Friday, 30 January 2009

Literary Tripping

During the academic year 1967-68, I directed the Beaver College London program based in South Kensington, with classrooms at City of London College in the Moorgate area. I had taught summer school in London in 1966 so we knew our way around the big city. The kids were safely parked as day students in the American School, and the college had provided us with a suitable flat in the Maida Vale district. I taught only one course each semester, the first comparing British and American writers (e.g., Dickens and Twain), kind of an Ur-International English Lit course, the second on the Real Thing, Caribbean, African, Australian and so on. The highlight was a reading by the Robert Frost of Australia.

I also had to organize orientation trips. The second was a lark: met them at Prestwick, bussed them to Scottish TV in Glasgow to see a Richard Hoggart based documentary on the decline in the servant class in Britain and a film on the great Scots poet, Hugh Macdiarmid. Then lunch in Cumbernauld, the planned town, where dessert was a lecture on Macdiarmid by Alexander Scott of the University of Glasgow. Edinburgh for a new play on Aberfan, the Welsh coal mining village that had been ravaged by a landslide of slurry. Next Berwick on Tweed (Beaver's iconic Horace Trumbauer's Castle is a gloss on the city's Alnick Castle.)

Then Newcastle on Tyne, where the most famous Geordie poet, Tony Harrison, laid it on them in a one man slam. Coventry, for the Cathedral en route to Liverpool. There they were treated to a Beatlesque version of a medieval morality play at Everyman Theatre. (God: Everything is wuuunderfull.) Alas, as the booker of hotels, I am ashamed to say I goofed there. Hooker City. I had signed up for a hotel with very red lights. But the hostess was accommodating. No moral crises! Ive never seen students more eager to get down to business viz.arriving in London where they could start crawling the pubs.

One of perks I took as the director was to fashion trips of my own, with and without students. Our first was to the Belfast Festival. I asked the director there if he could recommend a poet who would let me record a chrestomathy of Northern Ireland's poets so that students who couldn't afford the trip could take a trip with my Uher tape recorder. The poet arrived on time. He looked strange to me. Kind of like a hulking farm boy,with cow shit still on his boots. He began to read the work of his peers, Paul Muldoon, James Simmons.

Good stuff, until he got to his own! Digging, for example. It turned out to be Seamus Heaney, of whom I had heard nary a line, nay word, up to them. He was stupendous. Later in 1970 I would take him on a week long trip along the Atlantic coast. A serendipitous encounter. We began at Trenton State, where a lively Mick, Fred Kiley, had replaced me when I went on to Penn. Then we went to the Young Mens Hebrew Association in Philly to screen the London Weekend Television film about him, Heaney in Limboland. (He had not yet seen it! So there was a double buzz that night.) Then we took the train to D.C. and signed him into the Poetry Center at the Library of Congress. Next door is the Supreme Court. As the County Derry farm boy ogled the coffered ceilings of that splendid structure, he whispered to me like an altar boy in church. Is this where they had that big decision about segregated education? Yes, Seamus. That was the place.

Then we flew to Columbia, South Carolina where it was Seamus desire to palaver with James Dickey,its most famous poet. He was being snooty and wouldn't meet us. His loss. Our gain was a delightful evening with the English Department colleagues of Morse Peckham, a former Penn friend of mine, at the University of South Carolina. Can't win them all in Academe. Finally, we flew on to Atlanta, put him up in John Portman's showplace of a hotel, the Peachtree Plaza, so he could rest for his reading at the National Council of Teachers of English Convention. It bugged me that the audience there was merely the Miltonic fit audience though few. Seamus, of course, went on to Berkeley, Harvard, and eventually Stockholm for the Nobel Prize. But for those seven luminous daze I was his Virgil! It never happened for me with a better poet.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

In the Wake of Whitman

One of my fondest serendipities stemmed from discovering in 1973 Whitman's mausoleum in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden was all but falling down. My girlfriend's birthday was May 30th, and we have driven to the shore at Cape May to celebrate. On the way back to Philly I mentioned that May 31st was Whitman's birthday, and she asked me if I had ever visited his grave. I had to admit, shamefacedly, that I hadn't yet, making a dangerous 180 degree turn on the approaches to the Walt Whitman Bridge, and heading straight for the cemetery.

What a let down. Camden, after all, was the most stressed city in New Jersey, like Newark across the river from New York City, and Oakland across the Bay from San Francisco. Minority dumps. But there was a special reason to find his grave's condition deplorable: It was the centennial of the stroke that made him move from Washington, D.C. to Camden, where he could live with his brother George Washington Whitman, and his aging mother.

But by what we Americanists call a remarkable Providence (like the mice eating only the Anglican prayer books in an eighteenth century New England Congregational church!), the National Council of Teachers of English was having its annual convention in Philadelphia. I wrote the Executive Committee for permission to carry sandwich boards up and down the aisles of the Convention Center emblazoned with mottoes contrived to open the tight fists of the English teachers: A BUCK FOR THE BARD or SAVE WALT’S VAULT: Bob Hogan replied that if I would can the sleazy rhetoric, I had a green light. So I set up in a booth, flogging my 1974 calendar WAKE UP TO WHITMAN!, a mini-anthology of testimonials to Walt's fructifying impact on American culture with fans as disparate as Louis Sullivan and Pablo Neruda.

I didn't sell many calendars, but I gave a lot away, and collected $828 from my English teaching colleagues, and arranged for the City of Camden to repair the mausoleum. Incidentally, it was a scandal at the time (1890) that Walt declaiming his worst late poetry at the masons may well have exacerbated the crisis to come. He had cribbed the design from William Blake and when the contemporary masons were finished repairing it, you could say its minute particulars had been saved!

So now we needed a Graveyard Party on his next birthday to rededicate it. Emilygrams (postcards with Emily Dickinson's only image) were dispatched to the Delaware Valleys poets and lovers of poetry. We asked the local to charge up their muses and come up with some new ones for the Old Man. The uncreative clods like me who merely loved the man's take on the world read their favorite passages (The hinge of the human hand puts to scorn all machinery/) or their favorite poem to Whitman. Mine remains Daniel Hoffman’s On Crossing Walt Whitman Bridge where we learn that there is a WW Hotel, a WW Package Liquor Store, etc, but few readers keeping alive his indigenous flame.

At that time I was doing arts reporting for National Public Radio, and they carried the ceremonies live. I bought nine (the number of the Muses) bottles of Great Western (Heh, none of that extraneous French bubbly for our American hero). And I brought a lilac bush to plant outside his mausoleum. Alas, our idea of pouring ritual libations on the fledgling bush during the party killed it as I discovered the following year upon making a snap inspection.

My colleague, Bill Fabrizio, chairman of the Beaver College Music department, a jazz composer, as well as Frank Sinatra's mandatory flugel horn accompanist when he sang at Atlantic City, created a jazz suite for the occasion, Perhaps Luckier, an allusion to Whitman's faith and hope that Death was not the dirge two centuries of Calvinism had drilled into the American subconscious. It was a swell party, worthy of its subject.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Corboozing at Ronchamp

The great news is that a senior cadre of the Sisters of Clare (an offshoot of the Franciscans—the Assisi boy would be thrilled)—are moving to Ronchamp to make Notre Dame en Haut more of a church than it’s ever been. And Renzo Piano has accepted the challenge of designing a nunnery that will neither detract from God nor Corbusier. The real crisis is that 100,000 architecture buffs a year have turned the sacred shrine into a gawker religion. We’re counting on those old nuns to show those geeks how to bend their knees piously. There will even be ten secular bedrooms to accommodate travelers in search of Corbooms.

It happened that the summer of 1987, the centennial of Corbusier’s birth, I was madly beguiled by a Portuguese maiden in the Immigration Department of the City of Grenoble. I had headed for that sissy Alpine city because Serge Renaud, a Paris architect friend of mine, had said that the worker’s housing his father had made in Grenoble was even greater than his first big assignment in Ivry-sur-Seine, the Communist’s favorite part of the Capital. Its main streets were named after Maurice Throrez and its squares after Robespierre. And I had lived for several weeks in Ivry and thrilled to its public works. I went to the Immigration Department in Grenoble in search of maps and orientation, and explained that I was “an immigrant” from Philadelphia! Right? But that beguilement is another story. For later.

The main connection with Ronchamp was the train station in nearby Belfort. It was in yellow Constructivist brick, and a visual wonder. So I decided to stay overnight in Belfort to take a good look, which meant that the local train to Ronchamp arrived the next morning at 7:00 a.m. As a former Altar Boy, I was used to entering churches at ungodly hours. But it was locked so I turned with American directness to the rectory. Shall I say the Abbe who answered his own door was not in a charitable mood! “Vous Americains!” began his tirade. I prayed for Sanctifying Grace and told him tartly that he should be reading his Breviary at this hour not insulting Corbu Boosters. This stunned him, and before he realized what he was doing, he invited me into the Rectory rather than the Church I had come for.

I asked him how come a Swiss agnostic was assigned a pilgrimage church. He countered with a rhetorical questions. “Qui a cree le Temple de Solomon?" I got his point. "Not a Jew!" He showed me a small book he had written as a guide to “church” which he later inscribed to me. By eight o’clock he had opened his wine cellar and was treating me to his finest cru’s. And by nine a.m. he was unwrapping his collection of Corbu crafted pornographic drawings. Hmm. I began to wonder if the good Abbe was making a move on me. No such luck. I think he was just a bit ashamed of the sullenness of our first encounter. Needless to say I had almost no one to interfere at that early hour on a Monday with my delectation of my second most favorite building in the world.

If eggnostic beggars can be choosers in Heaven, I want God to know as soon as my papers are signed that my idea of eternal rapture is not communing with him but relishing my favorite buildings. I would present him with my own Pritzker Prizes. Number one of course would be Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water” (Bear Run, PA), two would be Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer’s Zeche Zollverein (Essen, Germany), third Ronchamp, fourth Oscar Niemeyer’s MAC art museum (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), fifth Mt.Saint Michel (Normandy, France), and so on and on—for eternity.

But because it was Corbu’s centennial year, I went on to organize what I called an ODD-I-SEE, a genre I first devised in 1982 to celebrate the golden anniversary of FLW’s founding of his first architectural slave labor camp in Taliesin, WI. USAirways was then only a lonely old local airline called Allegheny, but in an attempt to nationalize its customer base it set up “The Liberty Fare” (three weeks use of any or all of their routes for an absurdly cheap $175). I booked Phoenix immediately, soon I was being led around Taliesin West by Bruce Pfeiffer, their honcho. When I explained it was my way of celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Taliesin East, he gave me a blank look. It was on their calendar! (Later, I’m happy to report they booked some suitable events. Event invention.)

