Thursday, December 31, 2009

Memory and Documentary

Miss Alcott wrote this story book in 1886,

The year that Grandpa came to earth,

And so when someone picks

This great old-fashioned story to cherish and enjoy

It pleases Gramps because it makes

Him think he's still a boy.
—A. C. Phillips, fly-leaf dedication, Xmas 1945

When I was ten and a half years old I was delighted that my grandfather had read the book before he gave it to me (I saw later that he had only to size it up quickly). I'm sure I remember his verse correctly, though the book was among those I left, I thought for safety, with my younger sister, because they were inscribed, either with verses or in my father's hand, of which I had fewer examples. Her husband, when their children began to grow up, got rid of all the children's books and old pictures (and negatives).
Only a couple of evenings ago did I realize that Jo's Boys was so much the latest of Louisa May Alcott's books or that her sister May, the model for Amy March, had actually made her way as an artist. I always had been content simply to take my authors in their own works, not supposing that the characters and events corresponded exactly but believing that the author was really everything in the books that identified them as his or her own.
So, when I say that, to my surprise, I was pleasantly impressed by the PBS "American Masters" documentary on The Woman behind Little Women, it was because it did make the whole of her work hang together, for I was one of the girls (there were many I think) who read them over and over and well into my teens, until I did so almost secretively, knowing that I could be teased by my classmates and corrected by my teachers, to move on to Willa Cather, for example (and, indeed, I did like Cather and Edna Ferber and others, too). But I clung to the Alcott books, while relinquishing the likes of Pollyanna and assorted animal stories. Without knowing the word yet, I realized that I was turning to them for the subtext (not that I knew that word).
I had to ask myself, eventually, why? Today, the answer would be for her feminism, but I belong to an intermediate birth cohort who thought feminism was bloomers and the Vote and all taken care of. Not only Bryn Mawr college had been founded in 1885 but my own land-grant university, Berkeley, dated from 1868 and had graduated women from the beginning. Sorority girls who came to the university, we opined, only to earn an Mrs. were simply just the girls that had only cared to be popular in high school, not serious persons like oneself and other serious students, but the female counterparts to the males who went in for hazing and drinking (and at least once having panty raids). They weren't earning their own way. We spoke among ourselves of the Greek Playpen, meaning student government.
So I was thinking, night before last, whether it was Miss Alcott who had been formative in making me determined to pay any price to become what I wanted to be, to be great if I could, to be independent of family (my family) and of a husband, or whether in growing up with a similar need to take care of myself I had clung unusually long to her girls' books.
For, by the time I was twelve or thirteen (thinking, 8th grade), I realized that her plots were not realistic and that, at least, a lot was omitted. I don't mean only sex; I knew that its description was forbidden (remember that the code concerning double beds, kissing, handling and so on still ruled Hollywood, and that the very word 'homosexual' was not printed in Time or the other general periodicals), so that, even if Miss Alcott had wanted to include it, or knew how to include it, really, she couldn't: even my mother's Doubleday Dollar bodice busters did not quite cross that line. There was both wish fulfillment and evasion of adult complication in all of her books. But there it is: Rose in Bloom took young women seriously, and the bodice busters did not. Alcott seemed confusing on some points; both in Eight Cousins and in An Old-Fashioned Girl she evidently thought that it was only in the third quarter of the 19th century that girls in their teens became fashion plates, having been wildly free in their grandmothers' days! Those high school teachers who wanted us all to read Willa Cather, from whom we learned that it was pioneer girls, farm girls, as opposed to urban girls, who were free of corsets, ought to have had us reading Emerson and a bit of American intellectual history on the Transcendental movement as a whole.
As I said, in 90 minutes the PBS documentary really put things together quite satisfactorily. Not all TV documentaries are nearly so good.

