisters among the great ships (I think all ocean liners are great, even in a shared cabin below decks), that she was laid up in 1959 and scrapped, Onomichi, Japan, on 12/10/1961. She belonged to Goulandris, Greek Line, whose flag ship was the Olympia. Those who came to Greece on the Olympia complained of her rolling and slated to get improved stabilizers; the old ship pitched in heavy seas, but didn't roll. Anyway, I remember vividly the problem of drunkenness on the New York after we picked up half of our passengers at Boston until they disembarked at Cobh.
It has taken me days to disentangle my vivid but jumbled memories, my ships, my trains, my photo logs (always grateful, since there was nothing like EXIF, for the month and year that most slide developing labs stamped on the mounts).
I remember now what I did after landing in 1959. I took the train to London and learned to use the Underground and gawked at the city and found out where 'my' parts of the British Museum were. Then I went to Oxford and scouted the Ashmolean and went to Blackwell's in person. Then (not the way to go: always go via the hub, in this case London) by the hypotenuse, so to speak, to Cambridge via Bletchley (whose fame was then unknown to me), a junction, where, while I was in the lavatory and the train stopped, someone took one of my suitcases (and I never found it, nor did the stationmaster hold out much hope at the time). Since I was not carrying more than I needed, however, I missed both the suitcase and its contents. Otherwise the itinerary made sense. One of my reasons for being there was to see everything that I needed to see for my dissertation, and another was to see my sister, Lorna, who was living just outside of Cheveley village near Newmarket. Then I crossed the Channel, went to Paris, found a room in a place on the Rue des Ecoles, almost to Les Arènes, and for several days learned to take the Metro and walked around in the Left Bank, discovering quite by accident the Hôtel de Cluny and the wonderful baths underneath it. And the Cluny Museum was not yet in 1959 a magnet for all the ladies in the world who like unicorns. I found the Sainte Chapelle (and I hadn't known exactly where it was, but only about its being a "reliquary for the Crown of Thorns") and discovered that the 19th century work on Notre Dame was perfectly easy to distinguish. I spent all the rest of my time in the Louvre, ever since my favorite place in the whole wide world. Then I went to Milan, where I wanted to see La Scala, if only from the exterior, and the Duomo, and where I met a Japanese friend of C.'s. I brought amusement, too, to a pair of priests whom I asked, being too tired to remember the word dove, Ubi est ecclesia Sancti Ambrosii? But they were Americans from Brooklyn, so they told me which bus to take and that the Italian I'd forgotten was dove. Then I went to Rome, right on schedule; to stay for a week at the American Acadmey on the Janiculum, it had to be when the regular members were mostly out of town, on trips. I even in my perambulations found my way to the GFN, the Gabinetto Fotografico Naxionale, where one could still order prints from the glass-plate negatives of Greek vases (not available, lo, these many years, and even the more usual meaning of 'gabinetto' has given way to more informal terms). Then, you guessed it. I knew that I'd arrived in Piraeus on a ship. Of course. I took the train to Brindisi. I even saw the Brindisi Museum after making sure that the last day of my Eurrailpass covered not only the ship (pay extra for the cabin) but transportation from Patras to Athens. Somewhere I have a slide taken from the deck as we passed under the bridge over the Corinth Canal. A couple of days later Mr. Sakkas (of the School) went with me to Piraeus to claim my steamer trunk, to my relief, which really had been shipped ahead and not lost. That is how my little doll, Melanie, traveled to Greece: in the trunk.
I think I have the ships straight now. If anyone knows all about them, just let me know.