Not to be distracted, but I noticed that one structure had cement painted to look like redwood! “What gives,” I pleaded. It seems that when Frank arrived in Arizona he was dazzled by the way water sparkled in the irrigation sluices. He immediately decided to use a lot of local redwood in Taliesin West buildings. Wrong, Wright. When no water lubricates the redwood, the cruel sun literally liquifies the redwood right into the atmosphere. He “repaired” his dream with painted cement.

It reminds me now of my Alvar Aalto ODD-I-SEE in the centennial year of 1987. When I took my usual pre-breakfast walk in Helsinki around Finlandia, I was astonished to discover that the glorious travertine cladding had been stripped away. I tracked down a hard hatted engineer for an explanation. Finnish winters were finishing the travertine. Huge shards were dropping off on tourist’s heads! Can’t have that. But since the Finns are sentimental over their geniuses, there had been a long long harangue about whether they should stick with Alvar’s fondness for the Tuscan material (with thicker sheets and a better adhesive) or go with Granite that they knew could last cruel winter after winter.

They opted for travertine even though they knew it would cost many more millions in a few more years. Those lovely, loving Finns. After breakfast I went to the Finnish Architecture Museum to see the Aalto centennial show. Its epigraph was by the Master. “Never forget, architects can make mistakes”. That should be inscribed over the doors of every architecture school! More about that ODD-I-SEE later.

So back to Corbu. On my visits to or through Switzerland I used to stay in the little village of Lutry with Anita Elefant, a Brazilian student of mine back at Beaver College. She had married a Swiss Nestle exec unhappily, but had stayed at their marvelous residence on a ridge overlooking Lac LeMan. All divorces should so amicably dissolved. Aware of my Corbu binging, she and some Swiss friends took me into the Juras to see his home town, La Chaux de Fonds, ultimately to be known as the SWATCH capital of the world. Um. He didn’t study architecture at all. He studied watch design. Indeed I discovered there that his first award—at the Turin International Exposition of 1902—was for a modernistic watch design. Hmmm. A machine to keep time by!

Indeed his first buildings of any substance were there in his home town, Jugendstil villas of delectable refinement. His first building was another story that I only visited serendipitously.

On a train trip from Lausanne to Lutry, I fell into conversation, as is my traveling wont, with an interesting looking old geezer, who turned out to be the recently retired editor of the local paper in Vevey. That’s where Charley Chaplin ended up, or up ended, and it was on my prospective itinerary. He grandly offered me not only lunch at a hotel overlooking the lake that was so glorious it took your appetite away, but to show me the first modern house Corbu made—for his parents. (A nasty book could be written about how many architect’s parents had to suffer their offsprings’ growling pains.) This was used a ten meter module and abused unwittingly the promising new material we call cement. Alas, the stresses between summer’s heats and winter’s cold resulted in cracks that he ultimately covered over with aluminum cladding! Or that parents could be better module, for their experimenting geniuses.

A high point I knew had to be an inspection of the Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles. Innocent that I was, I didn’t realize that the Genoa to Marseilles route along the Mediterranean littoral was Snatch Purse Alley. As you snooze dreamily, gangs of sneak thieves quietly open your chamber door and whisk anything that’s loose. Luckily, I wore my passport, credit cards, and other required impedimenta around my neck, so I wasn’t cleaned out. I’d still be washing dishes to get back on the road returning to America. I later read that techno crooks were squirting knockout gas under the doors so they could do their evil deeds with the victim knocked out. So I arrived at the Unite in a state of slight shock, which quickly dissolved as I chatted up the concierge who was clearly used to Archi-Geeks on their pilgrimage. We need a Chaucer to fully dramatize this aspect of late twentieth century traveling.

Serendipitously, a young woman nursing a baby heard my fractious French with the concierge and with an Franglish as marginal as my French asked me if I’d like to look inside an apartment. Would I ever?! As we left the elevator, she explained that most Unite-arians didn’t much go for Corbu’s Mezzanine Complex. Those few who keep alive his dream lived in what they called “pas prolonge” apartments. But those who like she wanted the space not the capricious two level view lived in “prolonge” flats. It had that old Bauhausey cement coldness that I’ve come to despise as the central sin of early Modernism. Personal appointments can reduce the barbarousness, but not destroy it.

I’m reminded of my 75th anniversary visit to Weissenhof outside Stuttgart. Mies van der Rohe wanted to liberate himself from the tacky reputation of creating a Denkmal in Berlin (1926) for the two leaders of the German Communist Party, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg. He dreamed of corralling over thirty internationally known architects to create a community of model dwellings. Corbu was to be his Starchitect! The two storied twin with terrace looked great on paper. Walking around it inside, it seemed like a prison, cold cement chambers. Last year one of his uninhabitable apartments became a Visitors Center. This year a Museum was created of the other apartments. This is kind of a pattern. Old Iconic Modern buildings never are torn down. They are transmuted into Visitors Centers, like the Old Farnsworth House in Plano, IL—a monument to Mies genius which didn’t know the difference between a work of art and a habitation.

My nursing mother wondered if I’d like to see a “pas prolonge” after having had a marvelous coffee in hers. Her mother in law lived in a “pas prolonge” across the hall! Her father had been a French colonial administrator with an absolute eye for world class African Art. I had trouble concentrating on the pas prolongevity of it, so enchanted was I by the sculpture. You win some, lose some. I ended my visit on the roof, where there were kids playing vigorously, in an unused for the moment swimming pool, and delectable views of Marseilles. I thanked them for their generous hospitality and got directions for the best bouillaibaisse in town at the harbor. I left town, for Saint Tropez, not so much to see how the other haves lived as to see a rare Seurat exhibition. I slept soundly in Toulon that night, ready for more Switzerland.

Corbu’s city planning schemes turned out to be destructive of community. But his heart was in the right place. His head, alas, was only loosely connected. We know, in retrospect, that Corbu was not responsible for the terrible tragedy of Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis. It was American racism that condemned the high rise in America to uncivil warfare. Minoru Yamasaki’s drafting table was civilized. The cities he worked for weren’t. We know from Ernst May’s 10,000 workers flats with their superbly designed Frankfurt Kitchens that 1920’s architecture could be civilized.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Outsider of Canadian Architecture

It was a serendipitous fluke that I encountered Douglas Cardinal, the outsider of Canadian architecture. It was January 1988, and I was testing my manhood by seeing if I could survive the rigors of VIA for a month in the midst of winter. (Actually I was sneaking up on the Calgary Olympics, to savor its cultural side.) But I started out in Halifax, where the BeauxArtsy main train station was in the midst of a rehab. I thought there might be an interesting architectural angle in the restoration so I tracked down the man in charge of the work. There wasn't really a marketable story there, but I advised me that if I were really interested in Canadian architecture, I had to pay a visit to Red Deer, Alberta. Huh-? What was it? A zoo in the prairies? No, he explained, it's a small town between Edmonton and Calgary that is graced by Douglas Cardinal's first masterpiece, St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church. Douglas Who?

So after savoring the Calgary art shows--one in particular in honor of the first sports medico at the University: he turned out to be the University of Pennsylvania's jock doctor until he found Canadian U's more amenable to his profession--I sashayed up to Red Deer. I was thunderstruck. The church was simply a glory of light and the new liturgy. Who was this guy, I started asking around. (My piece on the place was entitled, Ronchamps of the Prairies, when it appeared in Connoisseur.)

Cardinal is a Metis, whose father was a gamekeeper for the Forest Service. He was tossed out of the architecture program of the University of British Columbia after one year as being unsuitable for the profession. (Heh, what do Indians know about architecture? Bauhaus Teepees?) Unperturbed, Cardinal went down to the University of Texas, where, working as a draftsman nights, he worked his way through by age 29. When he returned to Red Deer, he later told me, he said what he most usefully learned in Austin was to believe firmly in your new ideas and never be intimidated by authority. (That would be so B:C.)

In Red Deer he ran into a German Oblate missionary to the Indians (talk about Cultural Exchange) who had an itch for ecclesiastical architecture that would embody the ideals of Vatican II for a more participatory liturgy. The two of them sat down and tutored each other on two thousand years of church buildings. Out of their lucubrations came St. Mary's. Plus Portland Cements computers. Yes, Douglas had picked up a hankering for computers down in Texas, and told me with a gleam in his eye that it would take seven mathematicians a hundred years to come up with the complex calculations supporting the ripple concrete roof so stunningly shielding the parishioners from the elements. Portland Cement was willing to support this visionary because they saw future business in his innovations.

Jump ahead two years, and I read in the New York Times that Douglas Cardinal's $250 million Canadian Museum of Civilization was about to open in Hull, Quebec, across the river from Ottawa, on whose shores gleamed Moshe Safdie's National Gallery of Art. I called Hull for a Sunday afternoon appointment, and expected some flack to take me on a quick guided tour, dump some press releases on me, and vanish. Not so. Cardinal himself showed up. (He's so ordinary looking he could have been a janitor!) And for four hours he briefed me on his theories of architecture and how he overcame bureaucratic inertia to get his computer generated building off the ground. (Its smooth rounded surfaces simulate the glaciation that bequeathed Canadians their land mass. And he carefully pointed out how he complemented Safdie across the river!)

Needless to say, the Canadian architectural establishment was pissed at some goddam Indian getting the most lucrative commission in the history of the country. But Pierre Trudeau was not miffed. The Prime Minister saw in the Metis a perfect metaphor for his vision of a MultiCulti Canada. He silently advised Cardinal to start building, or the goddam bureaucrats will chew you to death. His version of how they all tried to slow him down if not stop him would make a great CBC documentary some day. I arranged to have lunch with him last summer after reviewing the grand Gustav Klimt show at the National Gallery of Art.

It was ten years since the CMC had opened and I wanted to see how it had held up. Perfectly. And he proudly reported that it was now the most visited site in all of Canada. Not bad for a poor old Indian who started his architectural career getting kicked out of the UBC! Funny thing, though. I can count on my left hand how many American architects, big and small, had even heard of him. And his visibility in Europe is even more befogged. Some bright graduate student should do a dissertation on the problematics of architectural reputations.

It's in state of scandalous imbalance, partly due to Star architect publicity mills and partly due to the professions clannishness and provincialism. But by the mid-twenty-first century, every Canadian kid will have visited it and tasted its visual pizazz personally, if the CMC's place as a must see tourist site continues its steep gradient. The computer is not used here to generate meaningless visual hoopla, as in Frank Gehry's Bilboa Guggenheim: it is employed to bring ordinary citizens and their national heritages into more illuminating contact. Cardinal works for the ages.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Day I Met Adolf Hitler

One of the most interesting days I've yet spent in Germany happened in Nuremberg in 1995. I had taken the train from Berlin to see an exhibition on one of my most favorite architects, the Belgian Henry van de Velde, at the German National Museum. Pooped when I got off the train from the long trip I chose the first hotel whose sign I saw outside the station, INTERCITY HOTEL: How serendipitous!