P.S. Finding a copy of Jo's Boys, I have re-read parts of it. The nicest word for the writing is "unaffected". It is just plain awful. It helps a bit that she herself, in the preface, calls it the worst of her books. The earlier books are unaffected, yes, but this one, plainly, she didn't really want to write, and she had lost touch with all of her characters. It helps only a bit, likewise, that I sympathize with many of her opinions.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In Greece, 1959-1961 (b)

Sometimes there was no time, sometimes it was already dark (or pouring rain), sometimes there was no place to purchase another roll of film. So I have no photos of Dodona, for example, or of Ioannina or even of Corfu. Some negatives I haven't yet found but may add to the Picasa Album. I never had a separate wide-angle or telephoto or zoom lens for the little Contaflex "Alpha", 45mm only.
No one can travel in Mediterranean lands without being impressed by the number of standing aqueducts, even when, like this one near Louris in Epiros, they are no longer functioning. From the road, where we had stopped briefly, I took two exposures, which, far better than usual, matched well. The images all can be clicked on, to zoom, and I have tried to choose for posting those that readers may not have seen, at least not in late autumn.
Metsovo, whose population had suffered terribly during World War II and the struggles in Greece following it, had been assisted by the Basiliki Pronoia, a foundation fostering traditional crafts, inter alia, sponsored by Queen Frederika. Starting with replenished herds of sheep, Metsovo sold a lot of hand weaving for a while, though it is a long time since I've seen any of the real thing. In Metsovo itself it was sold at the Averoff house, which had been made a museum, too. The Tositsa house also was restored. These houses had a winter room in the heart of the house; high in the Pindos it not only snows but is freezing cold in the winter. The traditional art of spinning and weaving, rugs, blankets, garments, was essential. Even for an aphendiko family, like the Averoffs and Tositsas, winters must have been hard in times when they had to stay year round.
Half a century ago, late in autumn, even if the ski resort had existed then, there was no visible commerce; a little tourism must have been very seasonal. Braziers were used for heat since timber was not at all plentiful and for long after the wars non-existent. Today, as one can see on line, the town has grown a lot. It has hotels. The new buildings have tile roofs. Therefore, several rainy photos of the grey-stone village are worth posting.

On what was then the new national highway to this part of Greece, however, I saw and photographed some of the most striking views that I remember from any of my visits to Greece. One was reminded of Chinese landscapes, or at any rate of what one thought of as Chinese. We had stopped briefly at the top of the pass through the Pindos, at 1705m (marked at the side of the road).

I don't recall how many nights we stayed at Ionnania, but that city was a real eye-opener, both for its history and for its mundane details, such as wine unlike all other Greek wines and beef steak, not merely mature moschari, on restaurant menus, range fed, tasty. I'd never heard of Ali Pasha. Indeed, Greek Independence in the World History I'd been given was rather an item in the ideology of modern national independence, taught more as by Delacroix than by Greek thinkers and movements, than part of the web of modern history, and I knew nothing of Ioannina before visiting it; excepting Corfu, Dodona, and Missolonghi, for Byron, my Greece had no northwest. Some of my fellow students did know it better, but my actual recollection of Ioannina in 1959 is of admiring bewilderment. I wish I could think that Greece is taught better today. I think it was simply the ignorance of teachers, fed on the parochial traditions of early American universities, rather than deliberate policy that had failed even to arouse curiosity.
But we also had an overnight at the Meteora. I think it was the Great Meteora, the largest of the monasteries, that already supported itself as a bed and breakfast. It had, of course, even a half century ago, much more dormitory space than it needed. It may not have changed much since then, but, as at Metsovo, in November it had no casual tourists. Waking in the morning literally in the clouds, with no land in sight except that at one's feet, is unforgettable, and it is precisely that effect of their being in the clouds that make my old black-and-white photographs worthwhile, to me at least. Meteora for me made up for having never been to Crater Lake or Yosemite, and I never look at North American glacier-carved pinnacles without thinking of the Meteora. By the way, to search them on line, be sure to enter Meteora monasteries, since Meteora alone is not productive.

In the autumn of 1960 northeastern Greece was studied. I shall announce the shift with the lion at Amphipolis, found in pieces and restored. Of course, it is the Chaeronea lion that is famous, because of Alexander.

Kavala is a wonderful town, and a larger city now, half a century later. It is ancient Neapolis ("new city", so hardly a unique name for a town), which issued the beautiful staters with a gorgoneion type in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. In the Imperial period it was provided with mountain water delivered by a magnificent aqueduct, which still works, just as the Pont du Gard (for example) does in France. I haven't been back recently, but I trust that those buses have been replaced; they were second-hand even when Greece got them. Being part of the European Union has been important for northern Greece, since it produces wonderful fruits and vegetables, just to name one category of exports.

