Thursday, February 25, 2010

1965-6 A year in the house at 2408 Atherton Street

My grandmother, in front of 684 Church in San Luis Obispo, Xmas 1966 by my newly acquired car.

Left: 2408 Atherton (note column); Right: on UC Campus with Lorna's family
Atherton Street in Berkeley, CA, is only a block long, numbered in the 2400s, running N-S from Channing Way to Haste, with Fulton Street to its west and Ellsworth St. to its east—in other words within a block or two of other addresses I'd had on Haste. But 2408 Atherton, though it looked out east on the child development lab opposite it on Atherton, was back to back to 2407 Fulton St., only about 100 feet separating them, and, as you can learn from a search (, that was the headquarters of the Vietnam Day Committee, as I would learn very forcibly in March of 1966. In Eugene, OR, the university was much opposed to the war; the male students were being drafted unless their grades were high, and the student body as a whole objected to it, but the UO campus was still at the stage of protest that camped out on the lawn of the student union to dramatize the plight of migrant farm workers, using backyard play tents to sit in, though these weren't of much use when it rained, as it does twice as often in the Willamette Valley of Oregon as in the San Francisco Bay area of California. And I, in any case, was not then and never became an active public participant in defending or protesting anything. I said, it is likely to be counter-productive, by scaring people in general (which is true, but also I would not for anything have endangered my newly won academic position or disappointed everyone who had helped me). I had never heard of the Vietnam Day Committee and, without a television set or an FM radio, and disinclined to read the Eugene Register-Guard very much, I did not know how large a demonstration they had organized shortly before in Berkeley.
I had the lefthand half of the ground floor of a very nice old house, c. 1910, still today in fine condition.

Google Earth, last year, shows it light gray, newly painted, instead of light tan. And the picture of myself in my bright orange favorite dress, at the top of this post, shows the column on its porch.

