vista of Rome

vista of Rome
A funny thing (or two) happened on my way to the Forum - photo taken in Rome, 2003 by yours truly

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Valediction without Mourning...well, maybe a little mourning

I’m sitting up in my bed at Corlyon B&B in St Ives early on the morning of my return from Cornwall to London, gazing with some wonder at an angry sea. Much of England is being hit with such weather today – high winds and rain – but Cornwall is getting battered by it. A good day to be leaving Cornwall, if only I can make it to the rail station without being blown away!

A good day, also perhaps, with only one week and one day left in England, to write a few words in a valedictory vein?

I am at the end of a near year here in the U.K. My “light at the end of the tunnel,” as I called it when I was planning/conniving/plotting it. I had grown weary of Ithaca College in general and the Department of Theatre Arts in particular three or four years ago, and became determined that I would retire at 62 if I couldn’t find some really good reason to stay. Don’t get me wrong, I am a good teacher, I enjoy teaching, I really enjoy my students. But department politics, seemingly constant and endless committee meetings, and other tediosities of academe began to make my life less than a joy much of the time. I’m not writing anything here that many other teachers, including some of my own colleagues, do not feel as strongly about, maybe more strongly than I do. 

So I began to plan, to plot, to connive an exit strategy. I am not usually a conniver, and on the few occasions in which I’ve actively attempted to connive I’ve not usually been successful. But I spoke to the chair of my department and to the director of the London Center about my strong desire to leave IC. Neither of them wanted that, as I have been of some service in my twenty-plus years at the college, primarily in the classroom, as coordinator of the BA Drama (now Theatre Studies) program, as adviser to my students, and as a strong advocate for study abroad, particularly for study at our fine London Center.

Without going into detail on a long and arduous process filled with pitfalls, I managed finally to secure a full year of teaching at the London Center on a terminal sabbatical. This effort kept me on at the home campus for two more years, and in London for a third. This is the end of the third year. I retire on 31 May, after returning to the U.S. on 7 May, visiting Ithaca from 8 to 12 May to tidy up my affairs, and heading south to Greenville South Carolina, where my retirement will officially begin.

I have been rewarded with an unforgettable and amazing year! 
I have lived in a modest flat above the London Center in the not at all modest neighborhood of South Kensington, I have taught a rather crazy course that I call A Tale of Two Theatrical Cities: Literary, Visual & Performing Arts and the French Revolution to two very bright groups of students, and I have had the luxury of traveling throughout the U.K. and to a lesser extent (less than the extent I’d have wished!) through Europe for nearly a full year.

I’ll confess that the chance to travel has been the main reason that I was so desirous for a year in the U.K., and that in spite of the many pleasures during my stay, travel has given me the most satisfaction. I began the semester in a frame of mind covered to an extent in the following quote:

What’s to do?
Shall we go see the relics of this town?
I pray you, let us satisfy our eyes
With the memorials and things of fame
That do renown this city.
                    Twelfth Night III iii

And so I did! Admittedly, the “we” in the quote above is not accurate, as Dottore Gianni is a solo traveler and as his readers should know by now prefers it that way.
Castle Conwy, NorthWales
 But almost immediately began to see the relics of this or that town. I took my first trip, to Llandudno and Castle Conwy in North Wales, almost immediately upon arrival in the U.K. in late July. Then I went off for the better part of two weeks on my “Highland Fling,” visiting Glasgow, Oban, Inverness, the Isle of Skye and the Orkneys before heading back down via Dundee to Edinburgh and the festival and my students for the official prequel to the fall semester 2011.
The promenade and boardwalk, Llandudno, North Wales
The Oban Distillery, in Oban, Scotland - for Johnny K!

Inverness, in its city park, through which flows the River Ness
Skara Brae, in the Orkney Isles
The Isle of Skye - please scatter my ashes here
In September two weekend trips with ICLC, the first to Bath, Wells, Glastonbury, 
At the Theatre Royal, Bath
Avebury and Stonehenge; the second to Stratford, Warwick and Oxford, took me away. And while I’ve been on both trips before, the first was a variation on my trip there in fall 2005 with the center (Avebury and Wells added), and the second offered me a chance to see a play in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre. While the production of the play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, hardly presented the RSC at its finest, the thrust space was a great change from the dull proscenium of the old theatre. 
Students at Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon 
I also took myself to Paris that month, to “rehearse” to official trip I’d take in early November with students, and to enjoy four beautiful days in a great city.
A square on the Ile de la Cite, Paris
October is the month of the ten-day fall break at the London Center, and while I had to cut my planned trip to Scandinavia short for lack of funds I very much enjoyed my time in Copenhagen – it was indeed "wonderful, wonderful!" 
Nyhavn, in Copenhagen
Dottore Gianni on the boat tour, Copenhagen
Perhaps out of guilt for not completing my Nordic trip – Stockholm and Oslo were also planned – I took a day trip to Colchester, which proved a pleasure and a nice change from big city touring in London. 
Colchester Castle


