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!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fickle Memory

Trying to cover My Way from Berkeley to Greece, I encounter treacherous memory. All the scenes, all the odors, even, all the atmosphere, many of the minor conversations with strangers on trains, are vivid. The part that seems to have been jumbled is that having to do with plans and schedules. Take ships and ports, for example.
Canadian Pacific's Empress of England, her older ship, sailed from Montreal. I took this ship when I was teaching at the University of Oregon, because a very nice train ride at a very nice price could be had in the bargain and a nice slow ride, gaining sea legs, I hoped, down the St. Lawrence. I had to take the bus to Vancouver, but the rest of the journey was wonderful. Many of the passengers on the Empress of England had embarked in Australia or New Zealand; they were at home on shipboard by the time I joined them, whole families, either going back to England to visit or to return from some posting in SE Asia. It was such a civilized and not at all pseudo-ritzy trip. But where did we land? I think Southampton, because I remember going to see the great newly excavated villa that Barry Cunliffe had uncovered at Fishbourne. Also, I have a slew of color slides (album at ) several dating from my first arrival in England, I think, and then many in October of 1969 and April of 1970. This latter year is OK for the Empress of England, and I think I probably sailed home from Southampton, too, and we had a day's stop at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I bought some yards of Scotch Harris tweed (a seamstress in Oregon made it into a fully lined skirt and vest, ideal for Oregon, which is colder than the natives like to admit).
So the landing of my first ship, named the TSS New York after 1955, previously TSS Nea Hellas (then a troop ship during WW II), originally TSS Tuscania (leased to Cunard for part of the 1930s), built and launched in 1922, must have been that at Liverpool, where at least three of the first five slides in my album were those recording my excitement at landing, really away from California (though I'd had a summer in New York, for a seminar in 1958), surely were taken with my first camera. Besides, I remember Liverpool very vividly, because of the Walker Art Gallery and the grand beauty of St. George's Hall.
Yet I must have returned to Liverpool a decade later, because my photos from Chester have OCT 69 stamped on the mounts, and two views of St. George's Hall look as if taken with the better camera, a Nikon F1 bought in 1965.
There is no chance that I took the TSS New York later than 1959, though she did not always go to Liverpool but sometimes to Southampton, because, though she went on to Bremerhaven from Liverpool, having a sailing crew of Greeks and a service crew of Germans, that may have been her last voyage. The Web records, after listing the Tuscania and her sisters among the great ships (I think all ocean liners are great, even in a shared cabin below decks), that she was laid up in 1959 and scrapped, Onomichi, Japan, on 12/10/1961. She belonged to Goulandris, Greek Line, whose flag ship was the Olympia. Those who came to Greece on the Olympia complained of her rolling and slated to get improved stabilizers; the old ship pitched in heavy seas, but didn't roll. Anyway, I remember vividly the problem of drunkenness on the New York after we picked up half of our passengers at Boston until they disembarked at Cobh.
It has taken me days to disentangle my vivid but jumbled memories, my ships, my trains, my photo logs (always grateful, since there was nothing like EXIF, for the month and year that most slide developing labs stamped on the mounts).
I remember now what I did after landing in 1959. I took the train to London and learned to use the Underground and gawked at the city and found out where 'my' parts of the British Museum were. Then I went to Oxford and scouted the Ashmolean and went to Blackwell's in person. Then (not the way to go: always go via the hub, in this case London) by the hypotenuse, so to speak, to Cambridge via Bletchley (whose fame was then unknown to me), a junction, where, while I was in the lavatory and the train stopped, someone took one of my suitcases (and I never found it, nor did the stationmaster hold out much hope at the time). Since I was not carrying more than I needed, however, I missed both the suitcase and its contents. Otherwise the itinerary made sense. One of my reasons for being there was to see everything that I needed to see for my dissertation, and another was to see my sister, Lorna, who was living just outside of Cheveley village near Newmarket. Then I crossed the Channel, went to Paris, found a room in a place on the Rue des Ecoles, almost to Les Arènes, and for several days learned to take the Metro and walked around in the Left Bank, discovering quite by accident the Hôtel de Cluny and the wonderful baths underneath it. And the Cluny Museum was not yet in 1959 a magnet for all the ladies in the world who like unicorns. I found the Sainte Chapelle (and I hadn't known exactly where it was, but only about its being a "reliquary for the Crown of Thorns") and discovered that the 19th century work on Notre Dame was perfectly easy to distinguish. I spent all the rest of my time in the Louvre, ever since my favorite place in the whole wide world. Then I went to Milan, where I wanted to see La Scala, if only from the exterior, and the Duomo, and where I met a Japanese friend of C.'s. I brought amusement, too, to a pair of priests whom I asked, being too tired to remember the word dove, Ubi est ecclesia Sancti Ambrosii? But they were Americans from Brooklyn, so they told me which bus to take and that the Italian I'd forgotten was dove. Then I went to Rome, right on schedule; to stay for a week at the American Acadmey on the Janiculum, it had to be when the regular members were mostly out of town, on trips. I even in my perambulations found my way to the GFN, the Gabinetto Fotografico Naxionale, where one could still order prints from the glass-plate negatives of Greek vases (not available, lo, these many years, and even the more usual meaning of 'gabinetto' has given way to more informal terms). Then, you guessed it. I knew that I'd arrived in Piraeus on a ship. Of course. I took the train to Brindisi. I even saw the Brindisi Museum after making sure that the last day of my Eurrailpass covered not only the ship (pay extra for the cabin) but transportation from Patras to Athens. Somewhere I have a slide taken from the deck as we passed under the bridge over the Corinth Canal. A couple of days later Mr. Sakkas (of the School) went with me to Piraeus to claim my steamer trunk, to my relief, which really had been shipped ahead and not lost. That is how my little doll, Melanie, traveled to Greece: in the trunk.
I think I have the ships straight now. If anyone knows all about them, just let me know.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A transition from Berkeley

