Friday, 23 April 2010


Time to regain the mission thread! Where we left off was me getting lost in the maze of crooked streets when leaning towards left on Euclid to gain Spruce. But rescue was at hand! A gentleman of a certain age – let’s face it, about my age – with the biblical name of David, whom I approached, told me that the route was too complicated to explain but that he was heading in the same direction and invited me to accompany him.

As we mounted the hills, taking it easy on the many stairs, a certain abundance of what looked like religious buildings was notable on the way and I asked David about this overflow. I am glad I did so, since the explanation was intriguing indeed. Apparently, the hills in question were called “Biblical hills” since they housed the majority of Christian colleges in Berkeley, other faiths’ institutions of higher learning being located at less exclusive premises. Within the catholic faith alone there were three such institutions: one each for the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the Jesuits. As explained by David, contact between these three colleges was minimal, each being convinced of its own rightness of ways.

As he was speaking we passed one of the more proficient such institutions, looking somewhat like a debonair monastery, unsure which variant of faith it abided by. When approaching the centre of it all, a nice young lady passed us by in speed and opened its door for us, believing us to be distinguished visitors. Her smile was so inviting that it could stem only from recently having been blessed by salvation. We were sorry to disappoint her and continued our journey with, I trust, her blessings.

David confessed, when queried about why he was so knowledgeable about these colleges, that he was himself involved as teacher. His speciality was Hebrew and Latin, which pleased me no end, since my favourite conversation topic is the use of spoken Latin in contemporary society. We dived deeply into this topic and commiserated about the sad decline in such use. This gave me the opportunity to ponder on my early student days in Vienna, when Latin was still very much alive in the teaching of Roman Law. David was intrigued to hear that, in my student days at least, lawyers became Doctors of Law not by writing a thesis, but by holding a learned conversation with their professor in Latin, the so called “Romanum”.

He was the more pleased to hear that Finland was still a valiant bastion of traditions. In that country there is, in fact, a radio channel that is emitting the latest news in the language of Cicero. There is even a pop orchestra singing, maybe not in the idiom of Cicero, but surely in that of Virgil, Horace and Ovid. To our mutual pleasure he could in turn enlighten me about the official languages in use in the former Parliament of the Kingdom of Hungary, prior to its sad demise after the Great War. They were no other than Hungarian and LATIN! So there is still hope for the world.

Discussing such noble matters made the time fly and we soon arrived at a crossroads where he took off further up into the hills but I could already glance a street sign indicating that I had arrived.

Just some blocks down the street a yellow building with the right number of 1780 was discerned. This is a nice little apartment building you resided in, Lars! It looked recently painted to me and well kept, not to speak of well secured. My original plan was to try to locate the owner or manager with a view of gaining access to the penthouse, since Lars in his comments was lyrical about the vista from his former balcony and I would have loved to take a picture of the Golden Gate from there for his benefit. Unfortunately, the building was firmly locked, without even a list of tenants outside or means of contacting them. I waited for 15 minutes or so, hoping for a resident to either exit or enter, but, in the middle of the day as it was, nobody appeared. Slightly disappointed I started my return.

Since Lars had talked about an undisturbed view, I guessed that the block immediately to the West of the building must have been an open plot back in the ‘eighties. So I decided to make a detour on the route back home to investigate. Sure enough, the whole block consisted of what looked like a big “Schrebergarten”, a garden colony. There was an open gate, so I entered the compound. From a suitable angle I tried to get a glimpse of Lars penthouse and believe that I was able to get at least a tiny corner of it into the view, just behind a blue building on the street opposite to the garden.

A pair soon came to question my presence, in a friendly way, and it turned out that this plot belonged to UCB, to be used by students under the supervision of a biology teacher. In fact, the pair contacting me was the don and his faithful disciple. "No", it is the guy to the left who is the don. As always, I presented the blogging project to foreclose any possible admonishments, and took a picture of the pair. Upon hearing about my activities they suggested that I contact the research station uphill of campus, to gain further material for the postings. Some interesting nature research was apparently going on there, for instance, there was a colony of “giggling hyenas” and it had already been established that the frequency of giggling showed the status of the hyena in question. Nervous giggles in quick succession denoted, you may have guessed, low rang, whereas more stately giggles indicated a more elevated position in the flock. This was clearly worthy of looking into at some later stage. But isn’t it nice to see that, whatever topic may stroke your fancy, you can always find on-going research about it in the University of California?

These refreshing thoughts accompanied me whilst retracing my steps towards and back through campus. By then it was early afternoon, and extracurricular activities were, as always on campus, blooming to the full. This time the campus was warming up for the first ever Berkeley Open Campus week, which would culminate in a huge outdoor festivity the following Saturday, at the same time rounding up that event and introducing that of next week, the Annual Earth Day. More about all this at a later posting!