It was the first hotel in that now widely dispersed chain and they had the luminous idea of giving their guests a free pass to the city's mass transportation network. The first thing that crossed my mind was finding where Leni Riefenstahl had shot Triumph of the Will, that dramatic take on the theatricality of a Nuremberg Nazi powwow. The young ladies at the front desk looked at me blankly when I asked for directions to where a film they hadn't even heard of was made by filmmaker they never knew. Hmmm. So I turned to the hotel manager, in his 60s, and he was pissed that I asked him, implying he was a Nazi in the know. Yikes!

I decided to take a walk before crapping out for the night. Across the street I saw a hotel with a peculiar name, BAVARIAN/AMERICAN HOTEL: Strange, until I popped in to check it out, and saw battalions of American soldiers hanging out. I walked up to an info desk manned by a black sergeant, to whom I repeated my Leni Riefenstahl question. Easy, she replied, Just take the Number 6 bus. As simple as that. It ain't who you know, its clearly in some cases what you know that makes a difference.

I was up bright and early the next morning, drinking coffee and reading the local newspapers. (Make that trying to read them. My year of German at the University of Detroit in 1949 had disappeared into the thin air of my brain.) So after some more coffee, I was out in the street trying my pidgin German on people who looked like they would know how to lead a stranger to the Number 6 bus. Sure enough, a youngish man who turned out to be an English teacher (so much for my German!) not only walked me to the stop but reassured me that at the end of the line was really where Triumph of the Will had been shot.

He offered that he liked her films on the 1936 Olympics more, but what the hell. At the end of the line, it seemed liked the end of the world. The venue that in the movie is pulsing with semi-hysterical Nazis getting off on a cult ritual was absolutely empty. The contrast was breathtaking. Meanwhile, all that coffee was following the laws of gravity and seeking an outlet.

I poked around in the innards of what turned out to be the reviewing stand for the top Nazi brass. Everything that looked like a toilet was locked up tighter than a drum. So I squinched ma bladder and starting climbing the stairs of the reviewing stand. Eventually, I was in dead center, when it dawned on me that I was standing where Hitler had stood in the film. Just me and where Hitler had stood almost sixty years ago. My squinchy bladder was beginning to be more and more demanding. I looked around sneakily to see that I was really by myself. And unzipped, and let go. Right where old Adolf had taken salutes of a different caliber. Ahhh.

Relieved, I noted that the only Rally they now entertained here was a July Auto Rallye. Later I read that the city fathers were going to turn it into a proper Denkmal, German for historical monument. I hope they never christen it Pissenplatz. Around the corner was a pub where I went in and had a beer, ogling a passel of very ordinary looking working men, none of them the least bit aware that I had just had a very historical encounter.

But this serendipitous encounter with History was not why I had come to Nuremberg. So it was on to the Museum, where I first had a full encounter with that polymath designer van de Velde. He did everything--furniture, advertising, steamships, and of course architecture, of which he helped make Jugendstil the absolute peak of twentieth century art, in my eyes. Of course, some years later, when I started living in Weimar, I had three of his masterpieces as my daily experience, the main buildings of what is now called Bauhaus Uni on Geschwister Schollstrasse, and his luminous Villa Pappeln on the Belvedereallee.

I've always found it odd that except for George Muches Haus am Horn in Weimar proper, and Ernst Neufert's Wohnhaus in nearby Gelmeroda, there is no Bauhaus architecture in the city where the Bauhaus was founded. It's a Jugendstil town, from start to finish, esthetically speaking. The 1923 inflation killed Walter Gropius ambitious plans to create a Bauhaus Siedlung. Though what he managed to organize when petty politicians forced the school to relocate to Dessau is no great shakes to my eye.

Drabber than a second rate Levittown, with what my favorite hometown architect, Albert Kahn called shaved architecture. And even the UNESCO heritage Dessau Bauhaus, designed by Gropius and built by Ernst Neufert, is a merely sleek looking bomb! (He recapitulated the office part of his Fagus factory of 1909. Sadly the radiators set under the bold looking fenestration simply didn't cut it in Saxon winters. Students and staff had to shiver with woolen socks and hiking shoes to compensate.)

It's fun to speculate what would have happened to the Bauhaus (or its equivalent) if van de Velde didn't have to leave for Switzerland in 1915, as an enemy alien in wartime. You have to grant Gropius his noble ideal of melding art and the machine so that well designed living would be accessible to everyone. Jugendstil was a high bourgeois style. But it still thrills my eye while run of the mill Bauhaus is BORING!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Roy DeCarava

This shot with Roy DeCarava was clicked by Media Mike at a Philadelphia Phillies game sometime in the mid-seventies.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Greenbelt Knoll

This is the transcript of an interview for a film about Greenbelt Knoll, an integrated housing development in Philadelphia. The recording on October 25, 2008 was for a film in the Precious Places series.

Interviewer: What is your name and how do you spell it?
Patrick: My name is Patrick D. Hazard and there’s only one "z" in Hazard.
Interviewer: How would you describe Longford Street?
Patrick: I would describe it as a sylvan retreat.
Interviewer: Why did you move here?
Patrick: I moved here because my wife couldn’t stand Levittown.
Interviewer: What did people on the street do together?
Patrick: Complain. And uh there was, we used to have a pool that people would go swim in, but in general we went our own ways; there was not a great deal of socializing.
Interviewer: What was the pool all about?
Patrick: The pool was all about water and cool but it didn’t work too well you see and basically they were afraid of excessive insurance so they shut it down. Ah but, but the most interesting thing that ever append to me happened at the pool. I was at the Annenberg School which I helped found and uh Leon Sullivan, the lion from Zion, one of our most famous residents said, “Pat, I don’t believe that Annenberg is interested in better communication. The black clergy has had a boycott on Tasty Cakes for 6 months you don’t hire us we don’t eat Tasty Cake and there hasn’t been a word in the newspaper about it.” That was Saturday. Monday bright and early I’m at the Inquirer building, I was frisked for weapons. Never happened to me before or again. Went to his 13th area (?) and there on his desk, Annenberg’s desk, I was sole of my life was to honor the memory of my father who was a thug in the circulation wars in Chicago that’s why they bought the Inquirer to get rid of that reputation, eh. He ended up in the pokey for income tax evasion. “I will sold of my life as to honor the memory of my father,” indeed. I said Walter you’re suppressing the truth, that’s not what our Annenberg School is about. He couldn’t believe that a 30 year old un-tenured assistant professor could come to him and tell him that he was committing felonies. He called in his lawyer who was a jerk, he called in his executive editor, E. Z. Demitman and Demitman said “We hired a colored boy last summer but he didn’t cut the mustard.” I said, “What the heck does that have to do with suppressing the truth.” And so that was the effective end of my Annenberg tenure. But that was at the pool. Maybe the most important thing that happened at the pool.
Interviewer: Did living on Longford Street change your life in any way?
Patrick: Well, uh, sure. Uh, I uh, it changed my life in many little ways. I mean, Robert Nix was the first black congressman elected in Philadelphia and he used to let me come down and hang out in Washington in his apartment and I got a better understanding of how politics really worked, you know. Uh, and of course my favorite man here was Roosevelt Barlow. He was the first black captain of a fire department and Roosevelt was just a sweet man. We talked to each other directly. Maybe one of the few people I’ve had that kind of relationship with.
Interviewer: Do you think the experience of living on Longford Street was different for blacks and whites?
Patrick: Of course. It was different, the blacks still were edgy. As they might be. And uh not always successful. One of the most popular guys, Jimmy Rogers, you know where the park is now, his house went to pieces. He was a sweet man, and yet he didn’t come through that’s why there’s a park there now because he blew it. But um I think it was harder for the blacks than the whites. If you wanna know the truth the whites sound a little bit superior that they were showing that they didn’t have any prejudice but of course they did it just wasn’t ugly like the prejudices outside it happened to be more arrogant, you know. “I’m a better man than that guy out there that hates blacks look at me.”
Interviewer: Was there conflict?
Patrick: Well of course. For example Roosevelt Barlow hated Milgram’s guts. We had more arguments over Morris Milgram but Roosevelt always felt he was getting screwed that he wasn’t getting a fair deal from Morris. I think Morris was pretty straight but everybody can feel put upon you know. That’s the only the time I sensed any real antipathy although there were a lot of little feuds. This was not utopia.
Interviewer: Do you believe that this developments concept was successful in its mission?
Patrick: Absolutely. This concept of intelligent people of all races and creeds living together. No question. Complete success on that.
Interviewer: Does Longford Street have lessons for us today?
Patrick: Well uh, the lesson is that we’re never going to be perfect and we’re always going to be trying to find a way to improve and I think that 8 Longford, I mean Longford Street shows that people with good hearts can live through any tough times. And were about to enter a very, very tough time so the kind of moral honesty that Longford Street represents is going to be needed by the whole country for the next 50 years.
Interviewer: Is there anything that you might like to share with us?
Patrick: You mean, uh, ice cream? No, I shared my story about Annenberg. That’s the biggest thing that I learned, you know. By the way, Leon Sullivan, if you know the history of South Africa, he was the man that formulated the Sullivan Principles which is you hire more blacks you pay them better and Nelson Mandela owes as much as to any one as Leon Sullivan who brought that vision to South Africa and that’s why they call it the Sullivan principles so you might say that Longford Street has a connection with the liberation of South Africa.
Interviewer: Have you done documentaries?
Patrick: Yes I’m the world’s greatest failed documentary maker. I did one on the New York World’s Fair of 1964 in which you can see all these kids as kids.
Interviewer: Do you have footage of that?
Patrick: I have the film. It’s called “Moses: Land of Promises. You remember Robert Moses the man that designed the fair. And so we’re talking “Moses: Land of Promises” as a kind of allusion to his Jewish heritage.
(Talking in background by people out of the shot)
Man seems disgruntled. Looks out window.
Patrick: What happened at Xavier University? Why is there a Xavier University graduation? Who went to Xavier? Who?
Man in background: This is the Fuller house.
Patrick: I understand that, but Xavier…
Man in background: Some of the Fullers had to be sitting with us.
Patrick: Xavier is a Catholic university in Cincinnati
Woman in background: Or in Louisiana
Patrick: True, New Orleans. Well you know St. Francis Xavier moved around (jokingly)
Man in background: Okay let’s focus
Patrick: What?
Woman in background: Haha he said let’s focus. We're rolling.
Interviewer: How would you describe the architecture on the street?
Patrick: I would describe it as…
Man: Say “the architecture is…”
Patrick: I would describe the architecture …
Man: Take 3
Patrick: I would describe the architecture on Greenbelt Knoll as simple modern. It’s not excruciatingly modern but it’s clear and visible. We have 4 bedrooms 2 toilets… it’s really simple but good.
Man: Okay that was great but don’t say, “I would describe.” Say “The architecture is clean modern...”
Patrick: The architecture is…
Man: Wait until they’re ready
Patrick: I like the way I’m given my answers here
Man: They’re good
Patrick: Your answers
Man: I’m not... you heard us you heard Tina say, don’t say I would. Rephrase the answers it makes an editable sentence.
Patrick: Okay.
Man: The question is about architecture.
Patrick: Louis Kahn was an extraordinary man.
Interviewer: How would you describe the architecture on the street?
Patrick: I would describe the architecture on the street as simple modern it isn’t trying to be a fancy Frank Gehry bit of hoofah its just a straight residence straight lines clear pattern
Interviewer: How about inside the houses?
Patrick: Well it works beautifully. It’s just not fancy. It’s a rectangular solution to the problems of livings. Very nice.
Interviewer: How did you discover this neighborhood?
Patrick: Well we were out in Thorny Apple Lane in Levittown and my wife was getting more and more frustrated by the emptiness of the neighborhood and so we found out first that there was a place called Concord Park and that was just a black Levittown. We wanted to be in a place that had some distinction and we heard about his place. Incidentally Number 8 Longford Street was then inhabited by a high school a school principal and his wife who didn’t feel comfortable in an integrated settlement. Which is to say if there hadn’t been one white family that didn’t fit in here we never would have gotten in. So you see even evil has its good side.
(Some background conversation)
Patrick: I can’t hear you. What’s happening?
Man: …you didn’t like southern colonial style
Patrick: It’s a good point. I always thought there was a little racial anxiety there. It seems to me that if you like southern plantation architecture you’re a covert racist. I’m teasing. Hey, can we have any humor in this thing for God's sake?
Man: You were saying something about Louis Kahn earlier…
Patrick: Yeah he came from Estonia at age four had a very tough life, went to the University of Pennsylvania but it wasn’t until he was in his 50s and 60s that he had any decent commissions like Bangladesh parliament you know he wasn’t given much support in America although he has many fine buildings the Salk Center in La Hoya, the Kimball Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, the Philips Exeter Academy, but it was late in his life. And he also had a thing about ladies and he was always juggling several relationships and the reason that he did this under the table as to say it was unofficial is because it was supporting his love life and they didn’t want everybody to know that he had to do double time just to keep juggling his friends.
Man: The question is to be directed to Longford Street, so how is Louis Kahn and what do you know about the architects that did the buildings here. We’re trying to get a little bit about the architecture.
Patrick: Sure. Well Montgomery and Bishop were not distinguished architects but this place won an AIA award for citing in 1957. I mean the use of the trees without these trees Longford would just be another street and it was the savvy of Montgomery and Bishop and Morris Milgram to get a variance from the Pennypark woods so that they could build here. And if we didn’t have that damn railroad we never would have gotten that it was because it was kind of left over from the rail road but you gotta… Morris Milgram was a very canny man he knew politics, he knew city hall and we owe as much to him for his canniness in getting these trees as to getting architecture by Louis Kahn.
Man: That’s great.
Patrick: It’s the funniest damn movie I ever heard of.
(Puts hands over eyes, looks around, seems confused)
Patrick: There’s a World Series game tonight.
Everyone laughs.
Woman: If it’s not rained out.
Patrick: Am I excused? Unless you have some dirty questions you’d like to ask me.
Woman: Do you have some dirty things you’d like to tell us?
Patrick: No, but I like to think about them. (Laughter)

