Saturday, July 25, 2009

"1959" by a then 5-year-old writer

On BookTV, I just heard an affable journalist twenty years my junior read most of the first chapter of his book, "1959", and discuss in Q & A some of the rest. It makes a difference to have been born in 1934 instead of 1954 and to have been becoming a Classical art historian rather than a journalist. Mr. Kaplan, who writes for Slate, is reputed to be a quite good journalist.
By now we have had a decade of documentaries and special issues of periodicals and essays (both video and print) on discrete periods of the last century. Most of them, understandably, have been by persons now in their prime of life, which means, mirabile dictu, that they are too young to have been merely under thirty during the 1960s. By now, any of us who are at all observant know by heart the highlights of the databases that generated the time lines of all those commemorations. So I am prepared to judge Mr. Kaplan's work by what he includes, and what he says, that is not shared by most of the rest.
He does handle his database and his time line well, but I couldn't help but hear how much more alive and deep and 'textured' his recollections of the 'neglected' 1970s are. I hope he'll write a book on the late 1970s before his actual memories either fade or become hopelessly enmeshed in amalgamated journalism. Besides, I have several friends who are as much as twenty years younger than me, whose educational choices, whose attraits, were different from Mr. Kaplan's, apparently. Not better, not worse, but different. Mr. Kaplan seemed to assume that his 1959 was generally adequate, although, when he was questioned, he admitted that an Asian or European time line and discussion would have other emphases.
I do remember powerfully and vividly most of what Kaplan emphasizes: satellites, Eisenhower's stroke, hormone research and, with it, the availability of Enovid (which he pronounced differently from what we said at the time), and much else. Although one of my roommates worked for Ralph Gleason, it was only much later that I noticed, researched, and listened to jazz, such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but I agree with their inclusion. We all (whom I knew) had begun reading James Baldwin, whom Kaplan may or may not mention (I've never got around to Norman Mailer, I admit guiltily, whom he does mention more than once) and Mary MacCarthy, both of my parents' generation, whose best known books came just before and after 1959. We picked up an early part of Catch-22, also of the bumper crop of 1962, perhaps as early as 1959, in the annual New World Writing (as "Catch-19", if I recall correctly). Everything about Partisan Review was still interesting to us. I am a re-reader; in 1959 I was still re-reading Lionel Trilling's The Liberal Imagination and Edmund Wilson's Memoirs of Hecate County. I never have finished reading Burroughs' The Naked Lunch, probably because drug experience doesn't interest me. Even more exciting was the quality achieved by stereo pick-ups and discs by 1959. I remember comparing Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto recordings in stereo hardly able to decide between them. Though some of the early releases in stereo had to be criticized as too "ping-pong", it was delightful to hear 1st and 2nd violins, for example, as if responding to each other. Recordings of Gabrieli echoing all over S. Marco basilica were of course very popular. I remember 1959 as a year when stereo recording was still fresh and exhilarating.
Permit me to remember the academic year 1958-1959 as a whole. In the summer of 1958 I had a grant for a seminar in New York City, my first trip out of California. I stayed at Columbia's International House, near the Riverside Church, both for economy and the ease of breakfast and dinner in its good cafeteria and because the seminar was up at 155th Street; also, if I wanted to go to the Metropolitan Museum, or indeed all the way to the Morgan Library or even the Brooklyn Museum, the #1 subway line or the #4 bus was right there as well. Apart from my studies, which were wonderful for me, though I was not quite prepared for them, I met persons I had known only from their books and articles (my professors at Berkeley being their coaevals and colleagues), I met the other members of the seminar, my age but educated in a variety of other environments, and at the I-House a Conservative Jewish young woman who was struggling with anorexia aggravated by kosher laws that she both wanted to break and couldn't break. I think her father had put her in I-House to separate her from her twin sister and to take her away from the Bronx for a while. I enjoyed knowing them both. Sometimes, with her, I went downtown and dined in non-meat cafeterias. Sometimes her father took us both to dinner at regular restaurants. We went to a yiddish theater. I have never forgotten them. As a northern Californian I had known many Jews, of course, but mostly Reformed or non-observant. New York was different. Most of the time, though, Monday through Friday, and sometimes weekends, I was studying, at the museums, at the Metropolitan Museum library, at the Avery Library. Paradise.
Then, back at Berkeley, I was advanced to candidacy for a Ph.D., by completing three day-long written exams, my languages exams, and the remainder of the course requirements. I won a fellowship to study in Greece and was accepted to become a member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. I began gathering material for a dissertation so that while there I could make progress on it. In the end I was at Athens for two years, so that is for another posting.
