Friday, June 18, 2010

Bringing the Yugo home

The Golden Gate from the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco
By 'home' I could mean Berkeley, once all I knew of home, or I could mean Davis, CA, where I had kin, the family of my deceased little sister, but by now, though I have forgotten whether I had to get back to teach a summer session, or whether Denise had to get back to comparable responsibilities, home—at least, the home of the Yugo (though it was a San Francisco company that had imported it)—was Louisiana.
Berkeley had never been much of a town for motels, and to book ahead at the wonderfully convenient Durant Hotel I'd have to have known when we'd arrive. If I remember rightly, the one we found towards the west end of University Avenue was not great, lacking double rooms with two beds. We were able to arrange to meet Claude and Keiko, who still lived in Berkeley, for lunch and to see the Amyxes, as Ellen remembers, but neither of us took pictures that day. I am almost sure that I took Denise to the University Art Museum, whose tondo by Puvis de Chavannes I like very much, and we did certainly go to the Lowie Museum of Anthropology (now re-named after Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the mother of William Randolph and a major benefactor of the university), where Denise got a handsomely designed Lowie Museum sweatshirt which only very recently wore out.
Dreadful snapshot, but the only one showing the bird and all, so here it is, cropped
We also visited the Oakland campus of the California College of Arts and Crafts, where I had spent three happy semesters between high school and university, and found still thriving. It is remarkable, however, how little you can learn about an art school when it is not in session, and the same limitations confronted us in trying to measure UC Davis against its reputation. My own opinion was always that, no matter how good the art school, having to live in Davis argued against it. I was not the one, however, who was considering the west-coast schools, and, not in session, none of the faculty or, for that matter, graduate students were available. The abandoned contents of emptied lockers never make a good impression and are always and everywhere the same. My sister's elder two daughters, though, were happy to show us off-campus life and bring us back home with them.

Linda's girls, with me, in Davis
I think we must have gone to San Francisco the preceding day, where we visited the Palace of the Legion of Honor, overlooking the Golden Gate, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, for the first time, for me, in its own modern building and I got some beautiful German books on photography besides being able to say hello again (so to speak) to Matisse's 1905 Woman in a Green Hat. Certainly, it made sense to use I-80 from Davis to get to I-5 and so go straight down the central valley of California. I was bent, too, on actually seeing my old friend P.J., retired after years as a librarian in Bakersfield, where he had been brought up before I met him (and my friend Claude, too) in an introductory course in Asian Art. Now retired, he still lived in the house he had from his mother, and he took Denise and me to the Chinese restaurant where his mother had worked for so many years. It was good Chinese family food, not the Hong Kong kind, and the restaurant was practically unaltered from the time of the 1956 snapshot he had sent me. The second snapshot documents his stint as a base librarian in the army in 1957.

These both are as I remembered him from our years in Berkeley on the south side of campus. Of course, by 1990 we were both more than thirty years older. P.J (the correspondent of my early post, particularly liked Denise. Just today, as a birthday present (undeserved, but appreciated), I received from him a DVD disk of two vintage movies.
From Bakersfield, back to Interstate 40. The nicest thing we did on the way home was to take the Natchez Trace Parkway back into Louisiana. Green, well cared for, non-commercial, and with a nice low speed limit (and no 18-wheel trucks!), it was a blessed relief and, in time, probably consumed no more than an extra hour. Soon enough, even all too soon, we were back on US 61 headed for Baton Rouge.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Crossing the Continent in a Yugo (Zastava 45)

