Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chapter 3: "Portals" or "A Tour and the Blessing of Exhausted Batteries"

As I assembled these pictures for this post, I realized that almost all of them were of doors or gates. Those that weren't, were ( save one) taken from the viewpoint of the doorway. This is probably not unique, and I likely only noticed because of my frame of mind as I toured my alma mater campus for probably only the 3rd time since graduating 24 years ago. More on that later...or perhaps even in another post if this one goes on too long. Or if I never come back to it, it may be rather obvious, the things I might say, kind of like the ubiquitous Commencement Address.

These are the Grecourt Gates, brought over from France (or maybe a replica) in the early years of the College. There is a widely published story, but I don't remember the details. Shortly before I came to Smith, an image of these gates became the new college seal. The impetus to replace the old one is another whole story. Anyway, the building behind the gates is College Hall, and in the early years I believe it housed most of the administrative functions of the college. I just remember its halls being very cool, the ceilings high, the floors very shiny and your footsteps echo in the halls (or squeak if you are wearing sneakers). The door hinges creak and I think there are transom windows above as you enter each office. The doorknob plates (I'm sure there is a more correct architectural term, escutcheon, maybe) were brass and intricately decorated. The kind revered in Victorian home magazines.

My friends (Ophelia '86 and Anne'87) and I ('85) went to Alumnae Hall first. (Don't let "alumnae" throw you - it's the Latin plural for the feminine alumna, in lieu of the usual alumni, plural for alumnus; Smith being, after all, one of the few remaining women's colleges.) We picked up campus maps to help us identify the new buildings and re-acquaint us with some of the old.

I loved the carvings around this doorway and I knew the squirrels on the top corners would hold special meaning for my husband. (To our delight, some friendly little squirrels have been doing some "carving" at the portals of our home!) Here is the same doorway viewed from the other side - the long view. My friend Ophelia helped me out by "peopling" the space. And my friend Anne "peopled" this function room for me. It was a large room with lots of furnishings and huge windows and I should have taken more pictures. But this one pic gives you an idea of its grandeur.

I liked this smaller room, which appears to be a dining room. Very traditional furnishings. There's probably a story behind the furnishings and decor. Not depicted here is a lovely fireplace to the right of the table.
A mini-gate into a mini-courtyard. I really don't think this was here when I was here. I think it was added to give some importance to an approach to the new Bass Science Building and the attached new Science Library. You can just see the corner (brick) above the granite post on the right. The brick building on the left is.........
Morris House. I began spending time studying with other science geeks at Morris House in my junior year. Then I moved there for my senior year, all the way from the house next door, Lawrence House, where I spent my sophomore and junior years. If you have eagle eyes, you may be able to read the brass plate to the left of the door, indeed identifying the entrance as belonging to "Morris House". Can you also see me reflected in the glass of the door?
My senior year, my window was probably the middle of the three you see just above the porch roof. I shared a "suite" with Candace. A suite really only meant you had a single door leading off the main hall to four individual doors, to 2 single rooms and 2 closets. I don't know why they were built that way. Some of the suites coupled a single room with a double room, and at one end of the hall, there was a door leading to a suite of 4 rooms, 2 doubles on the front and back corners of the house, and 2 singles in between. I wonder where Candace is and what her life is like.....
Morris House was locked up, but there was a housekeeper in Lawrence House counting linens. She let us in, let us roam around, pulled out photo albums and yearbooks, with us in them, looking young and sassy and thin. She remembered me(maybe) and I think I remembered her! She had started at Morris House about the time I was there. We were amazed and touched by how much she remembered and seemed to truly care about the college and the students. She told us a little about the cuts in staff and how some of the upkeep had truly gone by the wayside.
This is a picture of the room I occupied (a single!) when I was a sophomore at Lawrence House. I was tremendously overwhelmed and under-funded when I was there, so this is pretty much how it looked when I lived there. Lots of the girls plushed-up their rooms with carpets, beautiful coordinated bedding and curtains, and real artwork, like matted, framed in glass and properly hung from the picture moulding (molding?) at the ceiling. (We weren't supposed to leave nail or thumbtack holes in the wall-papered plaster, and I'm sure nobody ever did.) The desk and chair are different, and that's about it.

And finally, a snap of Helen Hills Hills Chapel. The story is Helen Hills married a relative, and so her married name is Helen Hills Hills. It is used for interdenominational functions. I attended Sunday morning services many times in my freshman year, being an alto in one of the freshman choirs. I remember nothing but the music. And let's face it, a major reason I sang in the choir, was for the Easter trip to sing at West Point. I don't regret a single second of rehearsing, getting up on Sunday morning for services, etc.
Aren't you glad my batteries quit? I only have very few pictures (and memories) left to go......