I also returned to Stratford for a weekend, on the excuse of taking my seminar to see Marat/Sade there, part of the RSC’s fiftieth anniversary celebration. But for them it was a day trip, for me a three day weekend of taking time to re-visit a city I have come to love.


The first weekend in November was my class’s ultimate field trip, to Paris! 
Students at Notre Dame, Paris
My eight students were joined by nearly 40 others from the center, the weather was lovely, and the trip was a joy. The following weekend off I went to a city I cannot seem to get enough of, York, 
The medieval wall and the minster, York
which was slightly disappointing the fourth time around, but a day trip from York to Durham introduced me to another lovely city in the north of England. The following week we took a day trip to Brighton, perhaps the hippest city I’ve visited in England. And lunch with alum Bridgett-Ane Lawrence made it all the more special. Finally that month I too still another day away from London to Winchester, which was if not brilliant, still quite a pleasure to see.

Durham Castle and Cathedral
BA Lawrence and Dottore Gianni in Brighton
Winchester Cathedral

Clare College, King's College Chapel
and the Backs, Cambridge
 December was dominated by planning for my Christmas trip to Central Europe,but I took another day away, to Cambridge. I'd spent a few days in that fine university city in fall 2005 but felt the need to return and did so on a cold crisp and clear Friday early in the month, where I strolled along the Backs, enjoyed its Christmas market, had a decent pub lunch, was serenaded by a choir in one square and an instrumental ensemble in another by happy accident. Merry Christmas, Dottore Gianni! 

Then off to Budapest, where I was joined by alum Emoke Bebiak who proved a fine tour guide; then Bratislava, for a taste of the roots of my mother’s family (and a taste of chicken soup just like my grandmother’s); and finally Prague, the only of the three places I'd been to before, where on Christmas Day I saw Don Giovanni at the Estates Theatre, where it premiered! A wonderful trip, a great way to end 2011.
The Danube, from the castle complex, Budapest
Christmas market in Bratislava
Dottore Gianni atop Prague, castle and
St Vitus Cathedral in the background
I traveled less frequently in the spring. Of the official ICLC trips I skipped Bath and the West, and was too ill to join the group for Edinburgh. But of course that is a city I have seen on many occasions. I was also becoming very aware that in a few short months I’d need all the money I could manage to hold onto, so became somewhat more judicious in my travel plans. A pity, but there you have it! I opted for fewer solo day excursions, more because of weather conditions than lack of money, and also because I’ve already seen most of the places in the near vicinity of London that I want to – though not all!

However, I gave myself a birthday trip for the major b-day number 65! A big year for most, I’d imagine. It certainly is for me. I took myself to Brugge, or Bruges, and while the weather was not cooperative in the slightest, the city was a great pleasure, and Bruges is beautiful in any weather.
Beautiful Bruges!
Spring break was an issue, had been for some time, as there were many places I’d like to have gone – to visit my new-found relatives in Croatia, to see alum Jess Askew in Spain (that had been a plan for fall break as well), to attempt Oslo or Stockholm again for Grethe and Maria.
Bella Ortigia, in Siracusa Sicily
 I ended in Italy, largely because I have been near that country for nearly a year and have not visited it! What?! A place I love so well? But even that trip was truncated because of funds, or lack thereof. I had wanted to visit Sicily and to return to Portovenere, to see if it was as completely beautiful as I’d remembered from a short day trip there in 2007. I ended only touring Sicily – no complaints there, but sadly I did not get to Palermo, or Taormina, or Mount Etna. Siracusa I loved, Catania I endeavored to like, but atill it was a fine few days.
Sunset, Sicilian style, on Ortigia
March began with Italy, and two weeks later we returned to Paris with students,
Dottore Gianni and his Jacobines, Palais Royal, Paris
at the end of the French Revolution walking tour
 another grand trip. 

The following weekend back to Stratford, 
Holy Trinity Church and the River Avon, Stratford
also with students, another trip marred by a dull production of a fine play (Twelfth Night), but a joy otherwise.