The Vietnamese student association was still going at it, this time aided by what looked like an Asian hellhound or dragon, asking to be fed. Another group was, more in earnest, working hard to get the student audience interested in the great American Census which is being carried out at present.

Last, but not least, standing on the Campus edge towards Telegraph Avenue, a big surprise awaited me. The Communist Party of the Americas was alive and kicking, welcoming me with clenched fists and “Revolution” slogans, made palatable by big smiles in the good old Campus tradition. I do not recall that I had ever seen their representatives on campus when I was a student. Maybe they were personae non gratae back then, in the middle years of the cold war. But, just like our own communist parties back home, they have re-invented themselves after the Soviet breakdown with messages more closely geared towards the views of the general public. The party is very active now in the field of climate change and advocates world revolution as the (only?) means to get to grips with that global threat.

I felt obliged to point out, to the agreeable pair representing the party, that I did not believe in revolution as the cure all. Furthermore, I tried to make them aware of the old adage of “Revolution eats its own children”, indicating that the originators’ best intentions generally risk being ignored by more brutal successors that tend to rise as the pioneers are being made redundant. These thoughts did not fall on fertile ground, to my regret, so we soon continued our brief discussions on other topics. It emerged that the gentleman in the picture used to study at Berkeley and, furthermore, that he did so precisely in those years when I myself was a student. His major was in philosophy and I could not help myself thinking, that such a gentle and learned person would be among the first to be devoured if revolution would be taking off in earnest.

Normally I would have proceeded along Telegraph to return to Stuart, but there was an additional task urging me on. You may recall our friend Harry that we met on the Sunol hike. To my intense pleasure he has since then become an active reader of this blog and found a way to reinvigorate its interactivity. As you can judge for yourself, when reading his comment under the posting “Mission in sight”, he is actually a born “Berkleyite” and his childhood home was located on Channing Street, at its corner to Shattuck Avenue, just 10 minutes’ walk from where I am living at Stuart. Below you see a charming picture of his former home, taken in the late 'thirties by his father Charles A. Pottol (1899-1967). Harry himself is in the picture, on the scaffold in the back. This is going down memory lane with a vengeance, reaching back more than 70 years, rather than the 35 we usually have as reference in this blog. I trust you understand that I could not resist the urge to pass by his old quarters, on my way home, so that I could bear witness of the past vs. the present.

As Harry said in his comment, the house, a beautiful example of what in Sweden is called “snickarglädje” (the carpenter’s delight), is sadly gone. I tried to take a picture from approximately the same angle as the valiant cameraman in the ‘thirties. As you can see, progress is not necessarily presenting us with better vistas and, furthermore, planning restrictions must have been more relaxed in the old days to permit such unwelcome transformation.

As a bonus gift to Harry, I was pleased to notice, that the building just opposite his former home is still alive and kicking. This is the house you saw every day, Harry, when stepping out on your porch on the way to school. Hopefully, the painting has kept its nuances, to bring you fully back to the days of yore!

Being mighty pleased with myself after having been interactive all day, I traced my final, by then weary, steps back towards Stuart along Shattuck, the big and busy business avenue cutting Berkeley in two. But another adventure was yet awaiting me not too far from Channing. Amongst terrible ruckus, with sirens wailing, cars sounding the horn and traffic at a complete standstill, a giant geyser had suddenly appeared right in the middle of Shattuck, just in front of the firestation. It was as if we suddenly had to be reminded of nature’s inherent violence, foreboding greater calamities to come. Or, hopefully, this was only a reminder of the recent huge eruption on Iceland, so nicely documented by our friend Thorsteinn on his website. Thorsteinn, if you read this, is there a possibility of sharing your most dramatic picture, that with the flashes of Jupiter accompanying the wrath of Vulcanus, with us here on the blog?

Coming back to the Berkeley geyser, some observers told me that a truck had driven into a hydrant, placed in the middle of Shattuck, causing this sudden eruption right before the firemen’s noses. But this is probably a wrong interpretation of the event, as Harry has explained to me. That notwithstanding, it is an irony of fate that it took the experts close to an hour to shut down this dynamic spectacle. But it is probably more important for the firefighters to be able to open the water sluices if needed, than to ­­close them after use!


Rainer Wieltsch said...

Lieber Emil
Möchte Dir ein wirkliches Kompliment für dein literarisches Englisch und die interessanten Fotos machen, ist wirklich gelungen. Wenn man bedenkt, dass Du zumindest Schwedisch und Deutsch so gut wie Englisch sprichst und auch Dein Französisch in Brüssel sich weiterentwickelt hat, dann bist Du ja ein wirklicher Sprachenzampano. Da hättest Du angesichts der Dolmetscherknappheit in Brüssel Dir einen kleinen Pensionsjob behalten können.