Before I left I imposed on all my friends, leaving many things with my major professor and his family. They gave me a wonderful party, at my friend Paulie's home. The picture I have uploaded here shows me opening a card containing a check sufficient for all the film I would need for the entire year. We did not shoot pictures the way that digital photography permits, even encourages. I have used almost every one of the photos I took in 1959-1961, both for my dissertation and for teaching of all kinds and at every level right down to my retirement in 2005-6. At the party, the pictures were taken by my friend Donald, who had a strobe flash for his Contaflex. I still remember this party as the most momentous thing ever in my life. I still cannot look at the 20 pictures without thinking that I have not given back to Berkeley what Berkeley (meaning, of course, Berkeleyans) did for me. I felt even then, who am I, and what am I, that they should do all this for me?
I stayed, till my ship, the Nea Yorkê, should sail from Manhattan's westside docks, for several days with a friend of the stepmother of my roommate, Marya, at her apartment overlooking the East River and wandered around the NYC German Town centered on E 86th and elsewhere. Just then, in June of 1959, the New York Times reported, several original Greek bronze statues had just been discovered in a warehouse where they'd lain buried, covered by the destroyed warehouse, since they were not, as it happened, shipped off to Rome. These were, of course, the soon famous Athena, the two Artemis statues, and the bronze Kouros of Piraeus. That Fall, with G. M. A. Richter accompanying us, the members of the School saw the Kouros in his distilled water bath as his earthen core was painstakingly removed and studied. There are, you see, events more exciting to a 25-year-old from California than anything in Kaplan's database.
That year my sister Lorna and her husband were stationed at the SAC base at Mildenhall and living off base at Cheveley village near Newmarket. I did, at some distance, see a brand-new B-52 on that visit, but the whole of East Anglia was still better. Mildenhall, of course, has a wonderful church. When the family was to have a Sunday picnic I opted for Ely Cathedral, which I love and which proved to be a great place to picnic with a young family—but that picnic was during the following summer's visit. I add another picture from 1959; these former stables, made into apartments, when I saw them in 1990 no longer resembled what they'd been built for. I was there for weeks and took the train, having a BritRailPass, every day either in to London to the British Museum or to Cambridge to the Fitzwilliam. I found the opportunity to buy my nephews English shirts and trousers (see photo) at Marks & Spencer's.
Milan, Piazza del Duomo, with friend's friend

Before I even got to Athens I stopped for nearly a week in Paris, where I fell in love, unalterably in love, with the Louvre, then for a couple of days in Milan (I wanted to see Sant' Ambrogio!), then for a week or more in Rome, where I stayed at the American Academy on the Janiculum and walked my legs off every day. Rome is inexhaustible. Finally I took the train to Brindisi so as to take the ship to Patras and through the Corinth Canal to Piraeus and up to Kolonaki. My trunk, shipped straight to Athens, yes, was awaiting me, and the School's Mr. Sakkas went with me to Piraeus to get it out of Customs. That was the beginning of what became my intermittent other life, life in the School in Greece.
I have written this Essay out of order, but I wanted to write out, so far as I could in one sitting straight into the computer, what remembering 1959 actually meant to me.
In sum, Kaplan is right. 1959 was the summation of the later 1950s. Only, for each group of us, and for each one of us, it was differently so. For me it was the year when my Alma Mater's gift to me came to a fruition, and the living in Europe and the seeing what I saw, which I had wondered whether I ever could do, actually was enabled. Later, during holidays from the School in Athens I also visited Germany and Sicily and, as the Ely picnic shows, returned to visit my sister's family, too. That's 4 1/2 days on the line of the Orient Express (but not that train!). There is nothing like trains for seeing country.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Stern Grove, Golden Gate Park, and their like

So long as I lived at home, during my last two years in high school, we might take the car and a picnic and go to Fleischacker Zoo (now simply San Francisco Zoo), or to Golden Gate Park, where the Japanese Tea Garden (never drastically altered, only called Oriental, if I recall correctly) was once again called by its real name, where there were seals in the pools, where the De Young Museum had not yet been damaged by an earthquake or so well endowed that it couldn't exhibit its holdings. In either case, we could hope to ride the merry-go-round, a carrousel with good animals and, as I recall, a large mechanical organ (not a phonograph with a loudspeaker). There was plenty of space to sit on the grass for a picnic. I loved the museums, perhaps most of all the Palace of the Legion of Honor overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, with its Rodins and, newly acquired, paintings from the Kress Collection. But I went back to them alone later, too, when there were not younger members of the family to take into account.