I do not have so many general-interest images from Northeastern Greece, and the best are from Greek Thrace. Philippi is not just a letter-address for Paul of Tarsus, but a beautiful place. The first picture is taken from its acropolis and the second is of one of its Early Christian basilicas, important ones architecturally.

At this point, on that trip, I was very tired and, as a second-year member, had the option of remaining in Kavala and Thasos rather than continuing farther east (so that, to my great regret today, I have never been to Hadrianopolis and Samothrace). I enjoyed the island of Thasos greatly, just taking local buses to different villages and talking to high school, gymnasion, students. I was impressed by their doing easily the same curricula as in Athens and with more math than most Americans did (myself, I had never done trigonometry, but they did, some, in the smallest places, without electricity, but storm lanterns, for their homework in the evening). I wonder how the fishing fleet mends plastic filament nets today.

Perhaps I'll come back to Greece, non-archaeologically considered, later. Right now it makes me wish I were younger or that I'd been wiser when I was young. Yet by 1960-1961 my spoken Greek was quite good, and being alone in and around Kavala and Thasos I also could mix and learn and enjoy Greek Thrace in a way quite different from Lawrence Durrell, who stayed longer and was an adult professional writer (or his brother Gerald, who wrote of a child's family member). Yes, I was nominally adult, but quite different; I knew less and I had less money to travel on, apart from all the other differences.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In Greece, 1959-1961 (a)

All the Images may be Clicked to Zoom
Through the Isthmus in the Corinth Canal:
Photo from 1970 (see poster)
Any vessel not more than about 200 ft. can use the Corinth Canal and avoid sailing around the Peloponnesos. These photos are not my first, but they are relatively good. On the canal, still impressive, see Wiki: The TSS New York, on which I first came to Europe, was barely able to sail through the Canal, though not on the voyage that I took, and I arrived on something smaller, out of Brindisi.
For a few posts I'd like to write about Greece c. 1960 (my stay, minus the holidays in England and some research in South Italy and Sicily, was from the autumn of 1959 through the summer of 1961). My photos from Greece may be of interest since, though I photographed for the beauty of that land and the great-heartedness of the Greeks, I was living there, I knew more and more of the spoken language (until people would ask me whether I was German—Germans being famous for learning to speak Greek better than the rest of us, and I was red-headed, as Greeks tended to think most Germans were—or even, in spite of my looks, Greek-American), and I was just as likely to photograph a scene without a name and without ruins as one in the Blue Guide: using the Canal as a frontispiece is only because that's where I arrived, just as Liverpool is where I arrived, initially, in England. This blog is not a catalogue raisonné of my academic resumé!
Finding all the old slides and negatives is no joke, so I'll just take them as they come to light.
For example, from our trip bus, at a brief stop, here is Euboea as seen from Attica on the road to Scala Oropou, where we would visit the Amphiareion. For the Info, just Search Oropos. This is an introduction to the beauty of Greece, the tourist hotels and the historic sites being amply covered both on line and in the venerable Blue Guide.

On the way to Scala Oropou, Euboea from Attica. Think of smelling the pines.

Once a week, early in the morning, the donkeys' braying is your alarm to wake up. A decade later, both for traffic control and purportedly for sanitary reasons, donkeys were no longer permitted within the city limits, though the outdoor market, much more stylish and higher off the hog, is still held in the little plateia up the hill from the Marasleion school. The dealers who had donkeys sent them somewhere else between breakfast and siesta time. It is amusing to have seen open-air markets featuring local produce and, at some, local junk, too, re-appear in the USA; the rambler rose that thrives at one corner of my house was a gift purchased at our Saturday Market. But here are two bad, old scans of photos from February of 1961 of the market just above the American School in Athens.

Laiki Agora February 1961
Once on the road, or the sea, for study, touristic photographs, especially at first (and this is autumn of 1959, my only visit as it happens, to Mykonos), often were taken on the fly and towards the end of the day. Old ASA 10 Kodachrome, in any case, though it survives best, was always a dense emulsion, in three layers. We weren't there to see Mykonos windmills, let alone donkey carts and the pet pelican Petros, but for Delos, and persons who have been to Mykonos more recently than 1959 will know whether it has changed very much.

