Saturday, November 7, 2009

A transition from Berkeley

After M.'s marriage (and the delightful reception at C.'s following it) life at 2308 was again somewhat less structured. Not wild. Less domestically structured. There had been a stipulation that, budgets being extremely tight and debt neither dreamt of nor possible, we would keep the groceries to just twice what I'd been spending for one. That involved making menus for a week and shopping for those menus, and we did. I had done this childishly, but as well as I could, when my mother was ill, and M., as I recall, accepted this rigidity, provided that a couple of disgusting things (one I remember, no eggs sunny side up for breakfast) were off limits. In childhood, the proscribed item had been, for Lorna's sake, canned peas. By the later 1950s canned vegetables in general could be avoided. But the markets on Telegraph Avenue made it fairly easy, and, in fact, cooking for two is a bit more elastic than for one. M. tolerated, if I recall correctly, even beef kidney, chopped up, floured, browned, then smothered in sour cream and simmered till done. Many would not have tolerated that. I wonder whether my butcher now could provide a big kidney... Of course, liver can be cooked the same way. One butcher had spring veal so prepared that chops had cross-sections sections of veal kidney in the center of each one. It was the era when we learned to take an old pillowcase reserved for the purpose to spin washed greens so as not to have a sloppy salad. And San Francisco sourdough French bread was delivered daily to The Garden Spot and sold in paper sleeves, never put into plastic that made it sweat and toughen. The fancy veal chops may have been a luxury, but most of what we ate was not, though a good meat loaf is not to be despised. Also, we pressed thin two patties of ground chuck to make stuffed hamburgers, using cheese, chopped green-and-pimiento olives, Bermuda onion slivers, and a spoonful of tomato paste, for example, for filling. Oh, yes, and my first Chemex coffee pot made its appearance; it was hard to clean, but it had been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art so had to be owned (the ones with separate cones do just as well now). The Chemexes were bought at Frazer's (aforementioned) as were the Scandinavian candles, in which a candle, about 6 or 8 cm. in diameter, about 12 cm. tall, and truly drip-proof, sat securely in its bottle-green cylindrical base. I'd get some now, if I could. As one will have surmised, the recipe for high living on a low budget was in well chosen details. So far as possible, the same principle governed what one chose to wear, and in this department M. had a lot to teach me.
Google informs me that the Chemex is still made and sold, though not everywhere; I find only Finnish and Norwegian candleholders for votive or tealight sizes—the same principle, but clear glass and not at all the same aesthetic. [Note: the candleholders were Dansk.]
So much for a glimpse of 1950s domesticity, pre-Hippie, pre-Viet Nam, and pre-Post-Modern.

Left alone in the apartment and on fellowships, I completed my course requirements and prepared (not that I had any systematic idea of how to do so) for the written qualifying exams in art history, at that time three in number: one (ancient: bronze age through Rome) in my major period, and one each in Far Eastern (central Asia, India, China, Japan) and Medieval (Carolingian through Gothic). I'd studied more Renaissance than Medieval, but with a professor no longer at Berkeley, so I didn't dare that. No one told me so, but I think that I disgraced myself a bit in Ancient, on one of the broad essay questions. Professors always tend to think that their students know more, and more coherently, than they actually do know, and I am sure that I demonstrated that I had never considered coherently whatever I might have learned about evidences for absolute chronology. After I came back from Greece, I'd have done better. I also demonstrated that short-changing the study of German, and then reading mostly fiction and lyric poetry, did not serve for the likes of Friedrich Matz, and, after I had won a travel fellowship they saw to my being able to accept it at the American School in Athens by retesting me with a German translation from an English scholar (I think it was Paul Jacobsthal's of Beazley's Pan Painter); two years in Greece took care of that, too; I had listed German among the languages I could read, and the School saw to my reading a lot of it. It was evident that only about half of us had claimed to read German. In any case, though my personal life was too laughable (and involved other persons, besides, whom I won't discuss) to bother with here, even though it was, I think, necessary to remediate retarded maturation and at least did not prevent my doing what I needed to do and was not, I think, shocking or disgraceful—certainly not dangerous, intellectually this period was one of the most exciting and broadening of my whole life. Tastes and principles which have remained fundamentally unchanged, whatever others might think of them, took shape. I was a complete and convinced wishy-washy liberal and international idealist, though at the time I never read any politics, and I certainly did not think that humanity could be much perfected. Not that my social skills were sufficient, however. One thing I did learn was to provide my own structures within which to work, freely but effectively, without relying on outside work or schedules for a number of lecture courses with their exams and short term papers. At first, this novel flexibility was bewildering; I had done much better when, to write my MA thesis, I had simply to set aside every weekend to do nothing else and to reserve the last third of the time at my disposal simply for typing and revising.
In passing, though, alas, I have no picture of Richelieu, I now had the third of the black kittens, Kochon having died of a tumor and Richelieu's owners having moved away. I still had Makron, but Richelieu was by far the cleverest black cat I ever have owned. He not only pawed cat food out if its tin and ate it off his paw, like a raccoon, but learned to turn door knobs to open doors for himself, and he exited the bathroom window, jumping onto the lower back apartment's roof, then across to the fire-escape stairs of the building next door so as to avoid using the litter box; shortly he learned to return the same way. Makron was neither smart enough nor, perhaps, strong enough for this feat. Richelieu's favorite trick was to perch on top of the refrigerator and jump neatly onto one's shoulder when invited. But he also favored tall male visitors with this trick, and if they didn't know that he did it without using his claws, and if the visitor jumped, what could Richie do? I tried to remember to warn strangers not to stand in front of the refrigerator.