Best of all, I loved it when there was San Francisco Ballet, or Symphony, or Opera at Stern Grove. By writing ahead you might get places at the ring of picnic tables halfway up the natural cavea. Sometimes there was operetta, too. We went to Stern Grove on Sunday at least once a month in the summer. The performances were really good, and everyone there enjoyed them. And they were free, utterly free. It was such a lovely place, such a beautiful tradition. The time that Gaetano Merola, the conductor of the San Francisco Opera, collapsed during a performance, we saw him carried out but only in the next day's papers learned that he had died. Once when we had picnic table places, sharing the same table was a very nice man who proved to be the father of one of the young solo dancers. I was doing quick watercolor sketches from life, which he noticed and, to my delight, asked whether I'd send it to them. The dancer cannot have liked it; I knew nothing about dance except that I loved to watch it, and I must surely have gotten it wrong. She performed the Bluebird pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty. But her father's friendliness was very San Franciscan. My love of The Merry Widow dates from a Stern Grove performance. The opera was usually scenes or acts from the coming season's repertory.
During the 1960s, especially, I was sure that with out-of-town hippies and drugs all over the Park everything I loved must have been discontinued or damaged. The great thing always had been the perfect safety and tranquillity of the Park, and no one ever told us not to toss peanuts to the brown bears who sat and rocked to get attention. In the late 1960s the flower children were wilted or even rotten and some thought it funny to do things that really aren't funny at all but certainly take all the joy out of fun. No, I really didn't object to what anyone did in private, but it made me sad when they took over a great public park so that the general public could not enjoy it in peace. Gunfire was rare, but it had been non-existent.
So I never have been back to Stern Grove. This evening, with some dread, I googled it. Did it even exist? It not only exists, but the season of programs is almost the same, and it looks just the same, and you can still enter the lottery for places at picnic tables. So I thought that, not yet having decided what to write up next, I'd write this tribute to my favorite city, which has maintained Stern Grove and its tradition and its being free and nice for a full century. Everyone talks of California as a place where the new happens, but it is my experience that in the whole Bay Area, and especially in San Francisco, continuity is as reliable as donkey rides and puppet theatre in the Luxembourg Gardens.
And that made me think: Which Bay Area park had donkey rides of its own? I think it is the Children's Park that had a miniature train ride: has it one still? Perhaps it was Tilden Park above Berkeley that had donkeys. I don't know. Tilden Park does have a beautiful 'period' merry-go-round. I chose to celebrate my 21st birthday by riding it. Not only was it an inexpensive excursion, but we could cloak the necessity of economizing in the guise of my artistic eccentricity.
The other discovery I made googling this evening, to check up on the well-being of Stern Grove, is that it is not, as I thought, part of Golden Gate Park; it doesn't even adjoin it. This is another instance of memory combining what one does know, as in the case of the beaches of San Luis Obispo county, which all alike were reached in a short car ride on a county road.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Berkeley, Our Alma Mater, 1953–1962

Taken by P. J. at Library Annex or another of the granite buildings, c. 1955.

Now that I've abandoned the year-by-year approach, I can take note of the re-play of Robert McNamara's Booknotes interview with Brian Lamb, the one interviewer who (even more than Charlie Rose) lets persons say what they want to and get carried away, too. This afternoon, when I heard R. McN. speak of Berkeley when the cost per semester, including healthcare, was only $52, and I heard him talking about how the university had opened a whole world for him, and how great everything was, I could almost have wept. Even an art school (of which more on another occasion) is too small to open a world. Berkeley offered professors from all over the world, in almost every subject, professors too possessed of savoir faire to point out to anyone, let alone undergraduates, what all they had published and how famous, in some cases, they were. Most who had left Europe in the 1930s were still too young to think of retiring. Home-grown faculty (Berkeley did not as a rule "inbreed"; by home-grown I mean U. S. American) were just as cosmopolitan, in most cases. Especially for a young Californian, who had never traveled at all, not even to Los Angeles or to Lake Tahoe, think what it meant to be at home in a University with a student body almost as richly varied (consider: the G.I. Bill; the population of California itself, the students who had followed professors attracted to Berkeley from other institutions all over the nation; the foreign students, finally, only a few of whom lived in the International House). Most of all, consider a university in a lovely town, with San Francisco just across the Bay via the F Train, with a climate that required no winter clothes, a university where, by working half time, 20 hours or so per week, at minimum wage, you could work your way through the university and graduate with excellent degrees—without any debt. This last consideration had not mattered to another of my father's generation, Robert Oppenheimer, but it did matter to Robert McNamara, a little younger than my mother, and nothing much had changed by the early 1950s. Tuition for Californians and for graduate students was still free; what we paid was for the processing of our records and for Cowell Hospital, where both doctoring and medication was provided for all students. This included psychiatry, when necessary, and it included 'crabs powder', for example. They were careful about what they prescribed, but it all was included. Sprains and breaks were included. We used to say that if you were capable of the hike uphill to Cowell, you pretty surely were strong enough to recover (of course, someone would drive you up there if necessary), but I remember just using an Ace bandage and gingerly making my way uphill, about half a kilometer I guess, being careful not to make it worse, in order to have a foot XRay'd (no bones, in fact, had been broken when I tripped on a block of steel).
