Friday, November 20, 2009

Re-post in honor of tomorrow's Big Game: The Berkeley Campanile

I've been gazing at this lovely photo for a good quarter-hour. From the right window of the International House, where I lived for a year before shacking up with The Great American Writer, this was the view. Well, okay, sure, you might have to wait for the perfect silver-wash effect and the absence of fog.

And you'd either want to be alone at your window, or -- perhaps -- at most -- you'd want the person you loved most in the world at your side.

Three years later, I'd left The Great American Writer and moved into a room, yes, a room of my own, up on Kentucky Avenue, in the Berkeley Hills. If you shift the point-of-view in this photo -- over to the right, on the other side of the pier -- then you, too, could curl up in your rocking chair and gaze at five counties, letting the Cantilène de sainte Eulalie fall to the old linoleum floor.

1. Buona pulcelle fut Eulalia ;
2. Bel avret corps, bellezour anima.
3. Voldrent la veintre li Deo inimi ;
4. Voldrent la faire diavle servir.
5. Elle non eskoltet les mals conselliers,
6. qu'elle Deo raniet chi maent sus en ciel.
7. Ne por or ned argent ne paramenz,
8. Por manatce, regiel, ne preiement,
9. Neule cose non la povret omque pleier
10. La polle sempre non amast lo Deo menestier ;
11. Et por o fut presentede Maximiien,
12. Chi rex eret a cels dis sovre pagiens .
13. El li enortet, dont lei nonq chielt,
14. Qued elle fuiet lo nom chritiien.
15.Ell' ent adunet lo suon element.
16. Melz sostiendreiet les empedemetz
17. Qu'elle perdese sa virginitet.
18. Por o s'furet morte a grand honestet.
19. Enz en l'fou la getterent, com arde tost.
20. Elle colpes non avret, por o no s'coist.
21. Aczo no s'voldret condreidre li rex pagiens ;
22. Ad une spede li roveret tolir lo chief.
23. La domnizelle celle kose non contredist,
24. Volt lo seule lazsier, si ruovet Krist.
25. In figure de colomb volat a ciel.
26. Tuit oram que por nos degnet preier,
27. Qued avuiset de nos Christus mercit
28. Post la mort, et a lui nos laist venir
29. Par souue clementia.

TRADUCTION (d'après L. Petit de Julleville)
1. Eulalie était une bonne jeune fille ;
2. Son corps était beau, son âme plus belle encore.
3. Les ennemis de Dieu voulurent la vaincre,
4. Et lui faire servir le Diable.
5. [Mais] elle n'écoutait pas les mauvais conseillers
6. [Qui voulaient] qu'elle renie Dieu qui demeure au ciel.
7. Ni pour de l'or, ni pour de l'argent ou des parures,
8. Ni pour des menaces, des caresses ou des prières,
9. Nulle chose ne pouvait forcer (plier)
10. La fille à toujours n'aimer le service de Dieu.
11. Et pour cela, elle fut présentée à Maximien,
12. Qui était en ces jours-là le roi des païens,
13. Il l'exhorte, sans qu'elle y prête attention
14. [à ce] Qu'elle fuie le nom chrétien.
15. Elle en rassemble ses forces.
16. Mieux [valût ?] qu'elle soutînt les tortures,
17. Qu'elle ne perdît sa virginité.
18. Pour cela elle mourrait en grand honneur.
19. Ils la jetèrent dans le feu pour qu'elle y brûle.
20. Elle était sans pêché et pour cela ne brûla pas.
21. À cela, le roi païen ne voulut croire,
22. Avec une épée, il ordonna de lui trancher la tête.
23. La demoiselle ne contredit pas cela,
24. Et accepta de quitter ce monde, si le Christ l'ordonnait.
25. Sous la forme d'une colombe, elle monta au ciel.
26. Tous prions que pour nous [elle ?] daigne prier,
27. Que le Christ nous ait en sa pitié,
28. Après la mort, et qu'à lui il nous laisse venir
29. Par sa clémence.

My office was next to the library, next to the campanile. Good weather and good times dictated that I not be there too often, or for too long. I'd duck in, though, when I wanted to be alone to prepare for one of my own seminars -- and because I thought of Ste Eulalie, I thought of Suzanne Fleischman. (Sometimes, truth be told, I held pre-class vigil at the Bear's Lair, with a beer. They keep 40 beers on tap...)

Suzanne died of leukemia in 2000.

She liked me exactly to the extent that I liked the work she assigned. More precisely, to the extent that I completed the work assigned. It's a weird and not-good feeling to be the only person in a class who has come prepared. It happened in her class out in Berkeley and it happened in Tetel's class, and Thomas' as well, at The Gothic Wonderland -- each an advanced seminar full of post-graduates. You'd think such folk would understand the value of hard work but you'd be wrong. Also wrong? My sweeping generalisation! Still, having seen it up close and personal, and in three different instances? I'm inclined to be suspicious.

Suzanne was a linguist, a philologist. A person who grew excited over the French suffix -age! Really, though, she could bring what most would consider Total Dullsville alive. She was able to tease out cultural and political influences behind the most benign of topics. And she was an absolute stickler when it came to (annotated) translation.

I am weird. I love patterns, I love knowing why patterns break. I love the overarching rules that shrink our human whims down to size. Grammaticalization.

I wonder sometimes if I ought not be considered autistic. I'd have been happy to spend eternity with lots of clean notebook paper, sharp pencils, and an algebra book.

She was pretty. She liked bright colors. And hats. She was precise in her erudition. One of her last works? “I am…, I have…, I suffer from…: A Linguist Reflects on the Language of Illness and Disease,” in the Journal of Medical Humanities and Cultural Studies. She was quite the smartass!

What else rises at the sight of the clock tower? It was my most basic point of orientation, no matter where (or how) I was. The day I sat in the rain outside the library, at the base of the campanile -- having just discovered how cutthroat academics could be. Readings that had been put on reserve had been cut from their bindings. A librarian showed me how to search for items that were intentionally misplaced by frisking the top shelves, by checking the carts. You'd need to take sabbatical and get a degree in forensic science just to avail yourself of the reserve readings on hold for the French Department.

It was where I sometimes met up with The Great American Writer, who would go on to break my heart.

Just kidding!

In the area between the campanile and the direct trek to the International House, in that walk, one meets many visual artists. I don't know why. Maybe studio space? Yes. I think so. Studios nearby. Stones with moss.

I once had a long conversation with a woman who also lived at the I-House, was also in the French Dept., who was leaving the university to study wicca. She wanted me "to explain" it to the others. I remember staring at mossy rocks while she poured out her heart. I remember glancing up, the clock tower a reassurance. I remember wishing she would just shut up.

She had wild, curly, red hair, and offered to channel spirits, to read my aura.

All around the shade and mossy rocks, the air was cool and quenched my thirst.

I remember the day of one of NASA's worst disasters. Looking at that morning's blue, blue sky as if it might reveal its reasons.

From my rented room up on Kentucky Avenue, where I could rock 'n read in front of 5 luminous counties, I walked the winding road down to campus, down to its' theolological side, down Holy Hill, a wonderful way to pray. There I wasted a coffee in a very quiet café, and followed an imaginary piece of string across campus to the campanile, walked down beside the library, hung a left, then a right into Dwinelle, left, left, and began to teach.

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