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Fifteen Seconds with Duke Ellington

Andy Warhol used to prate about everybody's being entitled to 15 minutes of fame. I am satisfied with the 15 seconds I spent alone in an elevator with Duke Ellington in the fall of 1970. I had just delivered my daughter Catherine to Amtrak in Trenton on her way back to the Rhode Island College of Design. I was there too early to blitz the State Museum of Art, one of my favorite pastimes, a still much undervalued institution. So I killed some time by checking out the new Holiday Inn kitty corner from the museum.

Was Trenton as terminally ugly from the top of that building as it so depressingly was at street level? A cursory sweep confirmed that it was just as ugly. But I was in for a pleasant surprise. On the way down, who popped into the elevator at the seventh floor but Duke Ellington. Momentarily speechless (there went two of my 15 seconds!), I asked him what he was doing in Trenton on noon of a Sunday. Another honorary doctorate, he replied with that lovable hauteur that always emanated from his sleepy looking eyelids. Princeton, this time! Which I took to mean, you can stuff the ones from Fisk and Atlanta Us, I've really hit the Bigtime. Since he had long since been an international celebrity, I took him to mean, Honky Bigtime! The Fifth floor dinged.

I still relish the memory of drinking with Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney at the American Embassy in Dakar at the First World Festival of the Negro Arts. Just a slither of approval from those languorous eyes. Third floor bell. I'm not a sentimental man, Mr. Ellington (a little Whitey's lie), but when you broke into Take the A-Train on Sunday morning at Liberty Stadium in Dakar, I could hardly hold my camera steady. The blessing of a full frontal smile, as the doors popped open at ground floor. And I've got the only color footage shot that morning! What is your name? he quickly asked, guiding me over to the registration desk, where I gave my first and only anti-autograph. PATRICK D. HAZARD, BEAVER COLLEGE, GLENSIDE, PA. Alas, he never got around to asking me to send it before he died. But those 15 seconds were serendipitous in the extreme.

I have a thing about Celebrity Culture. I despise it. I concur in Andy Rooney's refusal to sign any old piece of paper shoved at him when he shows up for a book signing. I remember once in Los Angeles, in November 1975, at the premiere of SELMA! at the Huntington Hartford Theatre, Groucho Marx showed up, a virtual ghost, literally in his last days, as a gesture of fealty to his revered friend Martin Luther King, Jr.. An adolescent signature collector was hounding the dear old man and wouldn't even listen to his girl friend/nurses plea for mercy, I snuck up to him and whispered as meanly as I could, GET FUCKING LOST! GROUCHO IS SICK: He snuck away like the weasel he was.

That musical, by the way, a labor of love by the Las Vegas entertainer, Tommy Taylor, was a great evening's entertainment. But it was just too serious to thrive at the Hartford, which by a strange fluke was on Vine and Selma Streets! I was covering the opening for my KALW-FM arts program, Muse Room West, whose motto was Ezra Pound's zinger, Literature Is News That Stays News. I had opened the series with Dizzy Gillespie at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. He was there to motivate Bay Area kids to study math more through jazz! I think the real motivation was the eventual appearance that evening of the lady bureaucrat who arranged the Lowell High seminar (where if anything the kids are over-motivated) in her debut as a blues singer. Her voice was better than her bureaucratizing in my judgment.

The only other show that came near Diz's was with Jackie and Roy. All evening my date and I sat with Gillespie at his table near the stand with a very quiet guy in Maoist gear. Diz introduced him as the first man to give him a gig on 52nd Street in the early 1950, Morton Scott. Some time around midnight, he appeared on stage and delivered some very credible tenor solos. He had been working as a longshoreman on the Oakland waterfront, instead of playing jazz in New York.

After the premiere, there was a press party at the Brown Derby. Yolanda King was there at a table with Redd Foxx and some other friends of King. I asked Foxx why he had invested in the musical. His answer was direct, and somewhat bitter in tone: So the kids coming up won't have to put up with the shit I did back then. Yolanda spoke with great intensity about keeping up the work of her father. It was before the Kings got hung up on who owned the royalties etc.

I was to see her again in 1982, when as one of my first moves as an independent journalist I went down to Atlanta for the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Change. I put up at the posh Peachtree Plaza because I wanted to be sure to see the Maya Angelou program on Bill Moyers' series that evening. Imagine my dismay when I found the TV had no public TV channel. I went down to the lobby to buy TV Guide so I could check out the number. Sold out, four p.m. Sunday! No Atlanta Constitution either! I demanded that they send me up an engineer to twiddle my TV. Alas, he had bet a wad on the football game on CBS, and would hardly listen to my complaining. Finally I got him to remove a cover so I could fiddle for the missing channel. Before long, I came upon the supercilious visage of the head shooter on Firing Line. If Bill Buckley was there, Maya could not be far behind.

The next morning I went up to the Sun Dial, with its very good views of downtown Atlanta. An early riser, I was puzzled to find a young black man with binoculars prowling those precincts so early. Turned out he had just graduated from the Medill School of Journalism, and this was his first job, traffic reporter for a local TV station. I had been puzzled by the identifying marks on rim of the Sun Dial. It seemed that any Atlanta structure over three feet high was ID'd except black Atlanta University as well as the new King Center, with Daddy Kings adjacent Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Later at the press conference at the King Center, I identified myself as an out of town journalist from Philadelphia, puzzled by the black-less Sun Dial. Jesse Jackson gave me a look that could kill, if disgust was high caliber. There was an awkward pause. Finally, Mrs. King said, I'm glad you brought that up. I asked the same question six months ago and got a brushoff from management. When I got back home, I fired off a letter to the local manager with a copy to Westin HQ in Seattle. In due course, I got an Uriah Heepish apology for their not being a public TV channel on my TV set, and a promise that they would look into Sun Dial policies.

I'm happy to report that the following February when I was passing through Atlanta again there was a very substantial lobby exhibition on Black History Month and a marker on the Sun Dial for Daddy King's Ebenezer Baptist Church! (No expense account aristocrat would get tight over so bland a religious allusion. MLK Center remained unseen from the skewed view of the Peachtree Plaza.) That same afternoon I Greyhounded on to Mobile for the dedication of the Maya Lin's fountain for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Where I found that two of my Southern activist heroes, the Law Center and Habitat for Humanity founders, were the organizers in Tuscaloosa of a service by which parents could send their children useful gifts. That grub stake has had a lot of useful mileage. I'll never forget the 60ish black lady who shared my Greyhound seat that day. A kind of cross between Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer. Pure gold character, tempered in the fires of the Civil Rights Era.

I don't know where I got my thing about the outrageousness of segregation. There wasn't any talk about it that I can remember at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. (I can't recall a single black seminarian, come to think of it, 1940-43.) I do remember that on my first job as a shoe salesman at Gateley's, a blue collar department store on Michigan Avenue, that my boss Van used to embarrass me with racial innuendos, after he had had to serve a colored lady. (He would cynically try to interest them in ill fitting dogs because there was an extra commission for getting rid of them, no matter what a chiropodist might think.) The manager of the store was a stiff-necked cool character whom I regarded as a snob, too good to mix with the rest of us. But in the race riot of 1943, this man earned my lifelong respect by helping an old black man fleeing a mob escape into our store. He stood fearlessly in the front door and refused the rioters entrance.

I know that when I entered the Navy in September, 1944, there were no coloreds in my Company 1818. We were a radar tech company. (We entered as seaman first class, instead of able-bodied seaman; we weren't all that able-bodied, come to think of it, most of us matching our high math scores with much less than 20/20 vision.) This was the occasion of much merriment on the part of the regular recruits. They could instantly identify us as a tech company on the drill ground because of the reflection of sunlight off of our glasses. So as they passed, they would sing, Take down your service flag, Mother/ Your son is a Navy RT/He'll never get killed by a slide rule/ or hurt by the square root of three/ RT, TS, Your son is a Navy RT. TS! (Tough Shit, that is.)