So let's begin at the beginning, since it is possible that registering at the university has changed with the advent of adequate IT. Because it began at Cowell Hospital. All of us had to go through the medical examination. Provided. Of course, lots of useful data on basic conditions were collected, but everything was done by competent people. Although California required being able to swim the length of a standard pool in order to graduate from high school, mine, OHS, was one of the city high schools that had no pool, so I never learned to swim. The university, of course, let you in anyhow and, to my great relief, did not require any further physical education. We did wear the regulation women's swimsuits, though, to go through the physical examination, one-piece cotton knit, dark green (as I recall), much laundered (after each use by everybody who used the pools), utterly unglamorous. It took all afternoon. Not only height, weight, hair color, whether hair grew on the middle joint of our fingers, posture, gait, lungs and heart, blood pressure, but hearing and eyesight and color-blindness. Basic small-muscle coordination, too (dexterity—and, yes, left and right handedness). I probably forgot something. Anyway, I passed all. If I came to Cowell as a student, it was all there. I only went to Cowell twice, in fact, in the course of earning three degrees.
Now, why didn't I go off to Harvard as Mr. McNamara did? Not that I wasn't advised to. Best not to have all three degrees from one far-western university, they said, even Berkeley, which had just been rated one of the four best in the country. I was scared. I saw in magazines and read in fiction how students dressed, in some cases were required to dress, and had to live on campus. How could I do that? In order to fit working and studying together I had to have a flexible schedule and be able to eat when I could and what I could (I was already good at being careful about nutrition); I couldn't abide by dormitory lock-out hours, for example. And I had to dress decently, in the minimal sense (clean and neat), though that meant that half my clothes were from bargain 'ends' of yardage and sewn by hand. That meant skirts from simple patterns and blouses, almost all white, to go with everything else. Suppose Harvard or Bryn Mawr gave me a scholarship: what would I do? Besides, I barely knew how to use knives and forks properly, while things like introducing and being introduced gave me nightmares. Working half time allowed me to pay my rent and buy my groceries and save a bit each week towards the next semester's fees. Having no 'credit', neither had I any debt, but even as my academic strengths grew, I was so far behind in social graces that, though very tactful assistance was provided, I thought that I'd never catch up. Luckily, some of my best and dearest mentors had worked their way through university in the 1930s. To them the likes of me did not seem like a welfare case (and I wasn't one; I'd moved away from home in 1952 and thenceforth supported myself), and they were wise and extra kind to me. To many of the ex-Europeans, I think, most Americans alike seemed simply American, and they behaved to us as if they enjoyed knowing us and inviting us to tea and talking about books and concerts that we'd never heard of but which they discussed with us just as if we were knowledgeable. There is no way that they ever could be thanked enough. The things they showed us, prints, statuettes, coins, paintings, furniture, photographs were a world indeed. Half of my education shows up on my academic transcripts, but the other half is from the kindly post-parenting of my parents' generation but coming from a variety of worlds that my parents never knew.
Like many others of my generation at Berkeley, born in the early 1930s, I never wanted to leave Berkeley (except to travel and then come home), but the alma mater did have thousands more coming along behind us, and whoever had to support herself or himself had to move away. Only those who remained ABD (all-but-dissertation...) remained and sought other employment. Eventually I moved to Oregon. Not bad, but not Berkeley.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

More 1949-1950

At left, c. 1930, my father's second sister, Audine (b. 1908), with her husband Harold McLaren in Bishop, California. I met her in person only about 20 year later, on the occasion of my father's funeral.
Many of my high school friends are not only (like me) still alive but still my friends, though at a distance, since I now live in a place that once I knew only from Travel shorts at the movies and from the then-new Holiday Magazine. It is not like writing about the children of my early childhood, and hereafter I really shall write on topics, as they occur to me, not about one homeroom after the other, since homerooms no longer were the cohesive factor of school. When I think of something that might (or might not) be quite different now, I'll write it up.