It was an eventful year. I was teaching and working on Corinthian vase-painting. My sister Lorna and family en route again to the Northwest as civilians spent a day with me and somehow we had arranged to have my brother's two children with us as well. I was seeing my niece, Debby, for the first time. See the pictures in an earlier posting and the one at the top of this post. I found a nice 1963 red Beetle for sale by a German graduate student living in the same block of Atherton; he had brought it across but would not take it back. In Berkeley there was a driving school that would instruct four gear, manual shift VW driving, with defensive driving as part of it, and how to hold the car from rolling backward, using the clutch, on San Francisco and Berkeley hills, and how to deal with the bridges at rush hour, and much more. By Christmas I was confident enough to drive to San Luis Obispo and impress the grandparents. I was so enthused about knowing how to drive that I made my little sister, Linda, the gift of the course of lessons, and she learned to drive, too, though not in a Beetle. This was just weeks before my brother's life and his family fell apart (which is not for me to describe here). It was just a couple of years before that terrible year, 1968. I had a season ticket that Fall to the San Francisco Opera, something I'd never had before. One of my favorite Oregon students, Viv, was now at Berkeley, too, and I made the acquaintance of her wonderful Border Collie, named Ami. As I said in the last post, I read a lot, anything I pleased. Without anything like wealth, I had some money to spare.
And yet it was also the year of my brother's calamity, and on Good Friday, as if out of a clear blue sky, late in the evening when I was reading my way through one of the books of the Moncrieff translation of Proust, suddenly there was a terrible explosion: window glass was blown in and fell on my row of LP records (mercifully, tightly packed so that only the edges of the cardboard sleeves were hurt), plaster fell from ceilings and here and there from walls, the back door, which was locked, was blown off its hinges, and (as it turned out) such damage extended as much as a mile. But 'my' house took the brunt of it. The Berkeley police and fire department were quick to arrive, and the gas was turned off in case there were breaks that might cause fires. I called the owners, who lived in one of the communities east of Oakland, San Leandro or Hayward, I think, and they came as quickly as they could carrying with them their small children in their pajamas. They photographed everything for insurance, and I begged them to have plasterers replace the coved ceilings, which in the event they did, since the insurance covered it and I was willing to put up with plastering in progress. I would not leave my place wide open, lacking half the windows and the back door, so I called Viv, and Viv brought Ami, with whom we both felt utterly safe (and rightly so). Within a week the police and the FBI had identified the perpetrators, who were right-wing persons from San Jose. Already, I finally realized, the newspapers' and even Time magazine's coverage of Berkeley (as later of Columbia University in New York) had convinced some of the easily alarmed and aroused general public that UC Berkeley, our idyllic ivory tower where one studied vase-painting or Pindar or Sir Philip Sydney or Romanesque architecture (Viv's subject) hardly aware of a rougher, tougher world, blissfully lost in the subtleties of Proust or the author of your choice, was not what it was, liberal to be sure, unwilling to judge or be judged, but some hotbed of Communism. Of course, the slogans of activists did endanger the ivory tower image of a good university. Not that we intended to live off the labor of those tougher than ourselves; we knew that we were preparing to go out and teach languages and arts and sciences, which certainly is work, but that we needed no more excitement than our studies (and the beautiful weather of the bay area) gave us, and had no desire to dictate to those who, alas, could not enjoy what we enjoyed. In short, throughout the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s though there was plenty to worry about, my friends and I all had concentrated on treasuring what we'd hate to lose, tranquillity, thought, beauty. The Golden Rule covered ethics. When I stop to think, I wonder whether in part we were numbed by helplessness: what could one do about a bomb or about those who made them? But (here I generalize) the children born after the War were undaunted and were sure that protesting could work. Yet protesting had never made older parents consent to our staying up or staying out late at night. I thought, and I still think, that convincing friends who would listen was the only way to change anyone's mind, and even that probably wouldn't work: you'd never know. I never thought I could stop war in SE Asia, but I could give tutoring to help students who needed it to get grades to avoid being drafted. Be that as it may, the group from San Jose planted a bomb under the rear of the Vietnam Day Committee headquarters and shocked a whole square mile out of their idyllic way of life. Not that it made me more an activist, if anything less so, had that been possible, though I understood how others felt. Another thing happened that year and in that place: one evening at dusk when I ran half a block up to the corner to mail a letter to my grandparents, not locking the door after me, in the five minutes that I was gone someone came in and took some of my best clothes. When I came in I was surprised that the door was hanging open, which I thought had latched behind me, but when I saw the back door open, too, and some drawers half open, I was alarmed, even afraid that I was not alone, but I called the Berkeley police, who came immediately and listed what was missing. I said, of course I didn't expect to recover them, but I wanted to report that such things were happening. No, never before had persons just been hanging around where one lived ready to barge in and grab what they could. It had never happened to me before. Thenceforward, I locked doors, even in the peace of early evening, even for five minutes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Still Before the Cottage-II