Anonymous said...

Hallo Emil,
vielen Dank für die interessanten Texte und wunderschönen Fotos :-)
Viele Grüße aus Bayern
Michaela Kammermeier

Harry Pottol said...

Dear Emil
I must apologize for not jumping quickly enough. Upon reading that you intended to post the picture of my erstwhile residence, I intended to ask the picture credit be "Charles A. Pottol (1899 - 1967.)". This picture is cropped from a 5X7 contact print. The camera is a 5 X 7 view camera, constructed mostly of fine hardwood. The back features a ground glass focusing plate and ability to receive a 5 X 7 film holder in portrait or landscape mode. It is no longer in the family. We gave it to a man who has since died, but I find that his widow is on the executive board of the California Association of Professional Music Teachers. A man who appears to be his son is succeeding as a conductor of small symphony orchestras.

As for the Francis Apartments (across from my house), I remember them (and may have them documented in my archives) as totally white. I knew some kids who lived there. I have seen the blue and it is an improvement, probably due to rising real estate values.

Research on the geyser calls into question your interpretation of the event. Google street view shows fire hydrants outside the Honda dealership on Parker and on Carlton Streets. None are visible at anything like the location of that flow. Also, fire hydrants characteristically break as a failure of the riser pipe, producing a nearly cylindrical stream at the source. This event appears to be a catastrophic failure of an old water main.

Had it been a fire hydrant break, the vehicle would have been a truck. We do not have lorries! During the war, the Brits and Americans had to work together and improvised and interim common vocabulary. All that I remember of it is the agreement that trucks would burn petrol. George Bernard Shaw said we are two peoples separated by a common language.

Lars Werin said...

Emil, Thank you for the photo of "my" house at Spruce Street. What a perfect photo, you have got the perspective absolutely right even though you had to be quite close to the house. BUT, for there is a big but. We lived in a penthouse on top of the building, and obviously you can't see it from down below. A very nice thing, about 50 square meters — and, at least in those days, a view of both bridges (Bay and Golden Gate).

Speaking of this, there is a novel by the British author David Lodge, who I think is a professor in literature as well. He writes "campus novels" somewhat in the style of Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim. There is one called "Changing Places", which deals with a British academic visiting Berkeley, and trying to adjust to the place. I don't remember the story, except for one thing: the stress on the importance, when in Berkeley, of having a room with, not any view, but a view of both bridges. Well, it's a kind of book you read only when the rain is pouring down, the forecast says that it will rain as much to-morrow, and you have a rusty throat.

There is another, rather funny story to tell about the view of both bridges, but I would appear too self-centered if I told it here. So I will tell you when we meet.

Emil Ems said...

Dear Rainer,
I highly appreciate your compliments for my writing and pictures. That notwithstanding, I have to admit that my proficiency in English is far from perfect. It is true that, after 15 years of being forced to draft text in that language, a certain fluency has been obtained. But, whenever I send a text to one of my native speaking friends, I get it in return with a manifold of corrections.

Furthermore, when honing your proficiency in a new language, there is a cost. The fine nuances of my mother tongue, not to speak of my acquired Swedish, were being lost as they were gained in the language of Shakespeare. For that reason I always turned out to be a miserable translator, when asked by my colleagues in the Commission to help them out in times of critical necessities. So I am glad that I had my proficiency as photographer to fall back on, when age and languor enticed me out of my professional career.

Dear Michaela,
It pleases me no end to hear from you again and that you like my humble words and pictures!

Dear Harry
As always, your interesting and thought provoking comments are highly welcome. Furthermore, it is a delight to meet, even in retrospect, a fellow photographer who is appreciating large format photography, with a camera in hardwood at that. I wished your father was still alive so that we could have a meeting, him with his 5x7 hardwood and myself with my 8x10 cherrywood from the venerable company of Tashihara! I of course immediately adapted the posting so that your father has received the credit due to him.

As to the geyser event, I did not observe the incident itself, only its consequence, so my description of the cause was based on hearsay. But you are right that even bloggers have to get the facts right. Encouraged by your comment, I paid the fire department located opposite the site a visit today and queried about the incident. The answer was that, indeed, a truck had hit a hydrant placed on a refuge in the middle of Shattuck Avenue and had sheared it cleanly off the ground. So there, the issue is now settled to everyone's satisfaction.

Dear Lars,
I will of course grasp the first opportunity to get hold of David Lodge's book. Furthermore, I can hardly wait to hear the other story at a forthcoming meeting, which I will try to arrange with you as soon as I am back in Sweden.