Mykonos Quai, Autumn 1959
One day at Delos, after our reports and all were done, Professor Vanderpool asked if I'd like to climb to the top of Mt. Kynthos—a mountain just my size, for I was not born to climb. On the way up there's a Hellenistic, 2nd century BCE, temple of Serapis, and from the top you can see a number of the Cyclades, not that I can name them from my sunset photos. It is from Kynthos, of course, that Artemis takes her epithet, Kynthia, so that poets like Sir Philip Sidney called Diana, too, Cynthia, whence hundreds of thousands of girls of the western world. I wonder what those poets imagined Kynthos was like, considering their fantasy image of Arcadia. The Cyclades are rocks, the peaks of submarine mountains, and Kynthos is the peak of Delos.

September 1959, from the top of Mt. Kynthos
That is, I think the only color photo of a sunset I took in Greece; later I took one from the acropolis of Thessaloniki but in black-and-white.
I spoke of Arcadia, and the site of the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae is almost my favorite place in all of Greece. Again, antique Kodachrome recorded it near the end of a cloudy day. Again, too, as for all of these places, go to Wikipedia or the Blue Guide or Perseus for the relevant antiquities. This is the place for the images and memories that I hardly had a chance to use in teaching, when students would ask whether they 'had to' know those pictures. Recently the temple has been in a large tent for renovation, having suffered too many times from earthquakes, so I never photographed it with newer film or a better camera. But, nota bene, this really IS Arcadia.

Just before our leaving the site, the sun broke through and struck the temple.

And finally, back to Euboea, here is a 1959 photograph of Chalkis:

It was another such towering cumulus cloud that tempted me, looking toward Mt. Olympus, to photograph a sunset in Thessaloniki.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Two sisters in England