And there were no blacks at Wilbur Wright Junior College, where we went after boot camp, to weed out the intellectually lame and halt. By the time we got to Gulfport, MS, we were really ready to become RTs. Two of my clearest memories are of watching B-17s take off from a nearby airbase in the early morning, blue flames shooting off their engines and of locals getting edgy when I'd gravitate to the back of the bus when on Liberty. Hell, I was used to sitting with blacks on the DSR in my home town. It miffed me that it bothered the locals.

At the University of Detroit, the most interesting Jesuit instructor I had was Father John Coogan, a sociology professor who could have passed at Wayne or U of M except for his intransigence on birth control. But on race, he was far ahead of even the median Jebbie, a very liberal lot to begin with. The first term paper I did was on the contradiction in Ebony magazine between the editorial content of racial pride and the advertising for things like hair straightening remedies! He liked that paper so much he asked me why I didn't become a sociology major. I later discovered in a biography of Charles Coughlin, the radio priest, that Coogan had tried unsuccessfully to talk him out of his rightist ideology. The only other racial memories I have from those years was talking to high school students in a transitional Eastside neighborhood for the Catholic Interracial Council. And it seemed like a big deal at the time, double dating with a Negro couple at the Eastwood Gardens University prom.

Eastwood was one of two musical venues of my youth. That is where the great white name bands played every summer. I still recall the interview I had in the 1980s with Tex Beneke, then performing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra at Pine Bluff in Oakland. Tex told of how he was playing with Ben Pollacks midwestern regional band when Gene Krupa came through Detroit in 1938 looking for sidemen for the band he was forming. He had a full complement of saxes already, but he told Glenn Miller at Hotel Pennsylvania about the talented 19 year old Texan he had just heard. Miller called him and offered him the standard $50 a week stipend.

Beneke had the chutzpah to hold out for $55. Miller was so amused, he went along with him. Tex recalled driving nonstop from Detroit through Buffalo and Albany (this was before the Pennsylvania Turnpike) in his dinky Plymouth coupe in a snow storm. When he got to the hotel , he was so bushed he asked Miller to let him take a break. Miller was merciless (remember that extra $5!). He snapped, remembering the drawl, Get your horn, Tex, and get on the stand. Johnny Desmond dropped into the interview, remembering how much the band members loved Eastwood because eight miles from downtown, they had to put up at local homes. Including, especially, his Italian mothers, who was such a good cook, band members drew straws for the blessing of eating by his Mammas. They also loved thunderstormy Sunday afternoons, because the girls in T-shirts would put on impromptu wet T-shirt contests, dancing in the rain. Ogling tootlers would lose their places in the tune when the wind blew their charts hither and yon. But Eastwood was strictly white. Benny Goodman finally got away with insisting on Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson in his quarter with Gene Krupa.

But the black Eastwood was called the Paradise Theater on Woodward Avenue, the main drag of Detroit. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Earl Fatha Hines, Jimmie Lunceford, Erskine Hawkins. It was there in high school and college, and at the black and tan night clubs nearby (destroyed when the freeways came), that I learned to love jazz and black pop culture there were lively vaudeville acts and boring Westerns you had to put up with for the privilege of relishing that music.In the black and tans there were great pianists like Tommy Flannagan and Hank Jones.

I call it still the beginning of my humanistic education. In 1980 when I went back to Detroit to bury my brother Mike, I was in a sentimental mood so I stopped off at the Paradise, now shuttered because of rock music. What a story on the Bicentennial sign. In 1919, the nouveaux riches Detroit auto moguls began to feel the need for culture to go with their cash (the idealistic Detroit News publisher George W. Booth was in a similar mood founding Cranbrook out in Bloomfield Hills). They talked a Polish pianist/composer to head the newly formed Detroit Symphony, but then forced him to perform in the acoustical equivalent of junior high cafeterias. He revolted. He said give him a decent hall or he was going back to Warsaw. In nine months they delivered him Orchestra Hall, which no less an ear than Pablo Casals called the best performance space in North America.

Alas, as whites moved to the suburbs, Orchestra Hall morphed in 1939 to the Paradise. After two decades the collapse of Big Bands darkened the theater. Some thought for good. But a benignly obsessed oboeist in the Detroit Symphony raised twenty three million dollars and had the old shell brought back to life as Orchestra Hall again. In November 1989, Steinway commissioned the sculptor Wendell Castle to craft the 500,000th piano in their name. In 1995, I managed to attend a rehearsal of the DSO and I cornered that oboist and chided him for wrecking my high school fantasies. Whaddya mean, he countered. We have jazz every Saturday night. A wonderful renewal. It may be the only hopeful sign I've seen in my beleaguered hometown since I left it for graduate school in 1949. There has been a jazz uptick downtown with the Montreux-Detroit jazz festival. And a retired police officer has given new spritz to the Baker Show Bar near the University of Detroit.

But it still the kind of segregation of the races that got Detroit into trouble in 1943 and 1967. During the last debacle I was returning from my mothers cottage on Lake Huron, ten miles South of Tawas City on U.S.23. We avoided the mess by taking the Thruways around Detroit, listening nervously to the radio as we whizzed by safely. A recent visit to Sacred Heart Seminary revealed an almost fortress defense; it was at the heart of the rioting.

Sad to say, the last conversation I had with my mother, a kindly soul who taught Poles and coloreds peacefully for thirty years in Hamtramck, was about the appearance of blacks at Rileys, the cluster of rental cottages two minutes away on foot. Do you want Cathy (then 13) mixing on the beach with the coloreds? I didn't have the heart to tease her by saying, Heh, if they're as sexy as Harry Belafonte, why not? It was World War II that undid Detroit. All those poor whites from Kentucky and Tennessee and poor blacks from Mississippi and Alabama, competing for scarce housing and abundant jobs. The dark side of the defense industry.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Leaving Beaver for Camp Meeker

As much as I loved Hawaii, finding out that my number two, Seymour Lutsky, had been in the CIA for the last ten years (ever since finishing his Ph.D at Iowa) and being miffed that the promised $13,500 salary had been peremptorily cut back to $11,000 without so much as an aye oh, and because my wife hated the dinky house in Manoa that Charles Bouslog, the interim American Studies director, had rented for us sight unseen, I decided to quit the best job I have ever had.

It was tricky, being several thousand miles away from potential jobs. Only two materialized: at SUNY, Purchase and at Beaver College, a former Presbyterian female college outside Philadelphia. Carnegie Mellon professor Erwin Steinberg, who would later get me a U.S.Office of Education grant to pioneer media use in English classrooms, touted me to his friend the Dean, Margaret LeClair. She and Edward Gates the president had just consolidated the dual campus (the old site in Jenkintown and the new one in Glenside).

I loved the Castle, where the interviewing was done. It had been designed by the famous Philadelphia architect to the rich, Horace Trumbauer, following the pattern of Alnwick Castle in Berwick on Tweed, England. It was made for the Sugar Baron of Philly, William Harrison. They could only offer $10,000 salary (even that was so far above the median pay there as to cause frictions in and outside the English Department that I was puzzled how to resolve and finally decided not to bother.) But they offered me a full professorship and chair of the English Department. That didn't set well with the old hands either, who had been patiently waiting their turn at the top. What the hell were they doing bringing in a media freak to run an English department.

Heh, I understood where they weren't coming from. I like to tell people that I turned Horatio Alger upside down. Assistant professor at Ivy League Penn in 1960, associate professor at a solid state University of Hawaii in 196l, and a full professor in 1962 at rinky dinky Beaver. Actually, I'm ashamed of that rinky, dinky sneer. Gates and LeClair actually turned a rinky dinky no go college into a much better one, by bringing in productive scholars like sociologist Norman Johnston and psychologist Bernard Mausner (the first Jewish professor) to join a major artist like Benton Spruance. (I even chided former colleague Richard Wertime for fudging on his affiliation with Beaver College in his acclaimed memoir,Citadel on the Mountain:A Memoir of Father and Son. Under the leadership of Bette Landman, an anthropologist from Ohio State, Beaver has morphed into Arcadia University, a decent multipurpose institution with much higher standards than it had went I began there in 1962.

An episode about the name change may illustrate the strained relations I always had with the faculty. In 1975, I had been out in San Francisco fielding a Third World Film Festival at the Hilton. (I was convinced that American Lit plus Commonwealth Lit added up to International English Literature, a rubric I introduced to the curriculum there.) If you'll pardon the verb, the hotel abutts on Skin Flick Row. And the English teachers would file in, semi-tumescent from scrutinizing the glossies! Theyd flip when they saw my ID, Patrick D. Hazard, BEAVER COLLEGE.

Woo, woo, they'd tease. You've really got it made! Monday back at Beaver, President Gates called an emergency meeting of the faculty for our ideas! In a fiscally beleaguered institution thats code language for There will be no raise next year. After fighting off a snooze triggered by a tsunami of boring initiatives, I timidly raised my hand. President Gates, I shyly averred, there is a tide of filth flowing inexorably Eastward called Beaver Flicks, and if we don't change the name of the college to Atwood (after one of our most generous donors: I fantasized that Gates followed her around with heart monitoring equipment, on the grounds that if she dropped we'd be in the black for a decade) or after Glenside, we'll be a laughing stock in ten years.

The sweet lady who ran the book store never did figure out why the Beaver 69 sweatshirts sold so much better than other years. Gates was unusually antsy when I took the floor since he (and often I) didn't know what was coming next! He quickly appointed me chair of a committee to supervise name change suggestions.

The next morning in my mail box, there was a kidnap type note cut out of diverse letters: WHY DONT YOU CALL IT PUSSY PREP; YOU PERVERT AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE! Wooo. Collegiality? There ensued an idiotic game of pseudo-naming. The born again Christian who headed the chemistry department playfully cornered me in the hall one day and suggested the Mons Institute of Technology, because that would come out M:I:T. and would attract more science students. And so it went.

I decided on the spot to vacate Beaver as a lost cause once I no longer had to backstop my retired mother. She died in January 1982, while I was in Baton Rouge interviewing David Duke and relishing the Art Deco Capitol Huey Long had bequeathed to his state. I hurried home to bury her, and split for California as as soon as my grades were in that May. (I sent a formal note of early resignation to then Dean Landman on Walt Whitman's Birthday.) After thirty years of English teaching, I declared myself a cultural journalist.