After M.'s marriage (and the delightful reception at C.'s following it) life at 2308 was again somewhat less structured. Not wild. Less domestically structured. There had been a stipulation that, budgets being extremely tight and debt neither dreamt of nor possible, we would keep the groceries to just twice what I'd been spending for one. That involved making menus for a week and shopping for those menus, and we did. I had done this childishly, but as well as I could, when my mother was ill, and M., as I recall, accepted this rigidity, provided that a couple of disgusting things (one I remember, no eggs sunny side up for breakfast) were off limits. In childhood, the proscribed item had been, for Lorna's sake, canned peas. By the later 1950s canned vegetables in general could be avoided. But the markets on Telegraph Avenue made it fairly easy, and, in fact, cooking for two is a bit more elastic than for one. M. tolerated, if I recall correctly, even beef kidney, chopped up, floured, browned, then smothered in sour cream and simmered till done. Many would not have tolerated that. I wonder whether my butcher now could provide a big kidney... Of course, liver can be cooked the same way. One butcher had spring veal so prepared that chops had cross-sections sections of veal kidney in the center of each one. It was the era when we learned to take an old pillowcase reserved for the purpose to spin washed greens so as not to have a sloppy salad. And San Francisco sourdough French bread was delivered daily to The Garden Spot and sold in paper sleeves, never put into plastic that made it sweat and toughen. The fancy veal chops may have been a luxury, but most of what we ate was not, though a good meat loaf is not to be despised. Also, we pressed thin two patties of ground chuck to make stuffed hamburgers, using cheese, chopped green-and-pimiento olives, Bermuda onion slivers, and a spoonful of tomato paste, for example, for filling. Oh, yes, and my first Chemex coffee pot made its appearance; it was hard to clean, but it had been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art so had to be owned (the ones with separate cones do just as well now). The Chemexes were bought at Frazer's (aforementioned) as were the Scandinavian candles, in which a candle, about 6 or 8 cm. in diameter, about 12 cm. tall, and truly drip-proof, sat securely in its bottle-green cylindrical base. I'd get some now, if I could. As one will have surmised, the recipe for high living on a low budget was in well chosen details. So far as possible, the same principle governed what one chose to wear, and in this department M. had a lot to teach me.
Google informs me that the Chemex is still made and sold, though not everywhere; I find only Finnish and Norwegian candleholders for votive or tealight sizes—the same principle, but clear glass and not at all the same aesthetic. [Note: the candleholders were Dansk.]
So much for a glimpse of 1950s domesticity, pre-Hippie, pre-Viet Nam, and pre-Post-Modern.