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rainy Day Lunch

This is the view outside my house today. Do you know how much mud my dogs will track in despite my best efforts and lots of towels?
So to cheer us all up on this drab rainy day, we're having a comfort food lunch at a brightly lit and sunshiny table. What's missing is fresh-baked brownies for dessert....hmmm, maybe it's not too late. A good opportunity to try a new recipe.

The close-up was supposed to focus on the plate, my Pfaltzgraff Pearl Brocade. Sadly, it's discontinued. But really the scene-stealer is the reflected light off the Corning French White soup mug. See what I mean by a sunshine-y table setting?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Happy Conclusion

I got my delivery of potholders from the swap yesterday! I looooove getting packages in the mail, et vous? There is a distinct lack of bright happy waaarm colors like red, orange, pink or purple in the group as a whole, which came as a big surprise to me having followed the progress of several participants on the blog, and then seeing the pictures of all 500+ potholders in one place before being sorted and sent. Did I mention I have a red kitchen? However, having said that, these are thick, scrumptious and very pretty, very well made. I know I will smile when I use them and wonder if all the other swappers are baking yummy "lovin' from the oven" using theirs.

And after all, who wouldn't be happy about replacing these?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chapter 2: In which our heroine strolls in the President's garden

On the first afternoon, we had perfect weather. It was sunny and warm, but not too warm, and I didn't even notice the humidity, so it couldn't have been too bad. Not a cloud in the sky. And come to think of it, no mosquitoes. I started meandering at Paradise Pond. Paradise Pond is a misnomer. There is a sharp bend in the river, an elbow. At the inner curve of the elbow is where the real flow of the river is, deeper and faster. But around the outer curve, it is more shallow, with the current weakening as you travel away from the inner curve. There is even a tiny island built up there. It is the outer curve of this elbow, where the waters appear still, that is called Paradise Pond. The river itself, is really only a stream, and I think becomes a tributary to the Connecticut River south of Northampton, at the slightly famous Oxbow, notably depicted by the Romanticist Thomas Cole. When I can restore my right-click function, I can probably post his painting. Hasn't worked in 3 days and I don't know why.
In the middle of the pic above is an expansive sugar maple. Look closely underneath to the right of the trunk. There is a bench swing given by the class of '37. It seems that students have been contemplating the idyllic view for decades, even generations.
This is the view from the Sugar Maple swing. Can you see the island in the middle of Paradise Pond? On the far bank, you can't really tell, but that's where the track and Playing Fields are. When I was there, it wasn't very developed. Women have always been encouraged to engage in athletic pursuits at Smith, but only in recent years has there been an effort to really build up the venues. I remember wide open fields with minimal markings. I played intramural soccer once or twice, and wanted to play field hockey, but never did. I remember an Indian summer barbecue out there with chicken and corn-on-the-cob and coleslaw. It was a Saturday afternoon and there was a band. We sang at the top of our lungs: "Ai-meeeeeee, What-choo gonna' do-oooo.......Ah think ah could stay with you-ooooo...."And when you stand up from the swing and turn to your right, you look up a hill to the back of the President's House. And if you walk up the hill, angling to the right, you'll be coming around toward the front of the house, and you can walk right into the President's Garden.
There are peonies lining the path, their lush drowsy heads beginning to slump toward the ground for a rest.
There were only a few climbing rose bushes, with the blooms just getting started.

And a little iris struggling for relevance beneath the peonies.
Some with more success than others.
And some with a showcase all their own.

This foxglove was the only one.......... (This is a foxglove, right?)

I loved these colors together in the shade, but really couldn't set up a nice shot to catch the harmonies, never mind the melody.

Loved this little fern in the corner of the slate steps. Seems like there should be moss, to add even more texture.

No idea who this is...........St. Martin in the Fields, maybe? I'll have to do a little research......

And a final look at the President's House again, but only because I downloaded it twice, and I can't right-click to delete it.
It was so lovely.........but I didn't take pictures that showed the neglect in the garden. It was a little disappointing. I've heard that in the 24 years since I've graduated, when the budget has been trimmed, the groundskeepers, housekeepers, and maintenance department have suffered deep cuts. This makes me sad, for so many reasons. I have dear memories of the immaculate presentation of sweeping vistas and every little nook and cranny. Things were old, but meticulously kept up. Now, so much looks old and worn out. There is more of an air of decay. And frankly, I and my friends found it depressing. When I came to Smith, I had a complex case of culture shock, for so many reasons. I remember a profound sense of "self" importance, not in the usual sense. But in the sense that I mattered to the college. And it was at Smith that I realized that it was far less of a struggle to strive for excellence in a beautiful place than in a decrepit one. I used to disparage myself for not being so self-contained that I could thrive anywhere. Now I understand that part of being the best me I can be involves loving myself enough to take good care of myself. And that includes allowing myself to expend energy, effort, and resources to surround myself with order and beauty.
(You would laugh to see my home right now...)
I'm not talking about extravagance and luxury. I just mean permitting myself to attend to the aesthetic world, even if I'm just straightening up, sweeping up, and opening a window to let the sun shine in, turning off the TV to let birdsong in and the hush of the breeze soothe the soul.
Oh, I am a hopeless Romantic, if you haven't guessed............