When the worlds media were slyly full of the name change in 2001, I wrote to now President Landman. She had been a lowly assistant professor of anthropology when I got my Pussy Prep rant and had no idea who could have sent it. She admitted that Beaver had become a lethal eponym. In the Internet Age, you'd either get a porno site when you tried to punch up Beaver College, and you wouldn't get anything. Blocked porno sites! I've told this story so many times (when I've been asked where I taught) that it's like a tawdry vaudeville turn. And, mortal than I am, I used to often answer that question by saying, in fast succession, Trenton State, PENN, Hawaii, and Beaver. Arcadia's a fine name and thousands of my books grace the shelves of its soon to be named LANDMAN LIBRARY: How's that for a real Horatia Alger. From Piqua, Ohio to Arcadia U in thirty rapidly upwardly mobile years. It couldn't have happened to a nicer lady.

I had taught in Santa Rosa Junior College in 1975-76, when I wanted to get out of Philly during the Bicentennial Brouhaha. John Bigby, a former student of mine at the Annenberg School, was the head of the media department and they had a fellowship in honor of a retired professor Andreini. They brought in a media freak for a year to shake up the troops. John was one of my best buds, and I had cavorted with an Okie krautlette named Mary Mueller while teaching there. So when she asked me to join her in her hut in a former Methodist summer vacation school, Camp Meeker, I complied. But not for long.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Mancunian Candidate

At the first World Negro Arts Festival in Dakar, Senegal in 1967, I had met Obi Egbuna, a young Nigerian novelist, whose first novel, Wind vs.Polygamy, had been dramatized there. In my initiative to flesh out my rubric of International English Literature, I got money enough to bring him to Glenside to lecture on West African Fiction and Nigerian Drama. I had also chatted with Wole Soyinka in Dakar, but he was already too august for mere Beaver College, and, in any case, as shall develop, was in jail for trying to settle the Biafran Civil War on his own. Egbuna was eager to get to the Promised Land, or to put it another way to get the hell out of the inferno that was contemporary Nigeria.

I flew over to fetch him on a cheap flight to Manchester. My seat mate, serendipitously, was the music critic from High Fidelity magazine. When I asked him what he was up to, he replied that he was booked to review a new Catholic Requiem composed by a Jewish dentist for a socialist television station, viz. Granada. That triple ploy sounded interesting enough to me to track in down. So the next morning, a Saturday, I showed up bright and early at their Manchester studios. Almost nobody was at work on a weekend, but I did get the PR man's name, to try to snap a free ticket.

In the parking lot, I flagged down a car that was leaving and asked if he knew where to contact the PR man. No idea. Another car was entering the lot. That driver wanted to know what I wanted. I repeated the formula of a Jewish dentist commissioned by Socialist TV station to compose a Catholic Requiem. I perceived a slight smile on the face of my interrogee. He said he could arrange it. Just go to Free Trade Hall (visions of John Bright dancing in my head!) a half hour before the performance and there will be a ticket in your name at the Box Office.

Then I decided to push my luck, since I had a quarterly piece to write for the British Film Institutes TV magazine, Contrast. Do you know, I asked, how I could speak with the head of Granada, Sidney Bernstein. Yer talking to him, the friendly executive replied. So there we gabbled for fifteen minutes, my head bending towards his hanging out his car window on the state of British Television. I had just become the education adviser for Time Life Films, where my job was to screen BBC-TV videos each week and decide which had good potential for distribution in schools and museums and public TV. He candidly didn't see much potential for his popular programming in America, but gave me the name of the man in charge of documentaries.

The Requiem was not Bach, or even Verdi. But I enjoyed it in an ex-Catholic sort of way, being more interesting in ecumenism than in theology at that stage in my life.

Obi was something else. As we settled in for our flight to New York, I asked him to outline his talks so that I could write press releases for our college and for the Philadelphia public schools where a very creative administrator, Marjorie Farmer, had agreed to book him into some local high schools. (She was married to the director of Philadelphia's Human Relations Commission, and at that period of curriculum development, Afro-American and African Lit seems like a good move.)

Obi slept for most of the flight as I got antsier and antsier over his cavalier attitude. Boy, should I have. When the time came for his lecture in front of the entire womanhood of Beaver, all he would talk about was polygamy! How much more civilized it was than Western monogamy. I sat on the dais, remembering my last great idea bringing Amiri Baraka (still then only a lowly Leroi Jones) to talk about Black Lit. Oh boy!

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

How do you deal with a father who abandoned you at age three? You build up a burden of fear and loathing. But finally curiosity prevails. When the Annenberg School of Communication was founded in 1957, I was in the second year of a Carnegie fellowship to create a new course on The Mass Society for the Penn American Civ department. And when I suggested that the ideal dean for the first Ivy graduate school in communication would be the pioneer pop culture maven, Gilbert Seldes (He wrote the first book on the subject in 1924, The Seven Lively Arts.), it was natural that I would become his gofer.

I criss crossed the U.S. telling what we were up to. I encountered a strange dichotomy that has always sufficiently explained for me the unnecessarily weak impact J schools and comm centers have had on American media. The J-School brass, mainly burned out MEs, mocked me for shilling for Annenberg's money. They said Hearst had tried in the 1930s to buy his way into higher education and he had been rudely rebuffed. On the other hand, the bright young media scholars, social scientists in heart and mind, quietly asked what they were paying full professors!

In August 1960, I was flogging Annenberg in L.A. At NBC the flack told me about Polly Adler's A House is Not a Home. Adler's brother was opening a fancy new restaurant and that Id be a welcome guest. I had never reconnoitred with a Madam before (in my cheapish innocence, I have yet to pay with money for sexual favors) so I decided, as they say, to go along. Polly had just finished an Associate in Arts degree and she was primed to psych out professors: were they phonies or real guys? It was tougher than a doctors Oral Exam, my pretending to be a regular fellow. But as we prepared to bid each other goodbye, Polly gave me her affirmative judgment by giving me a full force Hollywood embrace. At which point the Contaflex around my neck boomed into her considerable bosom. Patrick, she howled, you look like a goddam tourist!! Polly, I replied, I am a goddam tourist. No matter. I later read her book, and I'd give it a B+.

I decided to drop off in Las Vegas and look up my absconding father. (If I could face a High Whore, I should be able to encounter a Deadbeat Dad.) By this time he was a millionaire real estate dealer, paired in business with a former mayor of Las Vegas. I told the taxi driver at McCarran International Airport (the late Senator McCarran, it turned out, was a bosom buddy of my DD), to take me to Hazard/Baker Realty. No problem, he said as he shifted into high gear. I asked the gal in the front office if Harry Hazard was in. She directed me to his office in the rear of the building.

Harry Hazard, I asked as he rose to greet me, no longer the handsome AEF Captain of the only picture of him I had ever seen. 60ish now, not 20. And his hard life of drinking and dealing showed. What can I show you today, he began, hoping I was about to look into footage on the Strip. I'm Pat Hazard, I replied. He fumbled, speechless. Well, it's been a long time, he bantered as he tried to decide what to do. Why don't we get out of here and go visit Hoover Dam?

A strange initiative, but what the hell! As we drove madly away from Las Vegas, past Lake Mead, I took long drags from an ice cold Coke. It was beastly hot. Then it dawned on me. He thought I was gray mailing him, like my brother Mike was wont to do. He'd come out and get in debt gambling, and then force Harry to bail him out. DD, you see, was bigamous. My very conservative Catholic mother would never give him a divorce. Ten years later, when I came to his funeral, I was introduced to a woman as his political secretary. Harry was a king maker in Nevada politics, but sub rosa.

That woman told me when I arrived for the funeral that the Clark Country Democratic Womens Committee was holding a fund raiser tomorrow and that many of my fathers friends would be there. Would you like to come? Huh, are you crazy, I thought. Of course. The reception line began with former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. I was introduced as Hap's second son. Hap, eh? The Vice President was effusive: Your father was a great guy. We're really going to miss him. You have my deepest condolences. Then Senator Bible. Same encomium, but from a more local angle. Next, the local Congressman whose name escapes me. More polite political blather. By the time I got to the Mayor of Las Vegas, I was tempted to say, Tell me what was that son of a bitch really like, but my Holy Rosary manners intervened.

I had got a few angles on him when we'd meet secretly in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Never in Las Vegas, while he lived. He turned down my request that he meet his grandchildren by joining them secretly at the Montreal Expo. He did set up College Funds for all three. But that fiscal fooling doesn't have the same feel as Grampa. Or father for that matter. I knew nothing about his own family, the other hidden branch of my family tree, although he did set up a meeting for me with his brother Joe, a union leader, in San Francisco. Alas, he was just a glib businessman, telling me how bored he was in Mexico, as we had a coffee in the upscale St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

He was a hard man to hate for ever. I can imagine the French putains when he served in the AEF in 1918. Wed to a frigid wife. (Those seven years between Mike's birth and mine, speaks volumes.) And when he ran off with his secretary Ruth, she did get him to stop drinking. She was a born again Christian, but seemed to have a generous heart. She was gracious to my son Michael, his wife Pat and daughter Sonia when they pitstopped Las Vegas in search of family history. And the two of them did leave me a quarter of million dollars which I tried to waste creatively on such ventures as a Walt Whitman calendar, an I.F. Stone journalism award for college students (The Nation magazine picked up the idea pretending they originated it!), a Graveyard Party at the rededication of the restored Whitman’s mausoleum in 1974 after I got the English teachers of the country to chip in to restore it, and most delectable of all, A Sesquicentennial Ball in 1980 in honor of my favorite girl friend of all, Emily Dickinson. You'll have to judge for yourself if I wasted the money creatively enough when I describe those capers later.

Oh, and there’s a Hazard Street in Las Vegas. I certainly wouldn’t want to live there, but it was fun to visit. And across the street there is a really interesting cultural center where my German librarian wife discovered news stories about Harry’s career as a politico and businessman, when we passed through in 2000, on a Greyhound blitz of the West Coast.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Two Loose McLoonies

Back in the 60's, two young English professors attempted to translate their fealty to Marshall McLuhan to the classroom conditions they had just begun to face. Neil Postman was a graduate student at TC, Columbia, I was a Ford Foundation Fellow in New York. We served together on committees at the Television Information Office, the broadcasting industry's PR arm. He edited "Television and the Teaching of English" and a few years later I edited "TV as Art: Some Essays in Criticism". Both met our mentor in that annus mirabilis, 1955. Marshall McLuhan had come down from the Catholic St. Michael's College, at the University of Toronto to diffuse his unsettling ideas about the medium as the message.

But we came at him from different backgrounds. Neil was a secular Jew who had metabolized the meaning of Judaism, I was an about to be ex-Catholic philosophy major from the Jesuit University of Detroit with a flair for meliorism. I had the advantage of sneak previewing McLuhanism as a "Commonweal" Catholic, where his pioneering book, "The Mechanical Bride: The Folklore of Industrial Man" (1951) had appeared as disparate essays in that magazine. Marshall was to astonish us early readers by disavowing "Bride" in "The Gutenberg Galaxy" where he confessed that he had been a "victim of print culture". (The book actually grew out of his confused efforts to understand the "foreign" culture of his freshman English students!)