Left alone in the apartment and on fellowships, I completed my course requirements and prepared (not that I had any systematic idea of how to do so) for the written qualifying exams in art history, at that time three in number: one (ancient: bronze age through Rome) in my major period, and one each in Far Eastern (central Asia, India, China, Japan) and Medieval (Carolingian through Gothic). I'd studied more Renaissance than Medieval, but with a professor no longer at Berkeley, so I didn't dare that. No one told me so, but I think that I disgraced myself a bit in Ancient, on one of the broad essay questions. Professors always tend to think that their students know more, and more coherently, than they actually do know, and I am sure that I demonstrated that I had never considered coherently whatever I might have learned about evidences for absolute chronology. After I came back from Greece, I'd have done better. I also demonstrated that short-changing the study of German, and then reading mostly fiction and lyric poetry, did not serve for the likes of Friedrich Matz, and, after I had won a travel fellowship they saw to my being able to accept it at the American School in Athens by retesting me with a German translation from an English scholar (I think it was Paul Jacobsthal's of Beazley's Pan Painter); two years in Greece took care of that, too; I had listed German among the languages I could read, and the School saw to my reading a lot of it. It was evident that only about half of us had claimed to read German. In any case, though my personal life was too laughable (and involved other persons, besides, whom I won't discuss) to bother with here, even though it was, I think, necessary to remediate retarded maturation and at least did not prevent my doing what I needed to do and was not, I think, shocking or disgraceful—certainly not dangerous, intellectually this period was one of the most exciting and broadening of my whole life. Tastes and principles which have remained fundamentally unchanged, whatever others might think of them, took shape. I was a complete and convinced wishy-washy liberal and international idealist, though at the time I never read any politics, and I certainly did not think that humanity could be much perfected. Not that my social skills were sufficient, however. One thing I did learn was to provide my own structures within which to work, freely but effectively, without relying on outside work or schedules for a number of lecture courses with their exams and short term papers. At first, this novel flexibility was bewildering; I had done much better when, to write my MA thesis, I had simply to set aside every weekend to do nothing else and to reserve the last third of the time at my disposal simply for typing and revising.
In passing, though, alas, I have no picture of Richelieu, I now had the third of the black kittens, Kochon having died of a tumor and Richelieu's owners having moved away. I still had Makron, but Richelieu was by far the cleverest black cat I ever have owned. He not only pawed cat food out if its tin and ate it off his paw, like a raccoon, but learned to turn door knobs to open doors for himself, and he exited the bathroom window, jumping onto the lower back apartment's roof, then across to the fire-escape stairs of the building next door so as to avoid using the litter box; shortly he learned to return the same way. Makron was neither smart enough nor, perhaps, strong enough for this feat. Richelieu's favorite trick was to perch on top of the refrigerator and jump neatly onto one's shoulder when invited. But he also favored tall male visitors with this trick, and if they didn't know that he did it without using his claws, and if the visitor jumped, what could Richie do? I tried to remember to warn strangers not to stand in front of the refrigerator.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pieces of personality

It is Lipschitz's fate to live in courtyards

It is not just that women tend to do what their men friends do, so that I learned to drive much better (and got a secondhand 356A Porsche to do it in) when one of them was into rallyes and autocrosses. With him I even learned to lay out a rallye for otthers in our Sports Car Club to compete in. Earlier I learned with great pleasure to put together Heathkits, not only the power amplifier and the pre-amp but even the tuner, so that they worked. Anyone who likes embroidery or very small doll clothes is likely to enjoy soldering, with a pencil-point iron; that was in the 1950s when there were no printed circuits with solder-filled eyelets to poke the wires from either end of resisters and capacitors through, so that the printed layout had to be carefully adhered to if the device didn't end up just a jumble of wires and small parts at odd angles such as wouldn't fit into the box. I might have got into the latter from a friend I had in elementary school whose father was at Bell Labs. But all one's life one picks up friends' tastes. It is not as if one became somehow a core self with borrowings plastered on like stickers, however. An aptitude is wanted. When I was taken up to Timberline to learn to ski, my aptitude was only for falling without getting hurt; it was as bad as ballroom dancing, in which I not only couldn't follow but couldn't have led even if I were a man, or swimming: I just can't put my head under water. What is fascinating is a the lifelong accumulation, aggregation, and finally assimilation and development of pleasures that very probably were due to friends. For example, I just ordered a novel on line that my old friend M. mentioned in an email, and it would be typical for me to go on to read more of the same author. And such reading becomes part of oneself. When we were young I profited from the tastes she got from her father, of which a result has been a lifetime's enjoyment of Benjamin Britten. When the 1944 Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings was re-released on CD, I got it for myself, remembering their 78 rpm album. D.S. downstairs already had taught me to admire Dennis Brain, but Britten's setting of Ben Jonson Hymn to the goddess Diana has remained one of the anthems of my musical memory, specifically as sung by the young Peter Pears. The Ben Jonson also made me think of Dum Dianae vitrea sera lampas oritur. When I began to indulge a passion for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and not least for his repertory, the Britten made the LP called Im Spiegel der Antike for months my favorite of all his, with its Schubert settings of German Romantic poets. So I got myself a volume of all those poets and their contemporaries. And so it goes. That is just one strand. I'm sure anyone of my age, or near it, has a personal imagination in which a great mass of of once oddly assorted material has become simply what one is. Peter Pears, besides, is the only one besides Edith Sitwell herself who can do Façade. It was my friend David who introduced me to Sitwell. We both got the 10" LP of her live performance at the Museum of Modern Art (I think it was) and memorized it, and David who went with me to the great shows in San Francisco, beginning with the Matisse retrospective, then the Fauves, then the Cubists. San Francisco already had Matisse's Woman in a Green Hat, and, being from Oakland, anyway, we were interested in the Steins' collection of Matisse, so that three years ago, when I went to Baltimore for the first time, I had to go see the Cone collecion if I saw nothing else—and they didn't disappoint. And, to bring this around in a circle, it was M. who took me to the museum there, altogether an excellent one. I'll see if I can find a snapshot of something from the sculpture court there (photography in the paintings forbidden).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Life at 2308 Haste St.

