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 ) 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.

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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pieces of personality

It is Lipschitz's fate to live in courtyards

It is not just that women tend to do what their men friends do, so that I learned to drive much better (and got a secondhand 356A Porsche to do it in) when one of them was into rallyes and autocrosses. With him I even learned to lay out a rallye for otthers in our Sports Car Club to compete in. Earlier I learned with great pleasure to put together Heathkits, not only the power amplifier and the pre-amp but even the tuner, so that they worked. Anyone who likes embroidery or very small doll clothes is likely to enjoy soldering, with a pencil-point iron; that was in the 1950s when there were no printed circuits with solder-filled eyelets to poke the wires from either end of resisters and capacitors through, so that the printed layout had to be carefully adhered to if the device didn't end up just a jumble of wires and small parts at odd angles such as wouldn't fit into the box. I might have got into the latter from a friend I had in elementary school whose father was at Bell Labs. But all one's life one picks up friends' tastes. It is not as if one became somehow a core self with borrowings plastered on like stickers, however. An aptitude is wanted. When I was taken up to Timberline to learn to ski, my aptitude was only for falling without getting hurt; it was as bad as ballroom dancing, in which I not only couldn't follow but couldn't have led even if I were a man, or swimming: I just can't put my head under water. What is fascinating is a the lifelong accumulation, aggregation, and finally assimilation and development of pleasures that very probably were due to friends. For example, I just ordered a novel on line that my old friend M. mentioned in an email, and it would be typical for me to go on to read more of the same author. And such reading becomes part of oneself. When we were young I profited from the tastes she got from her father, of which a result has been a lifetime's enjoyment of Benjamin Britten. When the 1944 Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings was re-released on CD, I got it for myself, remembering their 78 rpm album. D.S. downstairs already had taught me to admire Dennis Brain, but Britten's setting of Ben Jonson Hymn to the goddess Diana has remained one of the anthems of my musical memory, specifically as sung by the young Peter Pears. The Ben Jonson also made me think of Dum Dianae vitrea sera lampas oritur. When I began to indulge a passion for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and not least for his repertory, the Britten made the LP called Im Spiegel der Antike for months my favorite of all his, with its Schubert settings of German Romantic poets. So I got myself a volume of all those poets and their contemporaries. And so it goes. That is just one strand. I'm sure anyone of my age, or near it, has a personal imagination in which a great mass of of once oddly assorted material has become simply what one is. Peter Pears, besides, is the only one besides Edith Sitwell herself who can do Façade. It was my friend David who introduced me to Sitwell. We both got the 10" LP of her live performance at the Museum of Modern Art (I think it was) and memorized it, and David who went with me to the great shows in San Francisco, beginning with the Matisse retrospective, then the Fauves, then the Cubists. San Francisco already had Matisse's Woman in a Green Hat, and, being from Oakland, anyway, we were interested in the Steins' collection of Matisse, so that three years ago, when I went to Baltimore for the first time, I had to go see the Cone collecion if I saw nothing else—and they didn't disappoint. And, to bring this around in a circle, it was M. who took me to the museum there, altogether an excellent one. I'll see if I can find a snapshot of something from the sculpture court there (photography in the paintings forbidden).