Neil was fast morphing into a second generation McLoonie, as he and Charles Baumgartner collaborated on "Teaching as a Subversive Activity" which was attempting to bring the unsettling skepticism of the College Sixties down into the high school and elementary classrooms. My anthology had a more simpleminded format: commission nine thoughtful critics to address a specific literary problem in the new TV culture. (My pride and joy was to get Jesus College blue collar Raymond Williams to speculate on how to teach Shakespeare on TV.)

In my first teaching assignments while finishing my Ph.D.course work at Michigan State was to experiment with assigning media "works" to my eighth grade English/Social Studies classes at E.Lansing High School. It was an ideal venue for experiment: the most highly motivated students I ever had in thirty years of teaching, either the sons and daughters of MSU professors or GM professionals (with just enough blue collars to make it interestingly different.) We listened, with writing assignments, to the CBC's Lister Sinclair's luminous radio documentaries ("A Word in Your Ear: A Study of Language" and "I Know What I Like: A Study of Art") or Robert Lewis Shayon's landmark "The People Act" a radio series showing ordinary Americans solving their urban problems.

When I moved up to tenth and twelfth grade classes, I had the sophomores watch TV dramas like Paddy Chayefsky's "Marty" or "The Catered Affair" and the seniors looked critically at Maurice Evans in "Macbeth" on the Hallmark TV Theatre. And we even fielded a weekly TV show,"Everyman Is a Critic" on MSU's just opened UHF TV Channel, on such topics as rock 'n' roll music, TV drama, or hotrod racing, one topic at a time.

I summarized my satisfaction with this approach to popular culture with my first published article, "Everyman in Saddle Shoes" in Scholastic Teacher in 1954, which I think tipped the scales in my getting a Ford Foundation Fellowship in New York (1955-56) to try out my ideas as radio TV editor of Scholastic Teacher. Eventually we got the networks to give us advance screenings or scripts so we could print one page "Teleguides" to give teachers in the boonies ideas on how to teach the programs. It was as far away from Marshall's increasingly incoherent theorizing as it was possible to be. I was frankly let down by my encounters with the Master. He was all so busy, it seemed to me, in devising new vocabularies rather than practical hints on how to teach.

I just now finally got around to reading Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" (1985) in 2006. It is full of wit and sound judgment about how shallow American TV had become, but vitiated his prognostications, it seemed to me, by "epistemological" speculations on how human development from speech to print to TV image changed the metaphysics of teaching. Hoo Ha! It was McLooneyism on the loose.

After a long and particularly tiresome passage I turned on my German TV for relief to Sat 3: It was a Mozart concert, and the delicate and thoughtful intercutting from orchestra sections to individual performers, as the score suggested, was not only an enriched musical experience, impossible without TV, but a great surcease from the temporary sorrow of Neil's prose.

And I remember one incident in England in 1966. At a BBC party for world teachers attending their English on Radio and TV summer courses, we were introduced to Paddy O'Connor, a former bus inspector, who had just been elected the first Irish mayor of Camden Town. I asked Paddy if he could recommend someone who could kill two birds with one stone---let me visit an example of public housing and watch "That Was the Week That Was" with a roomful of blue collar Brits. He put me in touch with Phyllis O'Leary, a geriatric social worker. I'll never forget that inspiring night. The "uneducated" working class tenants were hilarious in their full spirited participation in a TW3's cerebral nonsense. It inspired me to organize at the 1968 Modern Language Association convention in New York a TWS Satire seminar.

I invited 9 (for the Muses) specialists in satire to watch the program in General Sarnoff's private room in the RCA Building (laughingly described by one network brass as the only color set really working in America). After the broadcast, the performers and staff came up and partied with us, the seminar aspect quickly blurring out in an alcoholic haze. Even my adolescent infatuation with the cast's jazz singer, Nancy Ames, got nowhere! The only memorable event was a classic tiff between (not yet then)Sir David Frost and Philip Gove, the editor in chief of the Merriam Webster Third Edition. David was sniffy about including naughty words and Gove was imperial in his explanation of the standards of lexicography. When I later had lunch with Sir David at his London club, he bravely allowed as how he had lost that one to Gove! On any credible IQ index the Camden Town lark would rate 9 on a scale of 10, with our egghead MLA assembly scoring a paltry four.

Now I completely agree with Neil that George Orwell's warning of totalitarian punishment was not as perspicacious as Aldous Huxley's fear modern man would amuse himself to death. It is the decrepit state of our culture that makes TV as dangerous as it is. Let me close with another anecdote. As the fully certified "Gofer" at the Annenberg School of the University of Pennsylvania (1958-61), I was assigned to go to the FCC in Washington for a daylong "scholarly conference" on TV license renewal forms. Scholarly enough it mainly was: Bernard Berelson of Columbia, Gary Becker of Chicago, and Ithiel de sola Pool of M.I.T. and me, a new Ph.D. in American Studies, but with some experience with local and network TV.

We spent the increasingly boring day going over the forms bit by bit. It slowly dawned on me that these Social Science Biggies hadn't the vaguest idea that most stations regarded these forms as very very pro forma. Promise them the moon, and forget all those promises until the next renewal time.

My "intellectual" superiors were miffed when I explained this simple verity to them towards the end of the day. My mentor at WFIL-TV, Tom Jones, who was letting me do TV pieces for the evening TV news, had explained the politics of broadcasting to me as I prepped as a cultural reporter for his station. The nadir of this Unseminar (after which I have had an abiding skepticism about the social sciences) was the appearance of the chairman of the FCC, Newton (TV's Vast Wasteland) Minow to congratulate these "scholars" for their important work for the American TV audience. Ugh.

But all is not lost when you look at TV as a global medium. When Neil (too sadly, too early) died a few years back, I was astonished, not to say completely, pleased at how both public TV networks ran long obits on Neil on the evening news, as if he were an important diplomat, which according to their public service values he was. But not alas by our tacky ratings-ruined television. It is not in our TV stars, that we are underlings. We get the kind of TV we put up with.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Lost in Lyon

Don’t talk to me about the best-laid plans etc. I just spent 15 hours in Lyon during which all my pre-plans went completely awry— yet this pit stop was astonishingly productive.

As I planned my annual European Art Tour from Weimar, where I have been living monkishly since 1999 (when it was the cultural capital of Europe), researching and writing my book on Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus and his ideal of socially supported housing, I read in Metropolis that a biennial conference on social housing was now under way–in Grenoble, of all places. At the Gare de Lyon in Paris, I bought a ticket to Grenoble.

Alas, the night before my departure, Andrea Mueller, an architect and old pal from California, printed me off the Internet the entire two-week Grenoble program. Absolutely nothing was happening the day of my planned arrival. Aaargh.

No matter: I was also bent on filming the most beautiful airport in the history of aviation: the TVG stop at St. Exupéry International Airport, designed by my absolutely numero uno, Santiago Calatrava. Heh, stuff Grenoble, I thought to myself.

I had a reservation at the Youth Hostel in Lyon. Imagine my puzzlement when the graduate student in architectural management sitting next to me on the TGV told me at the last minute that this TGV didn’t stop in Lyon’s Part Dieu station but went straight on to Grenoble— chaining me for three hours, going and returning, if I didn’t get off the train immediately.

Mon Dieu indeed! But I did get off in time (an Olympic record in fast extraction) to take a 45-minute bus ride to Lyon and a ten-Euro cab ride up the steepest hill since Mount Everest. On my three short previous art museum visits to Lyon, I never looked up. This third city in France (after Paris and Marseilles) is formed at the juncture of two rivers— the Saone and the Rhone—and those adjacent heights attest to their rivers’ expertise at grinding down their own mountains. Such nearly vertical streets are called montes, the youth hostel being on Monte du Chemin Neuf. New Path, indeed! My atrially fibrillated heart flinched at every step up. Little did I realize that my afternoon would be plagued by a plethora of parallel montes, helplessly lost as I became in Old Lyon.

But first the good/bad news. At the hostel front desk I got a valid itinerary for the Museum of Contemporary Art to see a big Keith Haring show. Walk down the hill and turn sharply right at the bottom in search of Line D (blue) to Place Gambetta, where you transfer to Bus 4, heading for Cite International. Smoothly achieved.

(By the way, the Norman Foster-designed subway is worth a trip to Lyon in itself. I felt I was in someone’s front room, not on a gritty old subway.)

Alas, I had forgotten that all museums in France are closed on Mondays. Gulp. I finally tracked down a security guard and he told me to come back at 2 p.m., which led me to a tasty buffet at the nearby Hilton Brasserie. Stuffed, I returned— to be admitted, but reduced to hollering for any old soul as I climbed the six staircases in the museum’s brilliant new Renzo Piano building.

At the top floor I was interrogated by a dashing blonde who turned out to be the director’s assistant, finishing her Ph. D. on early German photography. She gave me a one-woman tour of the Haring show, all the while briefing me on the state of museology in France in general and Lyon in particular. At one point I noted a Gramma caricature. Whoops! It turned out to be Keith’s Andy Warhol, on whom the museum had its last biennial Mega-show. Sorry, Andy. Or do I owe Keith an apology?

I was proud at how my Irish palaver had gained me access. But it was hubris before the fall. I tried to reverse the hostel`s mass trans plan, only to find myself more and more disoriented. Were it not for a solicitous geezer who saw me fumbling at the automat for a new subway ticket, I’d still be a prisoner at the Gare de St. Paul. After interrogating scores of locals to no avail, finally I found a young businessman who knew where my hostel was and pointed me in the ultimate right direction, after two hours of up one monte and down the next parallel one.

Suddenly I found myself in an artists’ quarter: first, a world-class, middle-aged sculptor, one Mme. Aurelie, with the accolades to prove it—and a gallery full of her work, and some of her students’, two of whom were in the middle of a hammer and chisel lesson when I happened in. Then, a few meters farther on, a splendid young furniture designer and his cadre of workers, sawing away on exotic woods. And a jewelry shop whose Calder-like mini-mobiles would warm Sandy’s heart. And on it went, until I was stopped cold by a 16th-Century hotel where the cheapest room was 340 Euros a night (about $520), no breakfast included.

By comparison, my night in the Jeunesse Herberge hostel cost me 12 Euros and a major leg cramp as I tried to climb down from my upper bunk at 4 a.m— to get to the Calatrava airport with enough time to shoot it before my EasyJet flight to Berlin/Schoenefeld and an afternoon at the Martin-Gropius Bau for a sneak preview of new shows on Alexander Rodchenko and Philly’s own Man Ray, aka Emmanuel Rudnitsky. Did I forget to tell you that museums are closed in Germany on Tuesdays?

Luckily, the press lady went for my explanation that I had a conference date in Dessau the next day, when the museum was to hold its press preview on Rodchenko and Man Ray. Although the Bau was closed on this Tuesday (like all Tuesdays) an Argentinian filmmaker and his troupe were there to make a film on art in Berlin, and I was allowed to tag along. Listen, why did God give us Irish our gift of gab if not to supersede rules when necessary?