Sophia in 1959 in Athens with the Dolls
It was after the Panty Raid semester, and perhaps only at the end of 1956, that I acquired a roommate to share the apartment in the brown-shingle fourplex. I think it was the semester after I first read exams for the freshman-sophomore course in Comparative Mythology. One student's essays had impressed me, as if there were one student who had gone back to take a wide-ranging course purely for pleasure having completed the requirements for a degree in, for example, English Literature. I think it was C. who introduced M. to me, explaining that her arrangement at one of the cooperative dorms, where the residents shared the chores, was not really satisfactory for her. I imagine that it was noisy and disorderly. She was (and still is) several years younger than me, but self-disciplined and considerate. We both tried to be considerate, and we managed. She was not the sort of girl who had all sorts of cosmetics (later, much later, a niece stayed with me with the horrifying use of hair spray; at art school, when we used fixative, we went outdoors to use it). We both used our own drawers for folded things and kept our skirts and dresses hung up (for the life of me, I cannot remember where, in that compact apartment, a closet was). She brought with her, besides, only a 12" replica of Willie, the Metropolitan Museum's Dyn. XII hippopotamus, her replica of one of the lovely daughters of Nefertiti, one of those in the Berlin Museum, a 12-inch "Madame Alexander" doll, beautifully dressed, and an 8-inch little-girl "Madame Alexander" doll with a boxful of clothes. This was the time when the McCall magazine and pattern company had marketed Betsy McCall, the direct ancestress of all those American Girl dolls that are sold now, as well as of Barbie. But the "Madame Alexander" dolls were fully jointed, naturally proportioned, and delicatedly detailed. They could be purchased fully clothed as storybook characters or only in underwear and shoes and socks. The best place to buy them was I. Magnin. It has a Wikipedia article now. It was a lovely place to shop, even if you only wanted a little doll, and it wasn't overpriced unless you really wanted to spend a lot. I. Magnin wouldn't carry junk, no matter how fashionable (it left that to the next generation's store, Joseph Magnin). The 8-inch dolls are still used for the Storybook series, I see, but we bought them ready to be dressed ($8) with an envelope of patterns for 8-inch dolls of such proportions (Betsy McCall patterns were too skinny).
M.'s doll was blonde. She bought me a brunette one, called Melanie (we both took Greek; M., in fact, was majoring in Greek). She taught me to take pains with the tiny details that make tiny doll clothes good: minute snaps and hooks and eyes, extra fine thread and needles, proper miniature hemstitching. This was no easier than learning to wedge clay and throw pots or to stretch and prime canvas, but fortunately the Girl Scouts had made me do a needlework merit badge and I had plenty of practical experience mending clothes; I could even darn socks. And it was a lot more fun to sit and talk or listen to music while making doll clothes than to gut and chop up chickens, not to mention turkeys. Up at the hotel in Yosemite, M. probably had worked harder than I had, but each of us had done things that the other had never thought of. And I had never seen such beautiful dolls as those 1950s Madame Alexander ones. I took a fancy to the dolls and to M.'s high standards in sewing for them. Willie the Hippopotamus and Nefertiti's daughter were placed on top of the corner loudspeaker enclosure, where the cats wouldn't (and didn't) disturb them.
Here is where the picture at the head of this post comes in. When I went to Athens in 1959 and lived in Loring Hall, the maid who was assigned to the women's quarters was Sophia, and she was only 26, a year older than I was. I had taken the Melanie doll with me, and I set her on top of the chest of drawers in my room. She enchanted Sophia. So I begged M., married by now, to get me an 8-inch doll, like her blonde one, for Sophia: I'd gladly pay the import duties on it. She not only got the doll but dressed her for Sophia (see the photo, where Sophia has put a flower beside Melanie's cheek and holds her own). Then for Easter, using pins and toothpicks for knitting needles, Sophia knit a Greek traditional dress for my doll; somewhere, I dare to hope, I still have the photo I took of the doll in it.
Now have you guessed that the student in Comparative Mythology whom I'd taken for an older woman, even influenced by her Slavic name, was in fact a young undergraduate? In fact, her ancestry was largely English, but her given name had been chosen to chime with her family name. It has been a very good, complementary friendship all these years, though just as when we were young, whenever we visit, we have to be somewhat careful. It still is easier for me (the eccentric one) to try to adjust, but I don't always do very well. We still are the same persons as we were. We do value each other. When I was in the convent in NYC and taking my first vows, it was M. who came to the ceremony. Not that she was an Anglican, either. Not all the way from California, but from one of the D.C. suburbs. It is she who has remained a close friend of C. and his wife, too. Again, we all like good music and art and books. And cats. If, 50 years later, M.'s white cat looks a little unhappy, it is because a feral, outdoor cat had bit her ear.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Date pegs; panty raid; UC Berkeley library

