Saturday, January 23, 2010

A new town, a new university, a new state

I must have gone up to Oregon first to secure an apartment within walking distance of campus and a grocery. I was perfectly content for a while to eat at the cafeteria or at one of the student eateries on the west margin of campus. The apartment was in a two-storey block, on the upper floor, behind a single house, I'm almost sure; opposite this block (with gravel between) was a row of garages for the apartments (but I didn't yet drive or own a car). At 975 (as I recall) Hilyard Street, it was just north of the Mill Race (which no longer raced, but served for canoeing). Between the Mill Race and our apartments was a red-brick sorority house; "Greek" houses, in fact, dominated the neighborhood. Sigma Phi Epsilon owned and ran an old fire engine. I think that Hilyard Street ended at Franklin Blvd, which was US Hwy 99. Then the Willamette River. The lower-lying neighborhoods north of the river were said to flood, but never did in the eleven years that I lived in Eugene. I lived in this apartment so long as I had no car.
Running west of campus, 13th Avenue had some student eateries, a drug store or two, a movie theater, I think. The requisite grocery was on 11th Avenue and not much farther, on the north side of the street, was a former steepled church, painted lavender, a sort of art spot. And then you were nearing downtown, Willamette Street, soon to be made pedestrian. The railway followed the river and determined the orientation of the town. While Eugene, Berkeley, and San Luis Obispo all three still had railway stations, I had the joy of using the Cascade train and the dear old Daylight (but no longer with 100% red and orange cars) for every holiday. Having a salary now, I could even use the diner, which, so long as it lasted, had double-rib lamb chops on the menu, perfectly cooked and with frills on them. And when the days were long, the landscape on the Cascade was glorious, on the Daylight it was every inch of it home to me and lovely in every light. Once I came down from the mountains toward Eugene in a rosy dawn. A hour or so before Berkeley, on the Cascade, one woke up when the train stopped at Davis, where the pre-dawn odor of the fields was delectable, and there were huge, old palm trees at the station, very un-Oregonian. Sometimes I have thought that one reason, not the only one, for my loving Edward Weston's photographs so much more than Ansel Adams' was my preference for the Coast Range over the Sierra Nevada, and for agricultural land over either glaciers or deserts. Much later, I decided I could love Louisiana simply because it had live oaks. Here is a picture taken near San Luis Obispo the summer just before I went to Oregon.

My grandfather and I had gone out the Los Osos Road and to Morro Bay with no object but to find good pictures to take. These horses reminded me of a drawing by Pisanello. Both Gramps and I were motivated by purely Camera Club objectives, not caring whose fences or horses or barns we were recording. I'd post a picture of a lovely waterfall in the Cascades up east of Eugene, but I never took any. Not only did I not have my grandfather for company, but I was generally among people who sneared at cameras and were snobbish about those who carried them. It was as if photography meant less treasuring of memories in one's heart. I think that the whole experience, which I cannot here find words for, and the search for pictures, photographic pictures, as well, are two different pleasures.
I remember that my brother and a friend of his brought up a U-Haul with a few pieces of my own furniture (the apartment had basic furniture). I remember my turntable set on top of the 1929 Electrola cabinet (gutted of its electronic parts, though with the turntable itself and the 8-ounce tone arm still under the lid on top). It was a very good choice of apartment but for the one problem with all apartments: I learned to tolerate the television set directly below, but soon had to endure my neighbors complaints about the kind of music that I played, all classical and none of it very large: no huge organ music, for instance. So I looked forward to four walls and a floor of my own from the outset.
I had lived in Eugene not much more than a month when a freak Pacific typhoon came and hit the west coast, not least Eugene, Oregon, on Columbus Day. Douglas fir trees, without tap roots, toppled everywhere, on campus fortunately falling northwards and generally missing buildings. We were without power for nearly a week (always make sure that your utilities are not all gas or all electricity). My apartment block, however, was too well surrounded to be damaged, but that lavender church lost its storybook steeple and there was a lot of damage to roofs and cars—just like an Atlantic hurricane, I'd say now, but I'd never yet seen one myself. A couple of days later I saw a striped cat on a neighbor's lawn, on Alder Street, I think, and asked the woman who was raking up leaves whether there were kittens. Informed that it was a tom cat, I did feel silly, but she said that the back house did have a litter of kittens. I inquired and found an orange mother with six orange kittens, all boys, the lady said, and old enough to be adopted. I chose the largest one and had him almost all the time that I lived in Eugene. I called him Croesus. He wasn't quite a marmalade cat, not so red as that and without emerald eyes, but he was beautiful and affectionate. I think he might have been left another week or two with his mother, because he wanted to suckle on anything cuddly, especially sweatshirts, all of his life.
The following autumn, of course, was marked by President Kennedy's assassination. I had a lecture at noon, Pacific time, and I called the students from the lobby into the lecture room and announced that I thought that Kennedy would prefer we devote ourselves to the history of architecture rather than just mill around those with portable radios. And they came and I did lecture. Immediately thereafter classes were cancelled for the rest of the day. Well, that was proper, of course (only not for an assistant professor to decide spontaneously). The "Greeks" spent the rest of the afternoon on the Mill Race, and perhaps that was proper, too, for the very young. Though I knew of McKinley's assassination and remembered when someone had taken a shot at Truman, it had never occurred to me that the young president with children could be killed. And, of course, the aftermath, even without today's 24/7 news, was a shocking travesty of order and propriety. By the end of that decade, assassinations were only tragic, not unthinkable.
That is enough blog for one evening.