For now, to get to May, 1950, apart from OHS.
Around the corner from the house on E. 25th Street was a neighborhood grocery, which also had newspapers and magazines and paperback books. No one knew yet what paperback books would become. Mostly they were just pulp fiction and collections of occasional interest, like "A Pocket Book of Boners", first published in 1945 with some illustrations by Dr. Seuss before he became really famous. It remained in print for at least a decade: 'By self-pollination a farmer can get a flock of long-haired sheep' or even 'An epistle is an apostle's wife' do not lose their charm. But at the grocery I found Thomas Craven's Greek Art, Paul J. Sachs' Great Drawings, and Herman J. Wechsler's Gods and Goddesses, all published by Pocket Books. One at a time, I acquired them, less than a dollar apiece. Though small, the pictures were photogravure. The text, especially Sachs, was very good, too. Thomas Craven did a workmanlike job on the Greeks. I don't remember where or exactly when I began to get other small books, perhaps at Holmes' Bookstore in downtown Oakland. My pocket money was always limited enough that I got them one at a time and digested each one, most of all, however, those first three. The selection of Gods and Goddesses wasn't the usual Betmann Archive stuff in our school books. The Great Drawings, of course, came mostly from the Fogg. Sachs became one of the most formative influences on my deepest, if unarticulated, ideas and ideals. Often, when I have to stop and wonder how an alumna of Longfellow and Elmhurst Junior High Schools got and never questioned the assumptions of an aesthetics and an American culture entirely different from what I might expect myself to have, the answer comes with a recollection of those little Pocket Books in my hands, the Pocket Books that guided me to my choice of museum shows until I got to university.
During this year and a half my brother, on his newspaper route, barreled down a cross street and was hit, and thrown from his bike, in the middle of 14th Avenue (I think). I remember seeing him still unconscious in Highland Hospital. He was the one that had been severely hyperactive and was severely dyslexic, the one who had broken his leg, the one who was always accident prone. Nature is not fair, and certainly not nice. Not many months later he became severely ill. The doctors at Permanente in Oakland, whose Plan the family had now joined in connection with Daddy's employment at Swans, also called in specialists from the UC Hospital in San Francisco (or was it Stanford?). They diagnosed glomerular nephritis, and Permanente proposed a two-way, simultaneous, live blood transfusion to save him, which was experimental except on animals; it required a close relative of the same blood type as his. Bear in mind that that was pretty much just A, B, AB, and O—whatever was currently understood during the Korean War, anyway. My mother's type did not match. My father's did. They signed the understanding of the experimental nature of the operation, the cross-transfusion. Within a week my father's jaundice was obvious, and he was weakening. I think it was ten days after it that he died. I remember the telephone call coming into the house. I remember holding my littler sister Linda, sobbing, to try to comfort her and having no idea how to comfort her or myself. Of course, the bottom had fallen out of our world, That's pretty much what I remember and all that I understood. The newspapers came, Time, or was it Newsweek, took pictures of our mother and of Brucie, borrowed and made copies for the papers of the picture taken of Daddy at the previous year's Swan's annual company picnic. The following year there was a trial for malpractice, and a settlement was made: no way would my mother, questioned, be conducive to winning, and, besides, both parents had signed the release.
My classmates sent me a lovely potted azalea. Lorna's classmates sent her notes and poems. We were out of school till after the funeral. And all the relatives came, even relatives that I only knew as return addresses on Christmas cards. But they, my Aunt Audine, who lived in Bishop, CA, for example, remembered my father as their little brother. And it was my first and only experience of a funeral. I couldn't hate funerals worse if my name were Jessica Mitford.
Brucie went to my grandparents for a few months. Some doctors said he never had had glomerular nephritis, and I, for one, shall never know. To a certain extent my mother bucked up to meet the challenge. Can you believe it? She trained for Stanley Home Products. I shall write a whole essay some day on doing Stanley parties with her. Something quite remarkable happened for me: a reporter for the Hearst papers came to cover our family; shortly thereafter I was invited to come spend the summer as an au pair, as we say now, to help in a large house and with four children, then ages 5 to 12. When they went to Russian River I went with them. As it happened, they were Catholic and a great education in upper middle class Irish Catholicism to a Presbyterian child like me, though they saw to it that I could attend Presbyterian services. On my afternoon off, I also could attend Kepplers book store down town. Palo Alto is a lovely town still.