[lit-ideas] Re: I wish you were Ritchie

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 18:25:54 -0700

On Oct 12, 2006, at 7:34 PM, Steve Chilson wrote:

Pints for 30 p. No wonder they're happy...

Yes. At that price I think we'd all have to take up percussion of the liver. I'll explain. I've been away, visiting Whitman College, where I read--on a notice board in the lavatory--that there would be a presentation by the Sexual Misconduct Coordinator. How does one get such a job, I wonder? Imagine yourself on the search committee. "The vita looks fine, but frankly, where's the experience?"

Whitman was an interesting visit. The president came to talk with prospective parents and students, which I thought was a nice gesture. His vision for the future of the campus was that teaching has to change to take account of the fact that students now can multi-task. Maybe May Sarton reading her work through headphones, while the professor rides a hobby horse in front of the class? There was a diversity breakout session, run by someone with one of those African names that could have clicks in it, but the clear fact when I looked at students going from class to class is that it's the whitest campus I've seen in a long while. Maybe ever. The sculpture and the landscaping and the library were superb; the reading in the "texts" section in the bookstore, less stellar. Hobby horses all round. The curriculum fight that became clear to me was between those who wanted to hold onto a foundation Western Civ course because "close reading" is the best skill a liberal arts college develops, and those who want to give equal weight to all "voices." The second semester of "Core" (Western Civ) went something like, Locke, someone, someone, Nietzsche, Toni Morrison. An odd nod to diversity, I thought.

Returned home briefly and then went crabbing, which was not the best of experiences. The day was overcast. There were too many boats and very few crabs. We hauled in two keepers in three hours, before motoring over to the breakwater to try to pick up some rock crab. These were abundant, so we came back with what looked like a decent catch, but because rock crab are small, it is only the very patient eater who enjoys them. Thus a surf dinner became surf and turf and herbage.

What a dinner it was, though. I'm tempted to write that the object was to celebrate P.G.Wodehouse's birthday, but it was in fact to mark my half century. (P.G.W. and I were born on the same day.) Lots of good friends came, with presents that--you'll be surprised to learn--were all books, carefully chosen and quite delightful. My wife found a book on the First World War that had somehow slipped past my radar, a mystery novel set in the First World War, and a book titled, "The Whisky Muse; Scotch Whisky in Poem and Song." The last has a delightful rendition of the famous stranding of a boatload of whisky on Barra, an event that gave rise to a film called, "Whisky Galore." A friend found a volume of Billy Collins, and a volume of local history that may or may not prove interesting. My ex-yoga teacher and soccer-watching chum gave me a mint copy of Sanford Bennett ("The Man Who Grew Young at 70"), "Old Age; Its Cause and Prevention." It's illustrated with photographs and drawings. My favorite so far is "Percussion of the Liver." You lie on your side and whack your liver twenty times. When I write "favorite," I'm thinking theoretically. My painter friend brought, Charles LeClair, "Color in Contemporary Painting; Integrating Practice and Theory." So far I've only looked at the pictures, but they're pretty wonderful. The party wound down somewhere near midnight. I stayed up, pushing words around, thinking there must be an anniversary poem in me somewhere. I was wise enough not to send the thing off. It needs further attention. Percussion of some sort too, probably.

Sunday was quiet and dark and rainy and didn't perk up until we played tennis. Then came a short visit to a party our architect friend had invited us to and dinner with other friends, who had gone all out, buying foie gras--the real thing, cooked lightly in fat and brandy--and ducks, which she served Peking style, with pancakes and scallions and plum sauce. The fabulous deserts from Saturday were still unfinished, so they did another round.

Altogether, I recommend turning fifty. You too can have this pleasure if you just remember carefully and regularly to whack your liver and grow young. Just follow the instructions in the book.

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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