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.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Finishing the Terminal Degree

When I returned to Berkeley after two years in Greece and some travel elsewhere in Europe for my dissertation, I had a teaching assistantship and space for an office to work in and the use of the art history photographic darkroom, chemicals included. Besides, there were development machines that also fixed them through a second system of rollers (resembling those in clothes wringers on old washing machines); the rollers took the exposed paper through closed pans of chemicals. It was widely suspected that these systems' products would fade more quickly, but I must report that they haven't. I had only to wash them and put them through the dryer, which produced glossy prints without the messy use of squeegies and ferrotype plates. This enabled my buying paper in several grades by boxes of 100 sheets. For the trade-off was that no fiddling in the trays was possible; the exposure had to be correct and on the right paper in the first place. This system made sense for a darkroom with limited space and no means of controlling water temperature very well to be used by a number of persons. It only required using a limited amount of paper in strips to determine the exposure under the enlarger and acquiring skill in dodging for nearly burned out areas and burning in for barely exposed on the negatives, where, for example, a statue was situated right by a window. It was not as if the kind of photography I'd had to do permitted any real use of zone systems, and my light meter was not, say, a Weston V. It was called a Leica 3 and fit in the shoe on top of the camera. Again, a trade off, good for travel away from cities: the Contaflex Alpha and the later (1965) Nikon F did not eat batteries like candy; the former used none at all. Speaking of Leica, I'd rather have had one of the original little classic Leicas, whose rather wide-angle 35mm lens pulled out, which was a rangefinder camera, but that great and simple little camera was already hard to get, and so I hadn't been able to find one when I needed it. It combined the virtue of a Model T Ford (simplicity) with a great lens.
I may have given the impression that I liked the photography for my dissertation on women's headdress on Attic red-figure vases much better than all the classification and checking of innumerable inventory numbers, volume numbers, page and plate numbers, and conformity with style sheets, not to mention typing on a mechanical L C Smith with three carbons required; well, what do you think? But I still didn't need glasses, and by typing very deliberately all weekend, every weekend I got it done.
I did not have a very good attitude toward the dissertation. It awoke the latent feminism in me. I thought, and I still think, it was the sort of thing that girls might be expected to do, and my proposals for two other subjects had been nipped in the bud. I did learn that nothing very useful could be derived from the work I did, the kind of negative result that is indeed valuable per se, but then the committee, like me, only in principle respected valuable negative results. I still, also, resent knowing that my mentors thought that I should respect the expectation that a scholar nearer their own age was engaged with the vase painting that I wanted to understand better by giving it two years' undivided attention, to get beyond connoisseurship for its own sake. And he never did complete real monograph on these vase-paintings, let alone what I'd wanted to do. Prudence is good, especially for a candidate that MUST get a degree before exhausting the gravy train, and a tenure track position on schedule, but prudence is a bitter pill to swallow when you have a dream. In addition, by finishing as expected, I could not wait for the new (1962) edition of Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters, and all the page and list references had to be to the 1942 edition. I appreciate what I did learn, a great deal, by studying the vases with good representations of women's headgear in Athens, for I spent two years looking a the images, and even knowing the headgear for different groups and generations can be useful, but the study itself is of the kind that I despise (rightly or wrongly), and I have never been tempted to update it.
So that's that. Does anyone really like dissertations done under duress?
Giving me office space better than one often has as a young professor, giving me the darkroom access, giving me more experience as a teaching assistant, allowing me, too, where I had good knowledge of a particular topic, to lecture to upper division courses (and letting them see that I could do it, and keep my slides in order, and lecture without reading any of it), Berkeley did very generously prepare me for the next stage of my life. It was a good year. And during the summer session, they hired me to teach the survey of ancient art, to tide me over and give me whole responsibility for a large class.
I got an apartment for one year in the basement of what had been an elementary school near my old address on Haste Street. I got a cat from the SPCA, a black female. There was still no mid- to late-sixties street activism; Telegraph Avenue already had its espresso shops but no 'head' shops. I did not realize yet how little a smaller university city might offer of the book shops and music shops and eateries that Berkeley had, but I did enjoy my last year as a student fully. In the Spring of 1962 I got a position as Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon at Eugene. Not only was it still the old system of hiring by the grapevine, within the network of one's mentors' acquaintances, but it was still a seller's market: there were positions, full-time and often, as in my case, tenure-track for persons with good transcripts, dissertations finished on schedule, from good universities, and a couple of publications. I think that I always have been lucky, and I always have had true friends. In this posting I have outed the only frustration I ever met with, the matter of a dissertation I did not believe in. It was not that I thought I was too good for it (for the years at the ASCSA had cured me of really comical pride) but that I thought that, as framed, it wasn't really worth anyone's time. I remember that the defense of the dissertation went well, but I don't recall much discussion of the diss. itself. The committee was interesting and interested in the vase-paintings, and they were professors whom I loved dearly. At the end I was invited to call them by their first names (it took me some time actually to do so). I still cannot be quite comfortable with nicknames between professors and students. The small formality prevents all sorts of little difficulties from becoming personal and facilitates both teaching and being taught.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Farm Schools in Greece

It was in the winter / early spring of 1960-1961 that I was invited to travel with the photographer who was a long-time friend of the ASCSA. He had contracted to photograph the work of both the Greek farm schools / homes for war orphans and children too poor to be allowed to go to schhol by their families, founded by the Basiliki Pronoia (literally, Royal Providence) after the wars and the American Farm School, which I'd never heard of, near Thessaloniki. It proved to be a problem-free trip; I went to the institutions with him that he was documenting and was free to make friends with the children and adolescents. I saw nothing that was not admirable in any of them, though no one was trying to impress me. I never could have seen the Pronoia schools or the American Farm School the same way under any other conditions, and I never have forgotten them. As an American I felt free to take a few simple and unofficial photographs at the American Farm School. They all sent the older children who were ready for gymnasium curricula on to the nearest city using the public bus service (KTEL); the American Farm School, of course, had the advantage of sending them to Thessaloniki. I asked no questions, having no desire to look like a journalist or to be one, and I was keenly aware of the privilege of seeing this side of Greek social service and education. The children were simply happy and friendly, if you allowed yourself to remember that at this time most of them were war orphans. I did not realize until today the likelihood that the American Farm School was the inspiration for the Greek one. I wondered, was this a project of the Marshall Plan? What was its intention, apart from contributing to good agriculture and good education in Northern Greece? So I Googled, of course. There are the usual encyclopaedia articles based on its own brochures and concentrating on its current profile: yes, it still exists, and it existed long before WW II. I did not find an article of exactly the time of my visit, but a Time article in June of 1935 gave me everything I needed to know.,9171,883458,00.html
The American Farm School was a private foundation and dated from 1904. It has been continuous. It has adapted itself to various needs of war and peace in rural northern Greece, though never deviating from the improvement of agriculture. Of course, there must have been some glitches, but I take it otherwise at its word. It now also has a Summer session for Americans to experience rural farming in Macedonia while contributing to its purposes. But for starting this blog describing the externals of my life, as I have known it, I never would have looked up this information. I don't know whether it looks different today.
So, having four negatives, I scanned them, and here they are, all at the top of this post. I'm sure there must be girls now, though I don't know, and certainly the clothes are different.
Furthermore, I began my love affair with Greece's second city at this time, since I stayed behind alone and after a few days took the public bus back to Athens.