Fully preppped by the dealer a 1988 Yugo cost just over $4,100 and would carry four adults and their baggage, being a hatchback design. Familiar with being passed by them, and by their Fiat prototypes, on mountain grades in Greece, while I was driving a small Citroen rented in Athens in 1987, I did not hesitate to buy one. I drove it for six years and only the impossibility of replacing door handles made me turn it in in 1994. It still ran perfectly. It had one fault, which it shared with some small British cars of the 1950s: a vacuum assist on the clutch, so that neither they nor the Yugo ought to be taken over the Continental Divide at Albuquerque. After descending a thousand feet or so, the clutch was OK again, but the experience was unnerving. It was not the Yugo's fault, however, that I ran over a sharp piece of metal on the Interstate in the middle of a desert, ruining a tire, and I was most grateful to the Hispanic family that stopped to help us, changing to the spare tire, even though they were, themselves, traveling with a family of children: sheer human goodness. I didn't want to speed through the landscape, anyway, and the Yugo was happiest doing 60mph on the flat and climbing the Rockies in 3rd gear at about 45–50mph. It never did use oil or get poor gas mileage.
The graduation ceremonies at UC Berkeley had been so large that no one could identify anyone receiving a degree, in so great a crowd, from such a distance, in the football stadium. Honors and awards as well as the courses I'd chosen, after all, were on my official transcript. Thus I had received three degrees without once wearing cap and gown. But my friend Denise had parents, who had helped her since she was little and who wanted to see the results of such effort. So we agreed that we would leave after the ceremony, which was in the morning (mercifully, given Louisiana humid heat), and we would drive to Pine Bluff that afternoon. Getting away from friends and relatives, however, before each had a chance to congratulate you and your parents and in many cases to take photos, proved to be the larger and more important part of the occasion. We got away from Baton Rouge a good deal later than I had imagined, owing to my ignorance of Graduation. We must have telephoned ahead to Pine Bluff, not to worry, but this was before cell phones in every purse and pocket. By the time we got there, I was tired, yes, but Denise was really tired, and a joyous and huge puppy awaited her at Wood's in Pine Bluff.
Denise with the puppy, Sylvia (named after Sylvia Plath, I am told) in Pine Bluff
Wood was always a wonderful cook, and I remember that he'd done something really good, but I can't remember what. Also, he was prepared to put up a couple of guests comfortably; again, he always can manage these things. From Pine Bluff we went to Little Rock, to join Interstate 40. On consultation, neither of us is sure whether it was on our way west or on our return that we were treated to a serious tornado warning at a motel just outside of Oklahoma City. Remembering a dust storm in southern Arizona on I-10 when I drove the secondhand Rabbit (Golf) VW from Eugene, OR, where I had bought it, to Louisiana, needing a valve job and leaking oil as fast as I could feed it, I thought that the more northerly route might be greener. Not much, and, instead of prone to dust storms, right in tornado alley every Spring and early Summer. Somewhere, from another trip I think, I have some photos of Little Rock, which is a nice little city with a state capital modeled on the national one.

I don't even remember Amarillo, TX, where we must have stopped, at least to eat, but Denise does. The map shows just as little as I remember between Oklahoma City and Amarillo or between the latter and Albuquerque. Even the wonderful Wurman 1990 Road Atlas has no remarks, and Kansas, directly north, has many more towns and small cities, though more if you take the old highway from Wichita through Garden City to Pueblo. Even so, conditioned by coastal California and by New York City and by Greece, to me the great American west, even the sea of grass east of the Rockies, feels confined by land rather than open to the sea and defined by mountains; it feels like an infinite trap. To my feelings, only the myth of the railway tracks is comforting.
If it hadn't been for the problem with the clutch, we'd have liked to stop and look around Albuquerque, an attractive city. As it was, only in crossing Arizona did things come into focus. I remember stopping at a Navajo truck stop, where, as at such places in Greece (for example), most of the local souvenirs had been made in far-off factories, and yielding to the real beauty of 'painted', stratified mesas and wondering at the geology they represented. We stopped to take pictures, even.
Denise photographing mesas

A telephoto or zoom lens would have been useful here
A friend of my grandmother's, in the Ladies' Aid at church, had moved to Arizona and for years sent her a subscription to Arizona Highways. It was good to see that the reality, both of sky and of rocks, was more beautiful (and much less gaudy) than that egregiously touristic periodical. Besides, there were otherwise unremarkable towns that had associations. I forget which actor was born in Kingman, but I have an unexplained snapshot of my father, labeled 'Winslow, Ariz."
"Sid Winslow Ariz" If he was about age 8 here, the date is 1917. My 1991 Road Atlas shows Winslow, AZ, on I-40 some 50+ miles east of Flagstaff and in smaller typeface than Kingman (about 200 mi. west of it). I don't know what they were doing there; by train it was a long journey and one that I doubt folks took six children on with a car of that date. Did they have one?