It was very hot in mid-May of 1956 in Berkeley. On the evening of May 16, I was sitting, on a towel, at my desk at 2308 Haste; I think I was writing a term paper. All the windows were open; all over the neighborhood all the windows were open. The sound of a crowd was heard. No street demonstration beyond an AFL strike in downtown Oakland had occurred. It was not football season, and Berkeley hadn't won much since 1950; parades were nice and well planned—for the town, mostly. But it was the sound of an unplanned crowd; one knew it from the movies. It never came into the "independent" students' realm, south of campus and largely west of Telegraph, but it was large and loud. There was no 24/7 radio or television (and I had only my little KPFA FM radio), but this was stupendous raucousness. It had crescendos and lulls. The next day, morning paper headlines and the campus Daily Californian reported the unheard-of vulgarity of a major Panty Raid. The whole Bay Area was shocked. I read, nearly in disbelief, what had happened. If I'd been advanced enough in Greek, I'd have thought of the Bacchae and been familiar with comparing it with St. Vitus' Dance (its origins). I did know vase-painting, but surely fraternity boys didn't have satyrs' tails, and satyrs had never been so cheaply fetishistic as to go after underwear (if ancient maenads had any). It was the common cheapness that shocked me, and their going into the women's dormitories where the girls hadn't parental allowances such as allowed replacing the losses of a night's hysteria. We'd believe anything, almost, of the "Greeks", but the university administration, and the city of Berkeley, would never have thought that what had begun in a few water fights, understandable in the heat, could quickly turn into common and stereotyped mob actions. It was too large and confused to pin down primary blame; some restrictions were placed on the living groups for the rest of the year, but I don't know what they were. Nothing like it happened again. The Free Speech movement and then all the other activism, while more disruptive, were quite different.
This was my last undergraduate year, and all the excitement in my life was in the way my studies were shaping up into a lifetime in history of art and, already, especially in classical archaeology. That is why I was taking Greek and, in the following Summer Session, doing a year of Latin in six weeks. I loved these languages (actually, I loved all languages) from the beginning. So far as this blog is concerned, it was largely a very routine time. I made friends and all that, but I was working in the Loan Department of the UC Library at least 20 hours per week with a full 'load' of five courses. Even the loan department was interesting, being Search Clerk for part of my time, coming in the morning to run the IBM machines, with their long files of cards, one for each book charged, to sort out the overdues with the 10-brush sorter, key punching the faculty charge cards so that they could be sorted at the end of the semester, wiring the steel plate with a few dozen short cables so that the big machine could read the prepared cards and punch in the additional information. The computing power of these machines was negligible, except that you can't neglect the importance of the job they did for us. But I've never forgotten dealing with the simple 1 and 0, contact and no contact, wire brushes reading through the punches to the metal cylinder, the absolute rudiments of digital computation in palpable, visible form. The rudiments of programming for a simple routine job with a few dozen little colored co-axial cables plugged into a steel tablet with numbered rows. At the Service Bureau Corporation in San Francisco D.S. showed a couple of us the wonderful big steel tablet they had wired up so that when you ran it, with paper rather than cards to print on, it made, out of letters and type symbols, a sort of a picture of a pin-up girl. The regular work of those machines was to print out all the accounting for companies like Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
The loan department also had pneumatic tubes to carry book requests up and down to the 8 tiers (I think it was 8, two per storey) of stacks, where pages scurried to get the books, placing the book(s), each with its IBM card in it, in a sturdy tub and clamping them into the conveyor that took them down to the desk. Only graduate students and the faculty at that time actually had access to the stacks. Each page had a number and wrote it in one corner on the IBM card before going for the book, marking NOS if it wasn't there and in that case sending it back down the pneumatic tube where more experienced student library employees (SLEs, we were) would check the circulation and then, if need be, the Missing Book files, adding his own SLE number to the page's. Some books were in special collections, locked rooms. The joy of my life, the privilege above all privileges, was being given keys to the Classics and Art History seminar rooms on the 3rd floor of the library. This happened when I began to take advanced courses, especially in Greek vases. In these rooms the most needed periodicals as well as sets of reference books and essential specialized monographs were kept together and non-circulating. Only occasionally did someone page something from the desk for use in the library reading room itself. Access to this paradise may seem privileged, but it was earned for the explicit purpose of enabling real learning by the persons who had a vocation for it (no other word will do). This is how scholars were made.
Now, apart from describing how a few things worked, like how pneumatic tubes and early IBM machines worked together, 19th and 20th century technology jointly, half a century ago, this blog is not about my studies. I might write about them elsewhere and otherwise. And it is not about my social and sexual development (unexceptional—and I will not talk about my friends and companions, anyway). As in childhood, I only want to try to record the concrete things that I remember, to see whether they can give their own kind of truthfulness about one kind of living at one particular time and place. The professors and the fellow students whom I came to know in the 1950s at UC Berkeley were exceptional, interesting, kind, learned, wise, delightful people, almost all of them, and these years I have to mourn their passing one by one. I cannot write well enough to evoke them fairly. I can only write what is within my compass.