On a less mundane note than the last, I should note that it was before Berkeley borrowed me to cover a sabbatical in 1965-6, and I had an apartment on Atherton St. there, I learned that Oregon's professor in Old English language and literature, Stanley Greenfield, was both eminent and beloved. As a faculty member I had the privilege of auditing a course, with the professor's permission, free of charge, and I decided to learn Old English. My attraction went back to the publication of the Sutton Hoo treasure and my seeing the objects in the British Museum and having been introduced to the great illuminated manuscripts in art history. It also helped that in doing the St. Gall seminar with Professor Walter Horn as a graduate student, when by virtue of being the only one with enough Latin and paleography for the task I was assigned not the types and structure of the buildings but all the legends on the famous St. Gall plan, the longer ones metrical and the scribe's hand really beautiful Carolingian miniscule. Here Late Antiquity which Erich Auerbach's books had introduced me to met the Middle Ages. Here again I could spend long afternoons in Migne and other august works of reference. To read Anglo-Saxon literature, like Homer, in the original was natural therefore.
Once the time came in a semester when stacks of term papers had to be read and annotated, for a while I could not give the class the attention it deserved, but I kept up as well as I could, and I got books from Blackwell's, editions that I could keep and continue studying, in addition to those ordered for the course. When it is a pleasure to dally in a great subject over a long period of time, it is hard to regard the dallying as a sin. I never have mastered Old English, but neither have I forgotten as much as I learned. I had a great privilege in Prof. Greenfield's class; he did not live to a very old age, and I had no right to expect such a scholar and teacher in Eugene, Oregon, though he was not alone there among the quietly eminent.
I was reminded of the importance of this venture when, the other day, I was explaining to a friend how I'd happened to read J. R. R. Tolkien at a more advanced age than most of his fans in the 1960s. His is not a common name, and I knew it from his edition of Pearl. If this man was writing fanciful fiction, it could not be bad, so I bought the bootleg U.S. paperback of "The Fellowship of the Ring" from UC Corner on Telegraph Avenue while I was there and on leave from Oregon to cover a sabbatical leave, as I said. I think I have the year right; I cannot locate the date of that unauthorized U.S. paperback now, and I shortly replaced it and bought the rest of the trilogy and the Hobbit, too, in the hardbound edition. Needless to say, I couldn't resist the Elven tongues or the somewhat rune-like alphabet, so obviously properly composed by an author who knew what he was doing, and I couldn't resist this restitution of pre-Christian European mythology, either. This was no William Morris or C. S. Lewis stuff, but the imagined world of someone who virtually lived in it. An author who gets the philology right, I felt (and I said felt, because I hadn't authority to vouch for everything), could not lie. Yes, of course, that is laughable. But like the Old and Middle English poems and the Old Norse and even the Old High German so far as preserved, the Tolkien books are pure pleasure. I have no intention of reading all the later literature concerning him, though I did read his son's biography, much later, in the 1980s, and at some date in the 1960s I read W. H. Auden's essay on the work in The New Yorker. Finno-Ugrian? Well, I couldn't master that.
Yes, there are films, and I have shied away from them. But that same friend who jogged my memory to remember how the Beowulf course had led me to read Tolkien also recommends the first two of them. There is also the Silmarillion, which I have looked at but which I felt (that verb again) might not add much to what I had guessed, that Tolkien had built a whole aeon to sustain the trilogy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ajouter votre signature

Ajouter votre signature

If you want to join those of us who have petitioned to keep the Cabinet des Médailles as it is and where it is, it doesn't take much French to follow the instructions. Anyhow, there is interesting material about the Cabinet des Medailles at the web site.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Still Before the Cottage

