Monday, September 27, 2010


I look out the window of our boutique hotel in Berkeley, across the commons to the windows of a U.C. Berkeley dormitory. Forty years ago, I walked past the front door of this same dormitory on my way to classes. I didn’t think about windows, I thought about doors. Behind the doors of that dorm I envisioned students plugged into dorm rooms like bees in a hive -- tightly packed, indistinguishable from each other, throbbing with activity. My dorm was WWII-era temporary housing on top of a hill -- smaller, cheaper, but rooms with a view of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco.

Tonight I see the students’ world through windows. A girl paces on a terrace, talking on her cell phone. Below, a boy skateboards alone at dusk, as students stroll in twos and threes toward the back entrance of the building carrying cartons of food, but no books. I see lights in the windows above them. It’s early in the academic year, and unseasonably hot. But I’m not here to wonder at a new crop of students. I’m here to wonder at the world I used to live in and how it’s changed.

Even though renovation excuses the absence of coziness in the Bear’s Lair, my personal landmarks are relatively unchanged – Wheeler Hall, still has no air conditioning and the hard stone staircases that took your breath away when you climbed to reach your classroom and counted it a privilege.

Privilege is the window I looked through this evening from our perch at Chez Panisse in North Berkeley. “Have you been here before?” the waiter asks? Not even in my dreams 40 years ago. Then, I didn’t attend to the larger community that surrounds the University. Now, the classroom experience only makes sense within the context of the larger community.

Privilege is a right or immunity granted as a particular benefit, advantage or favor. I was given the right to an education. Over the years, I have taken time to gaze through many windows: from my ESL classroom in Germany, across the square to a gargoyle’s gothic posture on a cathedral spire high above the streets of Ulm; from a Left Bank pensione in Paris across the boulevard to an apartment window where young Parisians entertained friends in an elegant dining room – taking time to look out your window and appreciate other worlds, past, present or yet to come, with some measure of understanding is a benefit of education.

“Do the students look different to you,” a Venezuelan woman at our hotel asks me? Yes and no. Behind the doors, I imagine they are different in their study habits, less interested in changing the world than making their way in it. Through the windows, they look not much different, reaching for connection, for recreation, for respite from dorm food.

Those were good years. I would not go back.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Travel Days

If you want to teach your kids your values, go where you love and take your children with you. My nephew Ryan said that. My children are grown now, teaching values to the children they gave birth to and the children they work with. We trot along behind – to an island in the Puget Sound where we enjoy nature and Native American culture with our grandchildren, to a 6th grade classroom in Soquel where Joel performs science experiments at the Science Fair for our son’s students.

These are our travel days. Largely unencumbered now by small children and aging parents, we have vowed to make pilgrimages to the places we have come to love – Ashland, Oregon, the Mendocino Coast -- and visit places we think we would love – Glacier Park, the San Juan Islands, a sweep across Canada by rail.

One thing I notice when we travel – I constantly embroider the present with plans for the future. On a recent walk in Lithia Park I plunked down on a bench to watch ducks be silly in a pond and thought about a park bench Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Why not keep my focus on the beautiful garden in front of me?

In my mind, I wander down another garden path into the streets of the City of Light. My soul stretches luxuriously to absorb the history and beauty of the architecture like a sea sponge expands in the warm scented water of a perfect tub bath. A duck waddles around behind my ankle, tucked under the bench I am sitting on and I bring my thoughts back to focus on the present moment.

If I were in Paris now, would my focus turn as easily from arches and spires to a Mediterranean shore I’ve yet to visit, only to return to the pigeons in the street?

If my body and my mind wandered on the same path, would that be the travel experience I am seeking?

Go where you love, and take all of you.