Monday, October 5, 2009

2308 Haste Street a&ie=UTF8&gl=us&ei=uZHJSuvkOIvmM5DqqPIH&hq=&hnear=2308+Haste+St,+Berkeley,+California+94704&t=h&z=16
This is the house, still brown shingle, evidently quite unchanged. If only the link to the Street Level view works. This technology is a wonder, but anyhow you can enter 2308 Haste Street, Berkeley, CA, and you'll get the map and can select the satellite and then the street level. Only in the mildest part of the mildest climate that I know would this brown shingle of the first quarter of the 20th century still not only stand but with its original shingles.
It was divided into four apartments, and in exchange for sweeping the stairs and porch regularly and showing an apartment when one was vacated, I paid $10 less per month, $35 instead of $45. A laundromat was only two blocks away on Telegraph Ave.
I find that basic facts are hard to pin down: When did I move here from Durant Ave.? Was it when C. joined Seabees (but I think I mean Merchant Marine) that he let me have the apartment, its privilege of managing the building, and the use of much of his furniture while he was away—and let me move in immediately, while he got a room a couple of streets over till he shipped out? I remember his coming over for supper almost daily one summer: was it at this time? Was it at this time that, while I still had the apartment alone, we got three black kittens from a friend of his? I kept two, one with a Greek name, Makron, the other with a Japanese name, Kochon (Japanese being C.'s field of study; I had met both him and P., my longhand USPS lifelong correspondent in ART 1D: India, China, and Japan, in Fall, 1953, my first semester). The third went to my neighbor in the rear upstairs apartment at 2308, which he shared with his sister, and was named Richelieu for the Black Cardinal. I was taking more advanced Asian Art courses myself, and I pored over the fine, large chart of the Chinese radicals that was under glass on C.'s coffee table, which occupied the whole center of the bed-sitting room. With German, Latin, and Greek on my plate, though, I had to choose, and I did not pursue Asian languages further. In the street level view of the house in Google, that was upper left; upper right was the kitchen-study. It was delightful to sit in the corner with windows on both the west and north. I had potted African violets there, too, but I find that the only sketch I have of violets dates from the time at 2622 College Ave., so they belonged to Nati Baldeon, not to me. A student desk set perpendicular to the wall just east of the eating corner had bookcases, I think brick-and-board or apple boxes or liquor boxes (then of stout wood and quite smooth: orange crates were rough), which lined the corner walls behind the desk chair. On the narrow strip of wall between the north window and the bookcases, I had prints, about 9" X 12", of the poets Walther von der Vogelweide and Tannhäuser from the famous Minnesinger book.
The door to the apartment opened on a landing (the rear apartment's door faced it); running west of that, was a kind of wide hall or narrow room and at its end the bathroom, which did have a window. The apartment below mine was just like it, except for the position of the door. It was occupied by D.S., whom both C. and I knew from the UC Library. D. was in electrical engineering, and from him I learned the essentials of good high fidelity components (and assembling amplifiers from Heath Kits, so that they really worked) and good performances of lots of recorded music that I hadn't heard before. I didn't mind at all that he was studying French Horn. When he went to work for Service Bureau Corporation in San Francisco, a wholly owned IBM subsidiary, and worked till midnight, when I heard him come in, if he put on music I'd go down to talk and to listen.
Eventually, the rear ground floor apartment was occupied by my friend S., a fine pianist, and her first husband, J., a cantor. Her second marriage was to a gentile mathematician. It worked. They had two wonderful children, one of whom became a professional musician. I tried to visit them whenever I came to Berkeley and kept in touch even in Louisiana. Now she has died.
You will have concluded that apartments that were a pleasure to live in were never advertised; we might just pin a For Rent sign on the porch for a couple of days if no one we knew was in need of a good place with us as neighbors (lovers of Classical hi-fi and French horns preferred). Not that they were spacious apartments by present-day standards or had improved plumbing or heat except from the oven of the cooking stove or AC except by opening windows. The cooking stove was the kind on four legs, with oven and broiler high, and matches rather than pilot lights for the gas (safer, as I explained in describing the 1930s).
Best of all, my apartment was painted a rich brown, except for the ceiling. The windowless hall room was green, not pale, I'm nearly sure. And I had, from this time forward, the olive, rust, and black cotton corduroy drapes inspired by the colors of the Kabuki theater.
I think that I lived in 2308 Haste from sometime in 1955 to 1959, when in June I sailed to Europe and to Greece.
It will take me some time to find pictures that go with my first real home; this is just the period for which the box containing all my prints and negatives was trashed by my brother in law Ch. But I do have one. Someone took it with, presumably, a Brownie Hawkeye, or the like. It shows me holding my very new first nephew, B. III, when my sister Lorna and her Bill brought him to show my mother; it was taken at my mother's place, and this was the only time I was there, so I can only say that it was somewhere in the Berkeley flatlands.