Monday, June 15, 2009

Re: Potholder swap

After all the agonizing on picking a pattern and materials, I finally finished my 5 potholders for the swap. They were due a week ago and I was so worried about getting them there on time. I actually finished the final stitches while riding in the car to the p.o. to send them out. Then I got to the p.o. 10 min. after window service closed. Dag nab it! We were on our way to Waterville for a get-together at theWaterville Country Club for my Dad. A Celebration of his Life. More on that another time. So we went through Portland, and fortunately their window was open all day. But I still wasn't sure they'd get there.....
And because I was so rushed at the end, I didn't get any pictures! I wanted to share with you. But, if you are really interested in this whole swap thing and want to see the ones I made, click on the link for the potholder swap on my blog list in the right hand column. Find the post entitled "Thank You". In the third photo, in the bottom of the picture in the very middle, you can see one of mine, with a yellow daffodil with an orange trumpet in the corner. Even better, you get a view of the colors, variety, and lovely stitching. I should be getting my 5 later this week. Can't wait! I will definitely photograph and share here so you can vicariously enjoy getting a package in the mail.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Where have I been?

Chapter 1 --- Wherein our heroine arrives

I went to Northampton to visit with my Smith College friends. (I graduated in 1985 with a B.A. in Biochemistry.) Of course, I knew a lot of girls (I am supposed to say "women") at Smith, but really have maintained contact with only 2. They, individually and together, can make me laugh harder than anybody, so I had 3 days of re-connecting and lots of great laughter. I also walked around on campus a lot, took a few pictures, (even though I have yet to learn how to use my cam.), and enjoyed some great restaurants. We stayed at the Autumn Inn, which is on the edge of campus, and was probably there long before I ever heard of Smith. When you turn in, and drive through the archway, you find a tiny parking lot. See at the end of the parking lot, where the trees are? Can you tell that the land dips down into a little hollow at the end of the lot, behind the inn? If you walk back there, you'll see...... the swimming pool! The day we arrived, it would have been warm enough to at least lounge by the pool to cool off, and maybe even take a little dip before dinner. But it hasn't been filled yet. No great loss, the rest of the time we were there, while quite comfortable (a little nippy, at times), would not have been warm enough for swimming outside. And I think it's mostly in shade.
I guess I never realized how lush the vegetation is in Northampton. It's in the Pioneer Valley, and I remember it being very humid in the summer time, but being so veeeerry busy with my college gal activities, I hardly took notice of the botanicals, which is a shame because the campus itself is a botanical garden. I largely (but not completely) ignored this bounty. I had sooooo many more important things to think about. So maybe I'm making up for it.

This gorgeous bush was in somebody's yard. I took the pic from the sidewalk. No idea what it is, just very impressed with it.

This was also in someone's yard, but much closer to the sidewalk. Does anybody know what it is? It was all over Northampton. I remember it, and haven't seen any around pretty though.

This firewood was stacked neatly in the archway (see pic above), seasoning/drying for the coming fall and winter. It was so spring-summery beautiful there, it seemed impossible that it would ever change. But in my ever-so-dim memory, I remember the Indian summer, the waiting for Mountain Day, the nip in the air, the turning of the leaves and finally kicking and crunching my way through them on the sidewalk. And yes, the snow, it does come to Northampton, and there is frost on the old glass windows of the decades-old (maybe century-old) residence houses (not dormitories). But no longer do the students pad down the turning back stairs in their thick wool socks with an empty mug in hand, and ask the kitchen ladies in their crisp white uniforms for hot water for tea or cocoa out of the huge tea kettle permanently parked on the huge gas stove. The kitchen is now a laundry room. Times change. There is a large colonial-style fireplace at the Autumn Inn.

I've never been at the Autumn Inn for a leaf-peeping season, but here's what I imagine. A crackling fire throwing its warmth into the room. I hope they have warm cider and donuts(home-made) for the guests. I picture people in tweeds and Shetlands comparing birding notes, with cameras and field glasses hanging from their necks. But more likely they are in LLBean or Columbia fleeces, and talking to other people on iPhones about things that have nothing to do with birds or foliage or hiking paths. And they're not drinking cider, but on their way to drive downtown to Starbuck's. I think the nostalgic me is getting cynical......and I didn't even get to the Emily Dickinson museum while I was in the area.