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Back in Berkeley Blog II


Back in Berkeley Blog II

I haven’t written a blog for quite a while, and have no clear idea about a direction or a title for one, hence the above.

I suppose I should begin by joining the chorus to say: Bless Justice Roberts. He did the right thing for once. (Maybe more than once, I can’t recall.) This may save his reputation. I remember an old Japanese story that we read when I was in the Japanese language school, about a man who was saved from hell by his single good act, rescuing a spider, whose thread saved him from dropping into the fiery depths. Justice Roberts rescued a great many people from illness without health insurance, and deserves credit for that.

I am more settled in my Berkeley house, sitting at a long desk in the front room facing the street, typing at one computer (the right, or north, or Berkeley computer, which has been here a long time) while at the other end of the desk is my left, or south, or Vancouver computer--I had it shipped down,  not trusting (from experience) people who told me that everything on one computer could be transferred to another. Now I can roll back and forth in my wheeled deskchair between the two, getting different data and images and advancing different projects on each. An old person’s solution, but OK for me. The two computers talk to each other only with difficulty --I have told people that they are like one’s present and former wives--one isn’t sure one wants them to talk to each other.

I am working, of course, on more video-lectures. Now that our first PRV series is pretty much complete (and accessible for free viewing both here--see at right--and on the website of the IEAS, as well as on others that we are trying to expand, especially so as to make it more accessible in China)--now that this series is complete, we will soon launch another, titled Gazing Into the Past: Scenes from Later Chinese and Japanese Painting. Each lecture in this new series will be about an artist or two, and they will mostly be centered on particular works, albums or handscrolls, that require many images for full viewing--images that I have in old slides, and that are not generally available. Much of the value of the lectures continues to be their making these thousands of images accessible for viewing, study, and eventually downloading--we are working on that. The first series will presumably be made available by the IEAS on disks, more convenient for that use, and for teaching. I mean to finish as many of these as I can in my remaining years.

The second lecture in the new series, by the way, will begin with an explanation of why I chose the image and music that begins and ends them--a detail from the “Portrait of the Artist’s Friend I-an” painted in 1799 by Lo P’ing (Luo Ping) that was the last plate in my old Skira book, and playing behind it, the “Forlane” from Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, played by my daughter Sarah especially for this new series. These, I try to explain, somehow evoke the right mood of highly sophisticated nostalgia, conjuring up the past in a deeply moving way, that is the underlying theme of the new series.  I hope that writing about it like this builds anticipation in many of you. Responses to the first series have been quite enthusiastic, and continue to come in--nearly all, however, from people other than scholars and students in the Chinese painting field in the U.S., who are un-mysteriously silent about it.  I will explain that cryptic comment some other time.

To end today’s blog, an old army story that I can’t recall telling in print before. I recently used, as I seldom do, the word “feasible” in one of my writings, and remembered this event. When I was studying Japanese at the University of Michigan in 1944-5 in the Army Japanese Language School, our unit was made up of educated men, many of them college students and professors, who had been sent to the school because of their special aptitude for learning a language quickly--the Army needed Japanese linguists. Our unit was also, however, a regular Army company with a captain, I forget his name, who was an old Army regular without special educational or intellectual credentials; and this put him at a disadvantage in talking to his “troops,” who were sometimes derisive in a way that made me a bit uncomfortable. Once, standing on the stage before us all and explaining why he was not yet ready to grant us the passes that would turn us loose for the weekend, he said: “Men, I’ll give you those passes when I see feasible.” A long pause, and then someone in the back said, loudly: “Has anybody here seen Feasible?” Much laughter, and cries of “Where’s Feasible?” “Have you seen Feasible?” And the joke went on, to the embarrassment, I’m sure, of the captain--pictures of “Feasible” drawn on blackboards, and so forth. Someone suggested that our supply sergeant, Sgt. Schnee, who was German and spoke limited English but was good at his job, and who was away on leave, might be the Feasible the captain was waiting to see. So when Sgt. Schnee returned, someone asked him, “Sargeant Schnee, are you Feasible?” He looked bewildered, and replied, “Me? No! I’m just fine!”

End of story, and of blog. Soon it will be July 4th, and I will celebrate it in a place that, unlike Vancouver, shoots off fireworks on that day, or night. I used to go with my family to the top of a building on the Berkeley waterfront to view the fireworks across the Bay. Now I will watch them on TV. But with a deep sense of being back in my real spiritual home.

James Cahill, July 1st, 2012

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