Aunt Pat with Bill III, about six weeks old.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

P.S. to Entracte


Meadow and Sierra Nevada

Lake Tahoe from eponymous town in California

One advantage of this blog is to make me examine things. Why my mixed feelings about Yosemite? My never having been able to get to it, I realize, caused in childhood feelings of inferiority, of being unworthy to get there and my family's being incapable of doing it for me. On reflection, I am sure of that. Similar feelings about Tahoe were removed by my friends from the Oakland High School yearbook, the Oaken Bucket (I had been art editor), taking me there, as well as up into the Sierra to their cabin.
And my significant memory of a drive from Eugene, Oregon, which took us to another, smaller lake, surely another one in a crater (the Cascade Range is all volcanic), still and clear and deep blue, is surely connected with my child's desire to see Crater Lake itself.
Also, though the irritating Mr. Cronon continued to irritate, the account of the struggle to save Great Smoky Park, the one park that I actually have driven through a corner of, in the midst of congressional fights yet again (for health care), struck home. Perhaps I can drive up there myself again, just to stop and look and take pictures. It is not too steep or precipitous for me, if I don't try to hike, and I'll take a cell phone as well as one of the better cameras. If I manage to do so, I'll put a few pictures in a posting here. Like Margaret Gerke, I am old enough to be glad to get home and not to try anything manic. Finally, no matter how much relentless background fiddle playing with voice-over annoys me (the way that exhaust odors in Yosemite and overheard inanities annoy others), I am much impressed with Dayton Duncan's script; I can't imagine how having to write for everyone could be done better.

My friends' cabin

All photos Summer 1997. I hadn't even known that I'd want sweat togs as well as a muumuu, so they stopped for me to get some at a strip mall. Twelve years ago; note vintage Nikon camera case.