I haven’t mentioned the sociological glory of the mix of world students at those hostels. It warms my aging (81 and no longer counting!) retired professorial heart to hear them gabble. Nostalgia is geriatric sex! And my shoot at Calatrava’s Lyon-St. Exupéry Airport went swimmingly, beginning with a serendipitous rainbow from one end of the airport to the other.

So don’t fret when your plans dead-end on you. Play by ear!

Friday, 9 January 2009

Dumb Irish Luck: A Serendipitous Memoir

You know that sly bit of Irish self-denigration: God didn't give the Irish as many brains as most people so He compensated by throwing serendipitous blessings or breaks to them. My first really big serendipity came when I was twenty-eight years old. (We'll get into the lesser ones later on in this story.) After three years of teaching English at East Lansing, MI High School (I was finishing my Ph.D. in American Culture at Western Reserve University in Cleveland while raising a small family--Michael (1952) and Catherine (1954) with Mary, my graduate student wife) when I got a Ford Foundation fellowship for 1955-56 to study the implications of the new medium of television for English teaching.)

My first national publication, in Scholastic Teacher, had been Everyman in Saddle Shoes, urging teachers to follow my example and assign original television plays by the writers like Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling. I still recall the excitement I felt when I had assigned, sight unseen, Chayefsky's The Catered Affair, about a Bronx taxi driver torn between saving the big fee you needed to get a hack's license and financing an expensive catered affair for his daughter. My tenth graders were mostly the children of eagerly mobile Michigan State University professors or GM executives, with a sprinkling of blue collars, heh, somebody has to do the dirty work, even, perhaps especially in a ritzy suburb. They understood only too well the anxiety of making tough choices like the one facing the cab driver. Their class discussions and themes were easily the most nutritious I collected in thirty years of teaching.

This piece attracted the attention of the Harvard sociologist David Riesman, that ecumenically alert observer of our national character, as he was revising a series of lectures on education the University of Nebraska Press was publishing. He wanted insider feedback on his Olympian takes. It was of course thrilling to have a name ask you for your opinion: something which almost never happens in graduate school, until they went you to defend them in the auto da fe known as the Orals.

I objected to his selecting the social sciences as the most controversy generating sector of Academe. As a strict Roman Catholic morphing slowly but surely into a starry eyed Marxist, I had already felt the heat of the very uncontroversial colleagues at ELHS. I insisted to Riesman that the humanities, properly considered, were every bit as controversy generating as the social sciences, perhaps more so. All of my graduate professors were liberal of course but that is not the same as being controversial. Perhaps only one of my dissertation advisers, the historian Harvey Wish, fit the contentious category, but I had the feeling that even he had to be not too blatant in that still anti-Semitic ambience of American higher education in the 1950s. Riesman valued my reaction and he became not so much a mentor (we met only three times before he retired with Edie to Lexington, MS) as an ideal. The social scientist as humanist, like the Frankfurter School Leo Lowenthal, another exemplar. I'm sure Riesman's recommendation materially helped my successful application for the fellowship.

We moved into a middle class flat in Flushing, right across from where Robert Moses would eventually site the 1964 New York Worlds Fair. When Bill Boutwell, the publisher of Scholastic Teacher, heard of my award, he asked me to be the radio TV editor where I culled from network press releases a weekly series of recommendations for using radio and TV in the nation's classrooms. And I invented a full-page lesson plan called a Teleguide for specials like Maurice Evans doing Macbeth.

New York eggheads had no idea how big a leg up such access to High Culture was for viewers between the Left and West Coasts. (I would find out with a vengeance in 1960 when Daedalus magazine fielded a conference in the Poconos on how the clerisy should deal with mass culture beyond the perhaps too glib stereotyping of Dwight Macdonald's Middlebrow typology.)New York was of course a non-stop marvel for two hungry but inexperienced culture vultures from proley Detroit. MOMA and the Met, Central Park, foreign movies, exotic cuisines, along with the usual Dayline cruises around Manhattan and trips to the top of the Empire State Building. (The thrills of Windows on the World at the World Trade Center were yet to come and, alas, go.)

After a month or so of these excitements, I began to settle down with a plan to make my report to the Ford Foundation a substantial one. I rendezvoused with Marshall McLuhan, then the pet professor of Teachers College Lou Forsdale. As a Commonweal Catholic, I had early on known about Marshall's pioneering takes on popular culture, essays which eventually ended up in The Mechanical Bride, that Bible I had taken into my first classes at East Lansing.

(It amused me to learn that the Winnipeg born, Oxford University polished media guru had started thinking the way he did about popular culture when his first job was with Freshman English students at the University of Wisconsin: he told me he felt like an anthropologist studying an esoteric folk culture. He had to learn their language or fail.)

There were other revealing contacts, Bob Landry, the editor of Variety, who was conversant with network radio in which he first made his name. He was bemused, I recall now without the sense of inferiority I felt then, as this Julien Sorel out of the Midwest, asking him a beginners questions about the media he knew so well. He even published several pieces of mine on things like Mad magazine and the 50th anniversary of the Miss America contest. He told me about Steve Scheuer, a Yalie, with a syndicated TV Key service in hundred of papers. Steve was doing for the daily newspaper reader what I was attempted on a weekly basis for school teachers and their students. (Googling around recently, I was interested and impressed to see that all of those TV scripts he pried so painfully out of the network producers are now living a second existence, in a collection at Yale.) Steve introduced me to William Kaufman, who was then pioneering the publication of annual the best TV drama scripts. One highlight of our interaction was a dinner with him and his wife hosting the then fledgling TV director John Frankenheimer. He also set up a meeting with Arthur Penn in a dancehall rehearsing of a Philco Goodyear Theatre play, starring John and Diane.

This is was not mere celebrity hounding (which I despise). It was getting glimpse of the many complexities of getting good TV on the air. I was beginning to feel that I was getting more than a rube's view of TV as a medium. And not just TV drama. It was the era of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca improvised comedy, the lively conversations (before TV cable shouters) of David Susskind and Richard D. Heffner, and the documentaries of Edward R.Murrow. It was also the NBC of Sylvester Pat Weaver's Dave Garroway, Home and Wide, Wide World. It is hard to believe that this dawn of TV diminished so quickly and depressingly to the manic mess it is today.

One Friday morning I was reading my already ritual New York Times on the subway into Manhattan when I read that there was to be a White Conference on Education tomorrow at the Sheraton Plaza in Washington. I didn't know anything about press passes or invitations. I just up and went. As I entered the hotel foyer the next morning I saw two men deep in conversation.

One I recognized (from a Time cover) as Ralph Bunche. The other man didn't ring any bells at all. With the chutzpah of the pre-cosmopolitanized, I wheedled my way into their presence and grandly announced, I'm Pat Hazard from East Lansing High and I'm on a Ford Foundation year to see what English teachers should do about television. As you might well imagine, there was an abrupt and painfully long pause to our conversation.

Finally, the anonymous man offered:Well, how is it going, Mr. Hazard? I replied that of course New York was an inexhaustibly exciting three ring cultural circus, but that I was getting nowhere in my effort to arrange an interview with Pat Weaver, who had recently unburdened himself at length in Variety about his media theory Enlightenment Through Exposure.

To be not too retroactively snide about this utopian hypothesis, it theorized that if you dropped an operatic aria onto the Ed Sullivan Show every Sunday, in six months Americans would all be opera buffs. (Or Opera Bouffe buffs?) After a bit more of this caterwauling, the unidentified man owned up not only to being Roy Larsen, the publisher of Time magazine but also on the board of directors of the foundation giving me my fellowship. He wondered casually if I could use an office in the Time Life Building to forward my researches! Ahem. Er, ah, thank you, Mr. Larsen, as I scribbled down the name and telephone number of his aide who would set me up two days hence.

Thus it was that early Monday morning that bright October, I was gazing out the window of my 34th floor office asking myself what the fuck do I do now. I know. I'll call Pat Weaver. Now Mr. Weaver's secretary knew me only too well from previous attempts to set up an appointment. By now, she was on the edge of mean, the iciness of her demeanor almost setting off frosty waves off the telephone wire. Mr. Hazard, she chided me on the cusp of exasperation,this is the beginning of the fall season, and Mr. Weaver is very, very busy.

Unfamiliar with greater world politesse I replied that I was at the beginning of my Ford grant and also very very busy. I added, giving her the magic Time phone number, JU 62525, asking her to call me when her boss had fifteen free minutes so I could write a story for the nation's teachers on ETE. That was 11:00 a.m. At 1:30 I was in Weaver's office, watching him in astonishment, balancing on his Bongo Board, as we parried about the future of TV. (He claimed he thought better on the board!) I can't remember a single word of what we discussed that day. (When his autobiography came out thirty years later, he begged off an interview, on the grounds of failing memory.)

I can't remember a word we said, but I learned more about the mechanics of the American media system in that transaction than at any other time, save one the day Newton Minnow asked me and three social scientists in 1961 to revise TV license renewal forms. (Of that, more later.) What I learned was that the Scholastic magazine switchboard was unconnected to the Big Ones. But call from Time, and the world wanted to listen. I hadn't changed. The same cheeky outlander meets one socially conscious publisher and my access changed.

And Time, Inc was in the old days, as everyone knew, a great and genial host. They flew me all expenses paid to Chicago, to see how their magazines were printed. They paired me and Axel Springer's son in an all afternoon seminar watching the editor, managing editor, and art editor of Life put together an issue. It was truly a serendipitous encounter that Saturday in Washington. Later it would lead to my becoming the education adviser for Time Life Films for four years (1968-72), which led to appearances of BBC-2's Late Night Lineup, and five years as American TV correspondent for Contrast, the video journal of the British Film Institute. All because of an uncourteous interruption of two movers and shakers in conversation. There would be more, lesser and greater, serendipitous encounters, but this was the one that unleashed me on an unwitting and too frequent witless whirl of media.

How did I get to be so cheeky? It all began in an empty Kellogg Corn Flakes carton in Battle Creek, Michigan, where my father was a furniture salesman (after mustering out as a Captain with mustard gas exposure in World War One) and my mother May Fitzpatrick, a certified school teacher (Mount Pleasant Teachers College, 1919) with one son at home already, Harry E. (1920) who was forever nicknamed Mike by the nurses in the hospital where he ended up with infantile paralysis while I was being born and baptized Patrick. Pat and Mike. What a joke. The seven years that separated us were never bridged, and I spent sad years later springing him from the nefarious Radford prison in Florida and his favorite bar in Greenwich Village. He died the next day from the DTs at Nazareth Hospital, Philadelphia.

Whatever is the opposite of serendipities was poor Mike's fate, never recovering from his father's abrupt elopement with his secretary to Nevada in 1930. I was an oblivious three and was too young to be hurt until later. He was ten, and never got over his devastation, slowly sliding into a wasted life and final alcoholism.