You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘University College’ category.


It is winter here in Melbourne, the rainy season.  We have come full circle, living among students at University College on the University of Melbourne campus.  It was the very first place we stayed when we came to Australia over eight years ago.  I read an amusing memoir a few years back about an American TV comedy writer who lost his job and decided to “retire” at the age of 28.  He went to Florida, of course, moving in with an elderly piano teacher in a retirement village since he was too young to buy a condo.  He signed up for softball and shuffleboard and tried to fit in with people twice his age.  The young students here seem to tolerate us, but I suspect our gray hair renders us more-or-less invisible most of the time.  This was a Women’s College originally, which shows up in the attractive flower gardens and the extraordinary effort to make food for two hundred residents both nutritious and palatable.  

207001 original  207921 original

We sometimes see students who think nothing of wearing their pajamas to dinner.  Monday and Tuesday, however, they all wear black gowns for “high table.”  Their tradition goes back to Oxford and Cambridge, where a table was set on a dias for the master and fellows of the college who sat, quite literally, above the undergraduates, no doubt engaging in scintillating conversation about arcane subjects.  It actually pre-dates the Middle Ages, when families co-habited with servants and animals and members needed to eat above the others if they hoped to eat at all.  At high table here, the students are served their dinners and allowed to partake of wine, but the noise level in the hall has driven us to fetching our dinner plates beforehand, like elderly orphans begging for scraps.

We are recently back from a sabbatical sojourn in Washington DC and Montreal, Canada.  When my professor spouse first mentioned the invitation to speak to a gathering in Quebec City, we were living in Washington DC and Montreal was our very next stop.  The timing of the talk didn’t register until I put it on my calendar.  It was for April 8, five weeks after our scheduled return from the sabbatical.  If push came to shove, you could get from Montreal to Quebec City by dog sled during the winter we just endured.  Melbourne, on the other hand, is not even in the same hemisphere as Quebec.  To get to Quebec City requires getting on at least two planes for nearly 24 hours and passing the time between meals reading or watching a movie or two or six or annoying your seat mate with your life history in excruciating detail.  I try to spend most of my time sleeping.  

P4060012.jpg  P4060010.jpg

Melatonin is a hormone made by your body’s pineal gland, which is inactive during the day, but begins to produce melatonin when the sun goes down.  Melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply and you begin to feel less alert.  With any luck, you get very sleepy.  This helps regulate circadian rhythms, the “body clock,” which gets upset when you start whizzing around the planet at 550 miles per hour.  The pills you buy over the counter are usually lumped with vitamins or herbal medicines and are completely unregulated. They can give you very weird dreams and I would not suggest taking them, but they do make sleep possible during jet sitting jaunts of long duration.  I am a jet sitter, not a setter.  Setters are dogs.

We booked seats on a Qantas flight to LA, stayed overnight at an airport hotel, then flew up to Montreal the next morning where we stayed put for nearly a week.  With that recovery time, the talk in Quebec was just about doable.  

P2200008.jpg  P2200017.jpg

I’m sure most people drive or fly from Montreal to Quebec City, but the train is infinitely preferable to either.  You check your bags in the station and get meal service if you book business class.  There is wi-fi and a large window to watch the world flying by at a reasonable trot.  There is the seductive rocking of the coach as it rolls through the countryside.  It was Spring, officially, but still plenty of snow on the ground.  

P4060021.jpg   P4060019.jpg

The narrowing of the St Lawrence River below Cap-Diamant (Cape Diamond)  provided the name given to the city.  Kébec,  an Algonquin word, means “where the river narrows.”  Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain,  Quebec City is one of the oldest cities in North America and a major tourist destination in Canada. The ramparts surrounding the old city (Vieux-Québec) are the only fortified city walls north of Mexico. The city of half a million is the capital of the province and home to Laval University, the venue for my wife’s talk.  I had been there only once before, on our rather casual honeymoon in the middle of December twenty-eight years ago.  

  P4080046.jpg   P4080086.jpg

The City is known for its fine food and French Canadian charm.  On this trip, we were fortunate enough to get a lot of both.  Our University professor hostess went out of her way to make us feel welcome.  Even though some sites, such as the Fortress, were not really open for tourists, I was glad we were not there at the height of the season.  The old city is small enough to be overwhelmed by millions of camera-happy visitors like me.  

P4070024.jpg  P4080100.jpg

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was one of the most important engagements in North American history.  It was a pivotal battle in the Seven Years’ War, known as the French and Indian War in the United States.  The battle began on the 13th of September 1759.  It was fought between the British Army and Navy, and the French Army on a plateau just outside the walls of Quebec City on lands originally owned by a farmer named Abraham Martin.  The battle involved fewer than 10,000 troops between both sides, but proved to be a deciding moment in the conflict between France and Britain over the fate of New France. It decided the future of Canada.  