P.S. I remember now: in indulging myself in driving the Coast Route from Oregon to California for holidays, whenever the weather permitted (not to get stuck in snow either en route to the coast or in the Siskiyou), I did drive right through the Redwoods, the beloved Redwoods.  To be sure, I was inspired by Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, not by awareness of their being a National Park, but they had been so named by the time I was driving my own car.  The Coast Route was pretty windy for a VW, original wheel base, but lovely to look at.  Farther south, I went inland.  South of San Francisco the scenic route traffic was a bit much for a novice driver, being Monterey and all that jazz.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Entr'acte: Our National Parks

As a Californian and as a teacher of History of Photography for more than a decade, I could not resist turning on PBS for Part I of the multi-part documentary by Ken Burns, and company. And, though his prose is anything but Biblical or Shakespearean, I do revere John Muir.
Yesterday, on C-SPAN, a caller deplored the entrance fees that now make visits to the National Parks prohibitive to whole families, especially those with children of just the age to be taken to them. That is not quite new, either. Though it is right to prohibit tent camping and campfires in the park, the cost of staying in approved accommodations also adds greatly to the expense. The Parks certainly are not accessible to everybody, and they never were.
I was a child of the Depression and the War years. Both parents worked, neither earning very much, and never having vacations or sufficient (coinciding) weekends to go to Yosemite. In any case, we never had a car that could be counted on to get up to Yosemite—or gasoline coupons sufficient, either. I am very grateful, however, to the California State Textbooks in Social Studies that had pictures, as well as to a few of my grandparents' stereoscope views, mostly of Sequoias, which brought them as close as . . . as close as the moon, photographed by the Palomar telescope. When I was at university a friend, R. A., who had a little English car, was driving two of us up to see Yosemite, but did not realize that England had not counted on such altitudes and had installed a vacuum assist (I think it was called) on the clutch. So we only got half way.
In elementary school, I had a children's book, called Carmen of the Golden Coast, from which I learned of Crater Lake and was possessed by a desire to see it. In later years, when I taught at the University of Oregon, given its short open season and my friends' having seen it already as children and my not getting a car and learning to drive through half of my tenure there, I never did get to Crater Lake which had been (dare I confess) the one thing in Oregon I looked forward to seeing. I did go to Timberline Lodge, a really great WPA project, on Mt. Hood shortly before leaving Oregon, though of course not to stay.
My roommate of the 1950s, M., had earned her yearly expenses for tuition, books, etc., by working at the hotel in Yosemite, and I thought that was wonderful.
The best thing I have to report is that, after his retirement, when they were in their sixties, my grandparents did go on a sort of long-delayed honeymoon (as both of them called it, in separate conversations) to Yosemite. Never mind that they were past hiking; they went. It meant a lot to them.
I am not complaining. I have seen much that summer vacationers never see, because all my adult travel itineraries have been governed by what I needed to study: needed to for research; research for tenure and promotion, which sometimes took me, walking around cities, where tour groups did not go and allowed me (museums close early) to stop for as long as I wished to look at things.
But no one should say that the U. S. National Parks are for everyone. They were for The Bobbesey Twins and their friends. They are for those who can take cars a long way, for those who could take trains (while we had them), for those who do not need to stay at the cheapest chain motel. In Europe, on the other hand, I can spend all day on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace free of charge (respecting the gardening and avoiding littering, of course) or even, as of the one time I did so, at Versailles. I think I could wander all over the glories of Switzerland, too. Of course, it may be necessary to charge admission to maintain the American parks, since Americans are exceedingly quick to call socialist anything that is publicly funded, but it is not true that ours belong to everyone and theirs don't!
And then there's the Religion thing. First, John Muir was not a Christian, any more than Emerson was. Second, strings of rhetorical questions on the order of Only God can Make a Tree, etc., etc. are asinine and offensive. Persons who know what awe is don't talk like that. Those who know what awe is do not belittle the work of the architects of cathedrals any more than they belittle John Muir. All the way through the public schools, pious dimwit teachers drummed into us that we are small and Nature is great, harassing us brutally if we asked whether it isn't great to perceive the vastness of it all, never considering that "Nature" does not consider what the creatures capable of awe might really be. It was worse than a dentist who typically jams one's mouth full and then preaches about oral maintenance, repeating just what one has known all one's life. Third, there's the nation's worst painter, Bierstadt, who sold his work as Nature, even divine Nature, and in fact not only worked indoors and away from site but falsified the colors (those vile, lurid colors) and added gratuitous figures and copied his own pictures, serially, rather than going out to take another look. Sometimes he even used a photograph by one of his contemporaries rather than go outside at all. His painting has far less sense of light and space and natural form than any of the photographs, even the commercial stereoscope ones. Yet, sure enough, here's Mr. Burns' script, extolling Bierstadt. Besides, the documentary has this man named Cronon whose love affair with the camera and whose curious waving of his face and whose words spoil every sequence that he's in.
I have thought, I'll have a look at the book, or perhaps I'll get the DVDs and play them with the sound muted, even though I was delighted to be reminded of my favorite childhood Sunday School song:
This is my Father's world / And to my listening ears / All Nature sings and round me rings / The music of the spheres.
I hadn't heard that for more than half a century.