True, I still had things left with long-suffering friends in Berkeley, but I did have too much to put in a box already in Eugene, not to mention Croesus the Cat. I can't remember what I did when I went for a summer in Berkeley for research or to Greece for a summer. I must have found someone to stay in my apartment and enjoy the cat. Even if there had been any of today's storage units to rent, I didn't know of them.
So long as I had no car, the first time I went to teach a Summer Session in Berkeley, a great boon, I stayed again on Haste Street, only a block farther west. I remember one of my Oregon colleagues, L.G., whose family lived in Berkeley and were a very fine French family, coming with her father to visit me in that bed-sitting apartment and their being the most considerate guests; one day my dear friend Sylvia's husband came by with their baby son, a delightful baby; one day the UC campanile chimesmaster's elder daughter, whom I'd known since she was seven and who had visited me at about twelve at 2308 Haste, came in adolescent grace with her friend (called Christine?), and we spent a most enjoyable day. In that rather dark apartment we photographed each other by the bright kitchen window. Not much later she had married a Hungarian-American, had traveled and met his family in Hungary, and had moved to the NW corner of California near Arcata, where I visited and met their baby later, when I drove down to California once by the Coast route.
Summer of 1963 at the kitchen table in the apartment I rented at 2237 Haste in Berkeley. Cathy was in her late 'teens.
It was a special occasion in Eugene when a film had a 'special' engagement at one of the mainstream movie theaters downtown. The two I remember were "Der Rosenkavalier" with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin, very beautiful (and I had never seen it live, though the San Francisco Opera had it when they could; but I was not always there to be able to see it) and, also then new, "Lawrence of Arabia", a splendid film. They may have been, in fact, the only two movies I ever saw in Eugene. There were of course no video discs or VHS or beta tapes, let alone DVDs at that time. I just remembered: one of the times that I saw "Les Enfants du Paradis" was on campus in Oregon. Every time I went to Berkeley and imposed on my friends' sofas to sleep, usually that of L.S. in his delightful backyard garden cottage, I also bought LPs from my friend in the rear of UC Corner, and brought them back. I know every note of performances that I had on vinyl in those years--and I still have most of the actual LPs. There was, indeed, a record store in Eugene, but maybe only later, because it was called Crystal Ship, which had some Classical music. As I recall, it was misspelled: 'Chrystal'. The UO book store actually was very good, but it was the only book store in town that I regarded as such.
I think I should mention, when I still have a place for it, that Eugene has two geological anchors, Skinner's Butte, flat topped, at its north, with fine columnar basalt on its north face, and Spenser's Butte, peaked, at its south, where in the Spring a profusion of wild irises, protected, not to be picked, bloomed along the sides of the road that led to the top, approximately, of the butte. They call them buttes in Oregon, and they call their variety of crêpe myrtles 'grape myrtles' and, naturally, say that grape myrtles grow only in Oregon. One lovely plant, called vine maple, which turns bright red in autumn, really is native to Oregon.
I honestly can't remember much else about living at that address, except that it did snow a bit one year, but not much (there was much snow when I was living on East 32nd, later), and one year some students climbed up the drain pipe to climb in at my office window, which didn't lock, being old, in order to steal tests just before one midterm. The tests they got were from the previous year (I had the current ones at my apartment), so they risked their necks for nothing, but they left plenty of evidence (torn ivy, ancient dust removed) in getting in, apart from the absence of the old tests from the file drawer. One more thing: I remember that the Beatles' "Help" was released while I was there, and its LP, too, but I didn't see the one or hear the other except from the sorority house opposite or from the neighbors below me.
Yet another thing: it was in these first years that I was considered for other positions, one which I wanted very much, because it was at Wellesley, so near Boston, but I was out-classed by another candidate who also had roots in New England and more important yet links to the Museum of Fine Arts. It wasn't just her connections, because she had published some very important things. On the other hand, even after two years in Athens, where I had made probably every social error possible for a bohemian Californian to make, ones that even in relatively classless California still could not in half a dozen years be eradicated to make up the difference between low-income working class and middle-income academia, though my friends and mentors had made considerable progress in that regard, I might have had a difficult time at Wellesley. The other position, which was offered and which with mixed feelings I turned down, was at a very large midwestern university, temptingly within reach of Chicago, but there was at least one person in the John Birch Society there, in Classics, people said, and the unending flatness and and absence of any kind of geographical, geological definition, was dismaying. The architecture seemed too stolid to me, though good; it hadn't Chicago flair. It was too far from the Mississippi River for that to capture my imagination, as it does in Louisiana, and I did NOT think that grain elevators were the Chartres of the midwest. So I remained in Eugene.