P4080071.jpg   P4080063.jpg

General James Wolfe’s plan of attack depended on secrecy and surprise. A small party of men would land by night on the north shore, climb a tall cliff and overpower the garrison that protected a small road, allowing 5,000 soldiers to ascend the cliff by the road and then deploy for battle on the plateau.  The culmination of a three-month siege by the British and several aborted forays, the battle lasted only fifteen minutes. British troops successfully resisted the advance of the French soldiers and militia under General Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm.  Both generals were mortally wounded during the battle; Wolfe received three gunshot wounds that ended his life within minutes of the beginning of the engagement and Montcalm died the next morning after receiving a musket ball wound just below his ribs.

  P4070026.jpg  P4070037.jpg

In the wake of the battle, the French evacuated the city and their remaining military force in Canada and the rest of North America came under increasing pressure from the British. While the French forces continued to fight and prevailed in several battles after Quebec City was captured, the British never relinquished heir hold on the virtually impregnable Citadelle.  With the Treaty of Paris, France ceded most of its possessions in eastern North America to Great Britain in 1763.  

We have a friend who grew up here.  During the Winter Festivals in January and February, he would take part in one of the most grueling events of the season— ice canoeing across the Saint Lawrence.  It is the only way to cross the swollen river when there is too much ice for ferries, but not enough to form an ice bridge.   Crews of five athletes alternately push their canoe across the ice on the frozen parts of the river, and row in the open water with currents of four knots and tides of over 15 feet, encountering ice blocks weighing a few tons.   Our peaceful ferry ride across to Levy is as close as we will come to the practice,  

P4090104.jpg  P4090122.jpg

The talk was well received and we were soon winging our way from Quebec to Toronto in time to board a giant Cathay Pacific jet bound for Hong Kong, a slight detour on our way back to Melbourne.  We used to live in Hong Kong but the city is changing fast.  The airport is brilliant and there are even more stunning skyscrapers but the air pollution seems worse.  I don’t imagine the air quality in the Special Administrative Region is at the top of PRC’s concerns about Hong Kong.  The so-called “umbrella revolution,” the pro-democracy demonstrations must have put China’s leaders out of joint.  

The reason for the Asian stopover was an invitation to address yet another group of students, and to introduce my wife’s new book—  “International Capital Markets :  Law and Institutions” to the Asian market.  

  P4120131.jpg  P4120183.jpg

We didn’t have a host or any other appointments other than the talk, neither did we have a week to get our brains and bodies back on Hong Kong time.  We took it easy,  threading our way through the intricate maze of walkways and roads observing colorful people and noisy birds.  Each morning we woke to the eerie calls of gibbons, sounding out their loud calls from Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, a stone’s throw away from our hotel.  

My wife caught up with one of her friends and I caught up with one of mine— How Man Wong.  He has a small  but effective outfit called China Exploration and Research Society, now based in a village  at the south-east tip of Hong Kong Island called Shek O. Finding How Man “at home” is quite a trick, since he is almost always on the move.  I was lucky.  Catching up on the most recent of activities of CERS took half a day, and  I was only getting a superficial picture.  While his main focus remains on China and the Tibetan plateau, he has been venturing into Myanmar, Bhutan and even Cuba.  Recording the adventures of 102 year-old pilots who flew over the Himalayas and supplied China during WW II;  trying to save freshwater dolphins in the Irrawaddy River with a cell phone message from Jackie Chan;  repatriating Burmese cats to Myanmar and honoring Cuban-born performers of Chinese opera.  His work boggles the mind.   Check out the website— http://www.cers.org.hk/index.php/en/ and see for yourself.  

P4120148.jpg   P4120172.jpg

P4120199.jpg   P4120203.jpg  P4120181.jpgs

Three days later we were back with Cathay Pacific logging nine more hours in a tube from morning ’till night, flying on the backs of ancient plants and decomposed dinosaurs.  From late spring to the beginning of winter.  

We are in College now, back to our morning walks around Princes Park, petting the resident cat and lining up for meals in the dining hall.  The motto at University College is Frappe Fort or “Strike Hard,” which has been re-translated by the administrators to make it sound less threatening, a little less like something out of “Game of Thrones,” —  The politically correct version is:  “What you do, do with a will.”  Even if it involves indecently long periods spent on airplanes, waking up to Gibbon calls and loading up on Melatonin.  

Who can argue with that?  


Soon after Cally arrived there was a week long Buddhist gathering. Even though it was a busy week for us, I was able to sit in on one course taught by a follower of Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, whose followers ended up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That is a very long story, but I do feel like I am connected to it in some way. The morning was spent in meditation and arranging objects, a very interesting exercise akin to flower arranging. We were asked to bring some objects in that could represent heaven, earth and “the man principle.” We made teams of two, selected objects and arranged them on pieces of white paper, attempting to place them so that the man principle connected heaven and earth. Then our teacher went around the room examining the arrangement. He was unequivocal in his opinion that some arrangements worked while others didn’t. It was very interesting to see and hear the interaction with the participants. He warned us ahead of time that any of us who had the artist’s ego were likely to be upset by the exercise, because his function was not to massage egos.

I took charge of selecting “heaven,” picking out a small vase that seemed to be made of marble or some other heavy stone. My partner picked a piece of bark to represent earth. II chose a CD I received from Stephanie in my Christmas stocking as the man principle. The title is O Solo Mio. There is a photo of a Venetian boatman on the cover. We were very literal in our interpretation, as were most of the other workshop participants. When the leader perused our arrangement, the placement of objects was found wanting, and my parther, Helga, immediately moved heaven a few inches to the left, just above earth. Our leader nodded and moved on. I had placed heaven in a little hollow of the bark, but i could see immediately that Helga’s move was right. The puzzle is, I have no idea why.

