Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Revisiting Swarthmore 2015

Last weekend, I spent two days, Friday and Saturday, on the campus of Swarthmore College, where I taught from 1966 to 2001, the year when I retired.  As I tell my former students in jest, I am in the Class of 2001, having taken me 35 years to graduate, and to me Swarthmore truly feels like my Alma Mater, certainly more strongly than any of the schools I graduated from — my high school (St. Joseph’s College in Yokohama), UC Berkeley, and Harvard, or Santa Rosa Junior College where I spent the first three semesters in the U.S.  In fact, I have never been to any reunion at these institutions.  

The occasion for this visit was the Inauguration of Valerie Smith, the 15th president; I admired her from afar since the time her appointment was announced and considered most opportune to attend her formal installation.  So, I also volunteered to be one of the hosts to accompany visiting delegates (some in proxy) as this gave me the opportunity to put on the regalia and join the Academic Procession for nostalgia’s sake.  The celebration started with performances the previous evening.  On Saturday, there was a breakfast by invitation, followed by two symposia on the character of the Swarthmore education with panels of alumni, entitled Changing Lives: Access and transformation and Changing the World: Local Actions and Global Impacts.  Following the lunch the Procession Ceremony and Installation Ceremony the full afternoon.  I headed home before the evening entertainment. 

The day was exhausting; I came home exhausted.  But I was glad to have been there.  Hearing the alumni talk about Swarthmore's excellent education was stirring; seeing old colleagues, including David Fraser and Dorie Friend, the two earlier presidents, was gratifying; finding Maralyn Gillespie looking well and remembering the alumni cruises she had me to participate, one trip to Scandinavia, Estonia, and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and another to Japan and China, was heart-warming; meeting and chatting with alumni-friends I have not seen for years was endearing; marching in the Academic Procession for the first time since 2001 was enthralling; and the addresses by visiting college presidents and by Valerie Smith herself were all so uplifting. 

This is certainly the last time I shall wear a regalia and march ceremoniously; this may well be the last time I shall participate in any formal event on campus.  I went with a certain sense of collegiate duty, a sort of pilgrimage, but returned home totally gratified, feeling almost patriotic to my “alma mater.” 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Antigone stripped down

The appearance of Juliette Binoche brought me to BAM to see her in Antigone, a Sophocles masterpiece, which I discovered only after making a reservation that Ivo van Hove directed it in Anne Carson’s new translation.  This information deflated my enthusiasm.  But, surprisingly, van Hove showed restraint quite contrary to his customary self-indulgent histrionics; the stage was bare and the actors moved sparingly; and Anne Carson’s translation, heavily edited down, followed the original closely so far as the lines she retained were concerned.  Spoken words took precedence, and that was fine; but more poetic lines were gone and so the high emotions of the drama.  The production, with its nearly exclusive focus on the theme of law and justice, was drained of flesh and bone, like the limp raincoat that represented Haimon’s bloody dead body in the last scene.  There was no tragedy in this Greek tragedy, not much Greek either in modern dress. 

50 Old, 50 Young

When I left Japan to come to the U.S. to study, I was 19 and Mother was 50.  From my vantage point, she was by no means very old but mature and old, perhaps just for being my mother.  When I reached 50, I thought of myself as still young and vigorous; there is no way I could think that I was at Mother’s age.  My niece in Japan, the younger daughter of my elder sister, with an 11-year old daughter of her own, reached 50 this year, and she is oh so young, over 30 years my junior.  A person’s age is a peculiar phenomenon.  It betrays the fluid perspectival perception of time.