Friday, February 5, 2010

First years in Oregon

Beyond finding an apartment and getting a kitten, I've been trying to give coherence to memories that are as brief and discreet as 30-second videos posted on line. Succinctly stated, I have a very weak sense of my personal identity in this new place, in a new status. It is a pity that I didn't take pictures of the old parts of the campus or of block after block of 11th Ave. between campus and downtown. Or, for that matter of my office space, which I shared with Edith Kramer. This was in the old part of Architecture and Allied Arts, on the upper floor. In the Office on the ground floor tests and instructional materials were typed and run off for us on a ditto machine or mimeograph. Purple ditto was easier to control, because one could draw diagrams to include without using a tool somewhat like a bad-tempered burin to draw on the A B Dick green film that wrapped around the drum of the mimeograph machine. The green film tore very easily, and the liquid used to make corrections didn't work very well. The secretaries would do the typing for us, but they had trouble with even the most conventional and careful handwriting, so one had to give them typed copy to work from. I had been spoiled by the wonderfully capable secretarial staff at Berkeley, who never would have typed H for a Ms. tt, in, for instance, a word like 'attitude'. At UO, some of them even doubted what we typed for them in the case of words they didn't know, especially proper nouns. 'Hittite', for example, tempted their worst instincts sorely, repeatedly. Of course the time would come in the 1980s when typing up course materials was not to be asked of the office staff at all, when the faculty were given Macs with a generous 750 MB of hard drive and a handy 3.5" floppy slot and expected to do all clerical work except for letters for themselves. But my first years were a full generation before the first Macs. The great thing was to have one's own Hermes portable typewriter, with its round o and e font. The Xerox machine was very new and incapable of copying solid black areas; the copy also came off if rubbed and for some time, therefore, was not acceptable for second and third copies of theses. Of Thermofax the less said the better. And both of these were expensive, each page costing twice as much as a first-class postage stamp. I was 28 years old when I began as an assistant professor. What technology there was was expensive on $6,800 per annum, but rent and food were cheap. At the cafeteria in the Student Union I got 45¢ entreees and 10¢ or 15¢ vegetable sides; coffee was 5¢—not because it was weak Oregon coffee, but because (as at Berkeley at a cafeteria) that was the price.
I was put off by Oregonian smugness. If one was dissatisfied with anything it was because one was an outsider of the worst kind, a Californian. I quickly learned that there was no collegial social life for single persons. I knew almost no one outside of my own department. There were places where one could have found 'dates', but almost no places for talking and making friends. There were places, outside the mile radius of campus, for getting drunk, but you had to go to a State store that closed early to buy a bottle of wine to go with dinner. At this time, apart from San Luis Obispo, I knew the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City (from one summer at the American Numismatic Society), Greece, and several European cities. Some people would say that I had no knowledge at all, first hand and casual, of America. I still resent the 'middle' American assumptions that only they are really American; I hope that they aren't, because no transalpine provincials could have seemed more simply bullheaded to ancient Rome than many of these good people seem to me. I hold them objectionable not because they think differently from me but because they are unwilling to have anyone else think differently from them. I wish that my compatriots did not despise and fear so many others so much. In Oregon I acquired almost all of the troublesome prejudices that I still have. Since then, to be sure, Oregon has evolved a great deal, as they will be the first to tell you. Then we had no radio for classical music, for instance. I never saw anything on others' television sets then even to tempt me to buy one for myself. Eventually during one of the years when Berkeley borrowed me back to cover a sabbatical I learned to drive. That helped a lot, since Eugene had practically no public transportation. I think that the gloomier weather and the unrelenting greenness tended to depress me somewhat, too. There were no hills with golden grass and with dark live oaks.
My homesickness was relieved by my growing friendship with M. D. Ross, architectural historian and head of my department. He often invited me to have dinner with him, he was a wonderful conversationalist, and he was of my parents' generation, having been born in the same year as my mother (but that was only 19 years my senior), single and no womanizer. He had lived for several years in New Orleans, too, and regaled me with tales of it. When I learned to drive, I could earn my keep, so to speak, by taking both of us to shop at a decent grocery (I have forgotten its name, but it was east of downtown on Willamette Street); we could take turns cooking, which he did far better, and oftener. (When much later, in 1981, I came to live in Louisiana there were several persons here who knew him, and the Dean at that time here had been at Oregon. It is not natural affinity, I think, so much as that the two universities still in the 1980s had a number of faculty who knew each other.) I never had a better friend, anywhere. When he was on sabbatical and once when he had been, as a pedestrian, hit by a car and had a healing pelvis to take care of, he let me teach History of Architecture to the 3rd-year students in Architecture, assigning and assessing models made in lieu of term papers, and all. I have never enjoyed any teaching quite so much as those courses. Once I even got to do the 19th-century course. Needless to say, I learned everything I know about architectural systems from him and my other colleagues in architecture at Oregon. It was as good as getting an additional degree. I learned to think through architecture three-dimensionally and structurally. I had to, and quickly. For a female, red-headed and still in her twenties, to stand before and lecture to over a hundred mostly male students (there might be as many as ten female students in the class), all concurrently enrolled in the Structures courses, average age 20-21, she had to know how the buildings were put together, how the materials behaved. Ancient Egypt and Greece were good to start with, but Rome was the great lesson. And the Middle Ages were awe-inspiring, not only in their engineering but in their continuing understanding of the principles of architectural Orders. It may be true that males understand these things more easily than females (science says so), but not all males. Even asked, on a test, to draw the Doric Order in a vertical section, a number of them not only had not heeded the injunction to study and understand it but actually drew things that looked more like table-lamps than temples. The same students never learned that it was no good to stick a flying buttress into the middle of a window. It was true that Modern ideals were still prevalent in current architecture, but no one was asking them to subscribe to those, only to understand what Villard de Honnecourt's drawings were showing.
You see what was taking my time and engaging my mind in these years. It was no wonder that I paid rather little attention to the town that, without a car for the first years, I could hardly get around it. Next time I'll talk about some other things and places.