Why not go to the Grand Canyon? We didn't have the time or the money. After all, we were en route to the great Pacific Ocean, which I had promised was quite different from the Gulf of Mexico. We must have stopped at some place such as Barstow, where we would leave I-40 and take I-15. It must be said, too, that there is no comparison between the Los Angeles freeways and those of the San Francisco Bay Area, let alone of New Orleans, and once we got into them I found that getting to Malibu or Santa Monica was simpler on the road atlas than on the road and that there were no billboards advertising motels, anywhere. I'm not sure, but I think we made our way via San Bernardino to Thousand Oaks, a very good place for a good motel, and went back down to Malibu the next day. The Getty Villa wanted one to have advance reservations, parking and all being limited, but I managed to talk my way in. Again, as the driver (and this astonishes me), though I think we must have overnighted again before reaching San Luis Obispo, I can't remember stopping somewhere. Never mind, we were out of central Los Angeles, and it is strongly recommended arranging to park and use public transportation from there, as one does in Washington, D.C., to visit the L.A. Museum or the new Getty, very much worthwhile, and back to U.S. Hwy 101. Also, once out of both high mountains and desert, Denise felt fine, and the little car was just as happy, too.

A perfect specimen of Late Hellenistic use of mirror-image sets of piece molds to produce pairs of figures like these polite wrestlers. The Getty figures themselves are made from off-cast molds from the figures in Naples from the actual Villa.

I wasn't used to finding a motel in San Luis Obispo; as I recall we just took the downtown exit from US Hwy 101 and took the first one that was neither shoddy nor fancy. Not knowing that we'd find a very old neighbor on Church Street, and she didn't remember me, exactly, there was no longer anyone living in town to visit. My elementary school, Fremont, new when I entered it, and my mother's high school, new and the pride of the town in her days, no longer stand. The grocery on Higuera Street, Sauer's, where my father worked, and the best department store of my youth, Riley's, were gone, and all but one of the movie theaters, but old Sinsheimer's, an old department store, with a cast-iron front (commoner in the midwest, I think, than in California) and with pulleys to take payments and receipts back and forth to the office, had become Historical rather than just old, was there. The shop near the Mission of Ah Louis, the father of my mother's schoolmate, Elsie, also, by virtue of being Chinese-American and very old, is an historical monument; I remember playing with Elsie's Pekingese when, age 11 or 12, I visited her with my mother. The Carnegie Public Library has long been a little town museum. The Franciscan Mission itself had been gussied up and landscaped nicely and provided with a gift store, but it still worked as the main Catholic parish church of the town.

Houses now extended way up the slope of San Luis Mountain and wrapped around it. But the town remains as nice a place as anyone could wish to find, though it no longer tolerates a working brickyard right in town (a golf course is near by its site) and I found no trace at all of the blacksmith's yard where I remembered horses still could be shod. That had been only a couple of blocks from Church Street. Not surprisingly, the one-room former Nazarene Church where my grandfather had his shop and repaired antique, and nearly antique, furniture had disappeared. It was good only for a shop, barely having running water. The newspaper's press works was no longer across the street from the shop's site, either; I had loved to watch the paper coming off the press.
I took Denise to most of the places that I have named in the early months of this blog, but there was also the Ocean, much more accessible here than at Malibu or Monterey Bay. I'd have liked to go to Oceano, to see Edward Weston's lovely white dunes, but wasn't quite sure how to get there directly; I think we went to Pismo Beach, a family beach where you can dig for clams, too, if you know how, and we did go to Morro Bay, and I took pictures there.

From San Luis Obispo we continued north on "El Camino Real", US 101 (the Interstate went inland), and I pointed out the Paso Robles Inn and the site of Camp Roberts, inter alia, and we stopped in little San Miguel, since I did not intend to drive out to San Antonio de Padua much less to Nuestra SeƱora de Soledad, interesting because La Soledad is really rare in the USA, but a very small single room with a doll in black for a statue (I did visit it once). Now the a State Penitentiary is its main industry. But San Miguel Mission is its tiny town's main attraction, and it now has been professionally gardened. The interior is remarkably today much as I first remember it.

This post is becoming awkwardly long, so I shall complete the trip in the Yugo in a new one. From the bottom of the Salinas Valley to Berkeley, we drove directly on the route I had always taken.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

(b) A House that is a Home: the first five years

My friend Wood gave me an imitation Thonet rocker. Lydos, the Russian Blue-type cat that my friend Denise, then an undergraduate in Art at LSU, gave me, loved the rocker, unlike other cats that were too frightened of the motion.