Pictures serve one purpose and text another. Since I took many pictures of my sister's children in that first, 1959, stay with them and more in 1960, I have selected a few from each set and posted a Picasa album, fully titled, of them:
Just where they lived takes a little explanation. A building surviving from Victorian stables was converted into a row of apartments. If you search among the old photos on line, search Cheveley Hall, you learn that the house itself was demolished, and the Stud moved, still near Cheveley, elsewhere. A quarter century later, with my niece (who had been born after 1965) and nephew Billy, in his turn Air Force and stationed in East Anglia, we went back and found the building now very fully renovated and no longer rented out cheaply. The present residents were happy to show us what it looked like, but the make-it-do arrangements of 1960 were gone, only the sturdy structure identifiable, and the small homes were very nice indeed. From the old photographs and from my limited memory, I think that the façade of the stable block was behind the apartments, which latter opened onto the horses' access to their quarters. Not that in 1959-1960 you'd have guessed that you were living in stalls, but neither was it up to code, so to speak. My sister and Bill with their two boys (three boys by 1960) were the only Americans, and they got along very well.
Lorna enjoyed going into Newmarket twice a week, on market days, for fresh vegetables and meat; besides, in between, a grocery wagon, horse drawn, came to the Stables with a useful variety of products and fresh-baked bread and rolls. Bread was subsidized and not only good but extremely cheap. Milk, in British pints, was delivered, tuberculin tested, and almost free to families with young children (so was orange juice), whether they were British subjects or Americans. For anything typically American, there was the market on base, Mildenhall US and RAF air base, for which Lorna and Bill had scrip; this was supposed to prevent much shopping for English friends, and in our family it was effective, unless you counted popcorn. I remember 7 or 8 children young enough to play with Billy at the Stables, and they adored popped sweet corn, served hot with melted English butter on it. They were offered peanut butter sandwiches, too, but the sight and odor of peanut butter were downright offensive to them. Our boys, for their part, liked all the English food and learned not to call jam marmalade or vice versa. Also, not to call trousers 'pants'. We all loved fish and chips. As much as once weekly, Bill bought on his way home from the base, in greasy newspapers, great hunks of fish and potatoes, eaten doused with brown vinegar and black pepper, washed down with ginger beer. It is so good that I still can't believe it's unhealthy.
The tenants of the Stables were varied. The children included the little boy, Derek, about the same age as Lorna's Larry, and his baby sister; as I recall, his father was an intern physician. The girls, older than Billy, but happy to play with him, were utterly average English little girls. In the unit at the inner end of the enclosure, the two little boys were not very conversational, not very well dressed or cared for, and their parents corresponded perfectly to a stereotype of the British working class. Lorna's boys, I saw, corresponded to the little girls. As a Californian I had never looked at people in classes until then. At that date, my family was much better off (besides having the best of both worlds, English rural life with medical service, and the joint air force base), and Lorna especially liked Derek's mother who seemed also to be glad that Lorna was her neighbor. Even so, Derek would grow up in a professional family and mine, since I was not marrying into my education, raising academic, though red-brick academic, children, would not; none of Lorna's children completed a regular college education. As for the other little boys, I'm sure they never passed the Eleven-plus.
I enjoyed Newmarket as an English equivalent to the San Luis Obispo of my childhood; I replaced the pair of shoes I had lost in that suitcase at the Bletchley Junction in Newmarket. I saw, at a distance, a brand-new B-52, enormous, on the tarmac at Mildenhall AFB, a SAC base, and rejoiced in the Mildenhall Church, which has one of the angel roofs that are featured in "The Nine Tailors" by Dorothy Sayers (not forgetting that the great Mildenhall Treasure was found there). The following summer I got the whole family to a picnic at Ely, one of my most favorite English cathedrals. Lorna and Bill were stay-at-homes in England, just as they have been back home. But Lorna picked up her neighbors' habit of taking the children and herself out walking in the afternoon, even though coming home to supper rather than tea. I enjoyed those walks. That end of Cambridgeshire, bordering on Suffolk, is as flat as Louisiana, but it is quietly quite lovely; the light is beautiful. Cheveley Village has a perfectly decent flint church of its own, too, and a two-room, two grade (younger and older children) C of E school, which sent our Billy back home to Texas two levels above grade in reading—though Billy was and remained simply a normal-bright pupil. It had, and has, a combined general store and post office. I can hardly believe that by now it hasn't also a suburb instead of just the Council Houses ("My old man's a dustman...and he lives in a Council flat", a popular recording at the time) with some chain store to go with it. Speaking of popular music, the kind the BBC did not broadcast, Radio Luxembourg blasted out Lonnie Donegan's version of "The Battle of New Orleans" over and over that year.
The easiest way for me to remember which visit to my sister's was which (an entirely different part of life from traveling to cities with relevant museums or life at the American School in Athens) is that in 1960 it included Kenny, who was born in February. I went down Hermes Street in Athens and bought him a white knit suit to be christened in (it was at the Base chapel, interdenominational, on July 15). Lorna and I went into Newcastle and got plenty of wool and patterns to knit standard pullovers all round (the royal blue one I knit for myself is what I'm wearing in the picture holding the black cat in Berkeley that I posted above, early in September). Lorna knit all three, for Bill and the boys, in turquoise blue. Each month Kenny was taken into Cheveley to the Well Baby Clinic to be weighed and measured and generally examined. He was highly approved of (Lorna made beautiful babies, and Kenny as an infant was surely her masterpiece) and sent home with vitamins, as I recall, like all the other babies. Actually, between what the UK gave him and the PX at the Base, it wasn't surprising that he was such a bouncing boy. One thing, at that time, that American mothers did more than English ones was to start giving strained vegetables and meats earlier as well as cereal and milk and juice. I remember, too, a couple of afternoons when there was fierce thunder and lightning, and a girl riding home on a bicycle was struck and killed.
Of Lorna's boys, Larry was the least robust and outgoing. One afternoon, to cheer him up I took him out on a long walk by himself and took a series of photographs of him, just as the previous summer I had taken Billy alone on the train to Bury St. Edmunds, to the little zoo, to a tea shoppe in town, and back. I wouldn't have had the confidence to take Larry so far by myself, and he might have gotten too tired. But Billy loved meeting all the people on the train and in the shops, besides behaving himself perfectly.
The summer of 1960, as the year before, I made return day trips to London or Cambridge just to study; our English neighbors found commuting to London from East Anglia remarkable, and they loved the joke about Texas, in which a man says, why, in Texas where I come from, you can take a train in the morning in Texas and still be in Texas in the evening, and the Englishman (or New Englander, for that matter) says, sympathetically, with a sigh, yes, we have trains like that, too. One thing I came to love about all of Europe is that it is well settled and small!