And that was that! Until a few days ago, when I headed to Cornwall, which wonderful place I am now about to leave (if I can make it to the train station without drowning or being swept off a cliff!).

Two more days in London, then off to Amsterdam, a city I have longed to see ever since I had to miss an excursion there in 1968, and to which I look forward enormously.

Did you sense the shift in tone between descriptions of the fall and the spring? I could feel it as I wrote the words just now, and of course I’ve been living the difference. Life is interfering with this dreamy ten-month escape from it. John Donne wrote a great poem (well, he wrote many) called “Valediction without Mourning.” Pardon me if I am slightly mournful in my valediction, as it is impossible not to be somewhat sad about departing this island England. But I’m so glad, and so lucky to have had this opportunity, the mourning is more accurately for something else.

Medvdenko: “Why do you always wear black?”
 Masha: “I’m in mourning for my life...”
                                                           from The Seagull, Act I

Well of course I’m not in mourning for my life! But I am heading into a brave new world, an undiscovered country, and my upcoming journey is one of the last ones I’ll be making, in the great scheme of my life. Those of you who have read my posts from the first will remember that very early on Dottore Gianni discussed the parts, chapters, acts in his life that have already passed, and this last “act” is, or these remaining acts are causing him no little trepidation. The retirement act is a tricky one to pull off, and after retirement, what? The obvious curtain, of course!

One night not long ago when I could not sleep, as I tossed and turned I invented a number of brilliant variations on the theme of parting, of valediction, but of course as happens to me all the time, by morning almost all of those ideas had flown out of my head. The few that remain include some manner of putting to use passages from TS Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock:”

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk along the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each…
I do not think they will sing to me…

I memorized chunks of that poem when I was a teenager. What a cheery lad I was! Dostoevsky was another favorite author. What a great time it must have been to hang out with me! For some reason since I was very young I seem to have been prepping for what it would/I would be like when I grow very old. It’s not a preoccupation I’d recommend. Don’t try this at home! I did, and see what it’s got me? “in mourning for my life…” I do not think they will sing for me…”

I promise that this is not my usual attitude. I tend to enjoy life, to rejoice in the simplest pleasures, but for reasons I don’t want to try to explain here, and probably couldn’t if I decided to try, my life can get “complicated” quite easily on occasion.

Land's End, Cornwall
I was certain that some inspiration re valediction would surely come to me as I stared out from Land’s End in Cornwall across an ocean that I really do not desire to cross. Actually no inspiration did come. The place is, as I described in a recent post, a cheap theme park. And I was not alone there. A young man, my tour guide, took photos of me, but it was clear that he was more creeped out by the atmosphere than I was, and really wanted to get out of there. 

But let’s pretend inspiration illuminated in a dazzling manner everything I’d hoped it would in my moments at Land’s End, from my life before the year in England, to that year, and to what will surely come in Act V.

Dottore Gianni contemplates the future at Land's End
Snapshot: A man stands at Land’s End, the waves break dramatically against the rocks as he stares bleakly beyond the barely made-out coastlines of the Isles of Scilly (yes, that’s pronounced “silly,” silly) to the open ocean beyond, and all is explained to him!
The Druid of Land's End?

But!
In order for life to work the way it is supposed to in that amazing vision, the man has been commanded by an unseen power (the Druid high priest of Land’s End?) to reveal nothing to anyone! And this man, John J, Jackie (later Jack), Dottore Gianni, il pazzo professore, Doctor Jack, DJ, Hack Jerkoff (as he was nicknamed by classmates when a little kid – he kids you not), Shakespeare (as he was nicknamed by fellow airmen in Russian studies during the Vietnam War era), this man whoever he is, is not going to muck with that command.




So all must remain a mystery. Apologies. Are you disappointed? Don’t be. You would have been more so had the man tried to explain. What’s left? The photos. Enjoy them! And I hope that some of you at least will continue to read and enjoy future posts. Act V is coming, and it MUST be dramatic, or it wouldn’t be much of a play, would it?
Whither next for the good doctor?

2 comments:

  1. Jack, you are always an inspiration. This is wonderful. Love the bit of "...Prufrock" that you included. Oh, and the Twelfth Night quote? I think we can all agree that you, Sir, deserve to use the Royal "we."

    Hope to see you in your short return to good ole Ithaca!

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    1. Thanks so much Jen, for the kind words! Crazy busy in my four days in Ithaca, but yes, I hope to see you! Hope all goes well!

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