It took time to accumulate the furnishing of a house, and my major impedimenta, books, still hadn't arrived, either (the essential ones were in my office). Until sofas and blinds, etc., arrived, I enjoyed having and studying in the light the old pieces that my grandparents had rescued for me: assorted chairs and a 19th-century walnut table and the Aegipan chair, the things that I'd had in Oregon. They look better with the tall baseboards and wider window frames of my 1928 modified double shotgun.

The oaks in one of the largest yards, as old as the oldest ones at LSU and older than the subdivision
When the first subdivision was laid out in Baton Rouge, LA, in 1909 (not to be built up fully till Humble Oil opened the refinery that now is Exxon), the city fathers in their wisdom made every third street wide and divided and planted oaks down the center; they made the corner lots larger and a couple of them occupying a full quarter of a block; the lots facing the parkway dividers were zoned, too, for deeper front yards, and, finally, the blocks had alleys, but they didn't run straight through: they provided for garbage collection, and they kept the telephone poles off the street fronts, but, like the letter H with the crossbar being longer, they also prevented cars, new though they were at the time, from using them for through traffic. It must also be admitted (as I had to be told by my eldest neighbor) that they provided access to the back door and to the laundry, usually attached to the garage or garden shed, to the housekeepers, laundresses, and gardeners. They no longer serve this last purpose, but it must be added that the square mile of smaller houses immediately to our east still is almost all African-American. A fact of local history. Yet the original thinking has survived to function better than most planning. The mixture of size and value of the houses has kept maintenance high and prevented rental to persons who do not want to care for the place they live in, the proximity to LSU and to City Park and to downtown and the Capitol have kept both large and small properties attractive, attractive to neighborly people. The alleys still serve for garbage collection and keep most of the cars from being parked on the street. The sidewalks still encourage walking late in the afternoon. And the trees (even after being thinned out by two hurricanes, plus some damage from the skirt of Katrina) are still beautiful. It is not every 90-year-old subdivision that maintains its Neighborhood Association. The smallest houses are double shotguns, two rooms deep, but most of these common houses are three rooms deep. They came as pre-cut lumber with requisite doors and windows. Houses similar to them are recorded as far north as Missouri. For someone like me, who detests a house that tells me how I want to live (for example, I don't want an 'island' in my kitchen), they are perfect. Most important, they have 10-foot ceilings, so that Hunter fans, big serious ones, suffice to cool them except in the summer.
Denise had been a student in the freshman survey course and in the fall of 1986, as I recall, was in the senior course in Greek art. In any case, she dropped by in office hour when Wood was there, too. W. suggested that I needed a pet, and I protested that I was at home too little to raise one (and besides always had preferred cats and would rather have an adult one). Denise, though, had just what I demanded: her mother would not have the cat that had adopted them and wanted to come indoors (they already had two cats). So I said I'd give the cat a try, since he was adult and neuter-male and solid gray; I gave her some money to get a cat carrier, some food, and some cat litter, and she and her mother came with the cat. Because his fur was so lovely to touch and his preferences were luxurious, I called him the Lydian, Lydos (also after an excellent 6th-century vase-painter who signed his work ho lydos and was probably a resident alien). He was immediately at home here and as a matter of course slept in the human bed from the first day. I think he may have been an old person's or even an AIDS victim's cat and suddenly homeless when about ten years old.
As I recall, the sofas had come by the time I got Lydos, because I remember Denise and her mother sitting on the long sofa. Since I and my lifestyle had passed muster with her mother, in the future they didn't always visit together, particularly since D. came to listen to classical music and talk art.
Before the sofas came, the front rooms were quite sparsely furnished, and one day (since the Levelor blinds hadn't come yet, having to be ordered for non-stock window sizes and because Sears said that 'nobody' liked black—'nobody' being the n-word for a non-southerner who wanted something you didn't have in stock) when afternoon light came pouring in I decided to try to take Art photos of the table and chairs. It isn't easy to get images worth remembering, though. One is at the head of this post, and one of Lydos, and more are in the album:

It is not simply the arrival of a niece to stay with me at the end of 1990 that punctuates my life at this point. Lydos was reaching the end of his life. Technology was changing everything, though even Mosaic and Netscape were in early stages. I had a PS-2 IBM computer (better than a typewriter) at home. When Art History moved to the new building in 1988, as I recall, each of us was given for his office a Mac IIci. One could use the Minnesota gopher to go to the catalogue of any library, almost, in the world and to the Library of Congress (though not with color graphics!). The Mac was indeed Wozniak's computer that loved you. Its metaphors instantly made clear what Microsoft meant by, for example, a 'directory'. It was obvious how one ought to store one's files. And so forth. The PS-2 still was not as happy a machine as the Mac, but a day with the Mac taught me how to use them both, though the former still had no Windows to speak of, and I never was on line with it. The next decade changed everything, especially with the use of digital images, though for years exigencies of storage, of image-size, were challenging. But in 1990 even the SCSI chain was a miracle and AOL seemed as new as an iPad seems today. Furthermore, I cannot overemphasize the lotus-land quality of life in Louisiana with nary a hurricane. Earthquakes may do nearly as much damage, but they don't turn whole seasons into daily dread, while megavolcanoes are quite beyond worry. As for mile-deep oil rigs, they are caused by humans, just as international financial crashes and epidemic-scale HIV are.

Debby in the summer of 1986 when, after I visited them the previous Christmas, I took her to Europe with me. This is on a train perhaps in Austria. We both had Eurrailpasses.

Myself with Lydos, Debby, and Tom, whom I left with the house and the cat while I went for a summer's work in Europe
Lydos, Denise, and her mother (who really must hate this photo of her) in the Spring of 1990, before Denise and I set out in the Yugo, all the way to Northern California.
To sum up this post, I have been thinking again of my resolve not to resort to the annotated photo album, which discourages summarizing and finding language for things that have no pictures, especially when one comes to decades when plenty of pictures are preserved. But unless one has Kodachrome slides that actually were developed at a Kodak lab and have been kept in their cardboard frames, always dated, it is appalling to realize how rarely one really remembers which year a given image belongs to, but it is interesting to consider the reasons: the older one becomes, the more time telescopes; when one lives continuously in one place and always teaching in the same curriculum (which makes it like being in the same 'grade' in school year after year), the semesters and years are easily blended; it was really only in the 1990s that keeping up with software development and compatibility became a challenge. On the other hand, choosing photos that do characterize my place at that time is an enjoyable challenge. It would be easy, as my students started their own families and some of my neighbors had young children to date images by their ages, but unless I sought special permission I would not use (yes, 'use') other people's children here. I may someday make an album of children (whom I love to photograph) using images not in the least personal, which I like as photographs.
But in the late 1980s and in the year 1990, everything was wonderful, pretty much. Almost all the Fine Arts students whom I knew, beginning with Wood and with Denise, were still in town (living continuously in an academic town entails forever making new friends). When I visited my sister Lorna and her family one Christmas in Pasco, WA, and Debby, then 19, begged to go to Europe with me, her parents consented. Debby understood that regular tourism would be done after museum hours, that museums would not include ladies doing tours, that we usually would eat, not dine, and she could take only what she could carry herself, upstairs and downstairs, in old stations from one platform to another. She abided by these necessary limitations. I did learn that I could not leave her alone without her attracting all sorts of young, and not so young, males; she had to be taught what urban European girls knew perfectly: to guard her eyes—unless she intended something else. But she enjoyed everything and ate everything and slept well everywhere, and I enjoyed her company. I had hardly known her before, and now I had the serious responsibility of my little sister's only daughter. She delighted in the bright colored building cranes against the sky. At this date there were many of them.
A couple of years later, when she was newly married but they did not have a house of their own yet, it suited me perfectly and they consented to living in my house while I was gone. I left it in good hands, but poor old Lydos with his poor old kidneys made problems for them. They made friends with a young faculty couple, very nice, whom I, twice their age, had hardly known.
In the Spring of 1990, when Denise had graduated from LSU magna cum laude I had another chance to entertain her parents and to meet her own cat, Dudley, who did not enjoy being in a strange house, even for a few hours. When the next Commencement ceremony occurred in late May or June, and Denise had a chance to oblige her family by attending it in cap and gown, on that very day we set out West on the Interstate, to which trip I shall devote another, more focused post.
Denise with Dudley