Staying at University College has made many things much easier than they would otherwise have been– from finding a house to feeding ourselves. The staff are wonderful and many of the people we have encountered at mealtimes have been generous and interesting. Our chief cook is an Indian who spent many years in Italy. He used to have a restaurant in Rimini. He told me that the money was much better there, but the cultural mores were not what he wanted for his children. The Italians didn’t take education seriously enough for him, so he packed up and came to Australia for the sake of the children. He could not resist bragging about his daughter’s grade-point average. The food is the best I have every had in an institution.


Saturday morning early here, January 27. Our lives now seem to be driven by the dinner bell. We are in residence at a real college, and meals are available three times a day. It is astonishing how quickly one’s stomach takes over the brain when meals get regular and there is social interaction at every meal. I noticed that this summer when I attended a writer’s retreat/workshop in North Carolina at a place called Wildacres. It is summer here, so there are very few students around, but the apartments and even some of the rooms are leased to visiting professors who are doing summer programs or are on sabatical. At the moment, the college is hosting fifty or sixty pharmaceutical students who are attending a conference. They wear T shirts around with slogans about how their mothers told them not to do drugs, so now they sell them.

Shortly after Stephanie and I arrived people began trickling in for a course in Permaculture. I learned a little about it from the doyen of the program one afternoon at lunch. It seems to cover a number of different areas, includiing agriculture, hydrology, soil analysis, banking, law and political science. Permaculture people go into “developing” countries with some expertise in all these areas to set up environmentally friendly programs for the poorest people on the planet. Their motto seems to be identical to the physician’s– first, do no harm.


StephanieI am picking this up again after a hiatus of a few days. The construction work on the road is over, but University College had its own construction project in the works that began in earnest the day before yesterday. They are adding an entire wing to the main building, which will join the ends of both wings, turning the rose garden into an enclosure. This will take a good part of a year to complete. Right now we are living adjacent to the action. It is nearly noon now. Stephanie crawled from her bed into ours around eight this morning, since her bedroom is even noisy than ours. She’s sleeping peacefully now, even through the peircing punctuation of the backup alarms and the rattle of the treads on the giant earthmoving equipment. Amazing. Across the road, Princes Park now resembles a medieval city, complete with moat (chain link fencing) and giant white tents that resemble canvas castles. This tent city has been constructed for the Big Day Out, which we will now miss because I have booked us into a cottage on Sunday night about three hours south of here. We’ll be staying near Wilson’s Promontory, a National Park that is reputed to be beautiful. We should have some peace and quiet for at least one night before we move. I’m renting a car for this excursion, but we have some money down on a Subaru Forester. So, we are ready for the Outback.


The wings that brought us here were made of steel, but the fuel that drove the engines came from the decomposed remains of plants and animals millions of years old. I dreaded the long flight, since it followed on the heels of a long drive from Gainesville, Florida to Nova Scotia, then two flights from Halifax that took us to San Francisco. The flight from DC to San Francisco seemed particularly long. Fortunately, my son, Dolan was there to meet us and we were able to spend two days doting on my grandson, Lucas Alexander.

We boarded the flight about 11 PM, and finally took off an hour later. I was well prepared, with a very long novel by William Boyd called “Any Human Heart” and several books on an MP3 player. The one I listened to on the way over was called “Holy Cow!” I hadn’t really taken notice when I downloaded it that the author was a woman journalist from Melbourne. It was a fascinating account of a year she spent in India. It was a trip she made for love. The first time she went through India she hated it, but her boyfriend (soon to become her fiancee) was stationed in New Delhi as a reporter in the region. Thanks to Dolan, I had an excellent set of noise reduction headphones that helped reduce the engine throb considerably. In addition to what I had with me, Quantas was pretty generous with it’s media selection. I watched most of “The Illusionist” and an intense Aussie psychological thriller called “The Last Train to Freo.” Stephanie and I slept and watched movies and time passed remarkably quickly. Even eighteen hours.

We landed in Sydney and changed planes for Melbourne without having to go through customs or immigration. I was very grateful for that, since it meant we didn’t have to manhandle our luggage twice. Fortunately, we were met at the airport by a hired driver who brought us to where we are staying now– at University College, one of eleven colleges on the campus at the University of Melbourne. Cally has stayed here before, and thought it would be a good transitional home for us. We have an apartment to ourselves with a kitchen, but all three meals are available in the dining hall. These apartments are generally used by visiting professors. Since Cally is an incoming professor, it was considered appropriate. Until last night, we were very comfortable here. That is when the road work began.

The road work, which started just as we were going to bed and apparently went on all night, was on Cemetery Road, which is just across from the gravel parking lot directly outside our window. We are situated at the top of the University campus, at the very bottom of a large, irregular oval favored by runners and soccer players and dog owners–Princes Park. This coming weekend the park is going to be the site of one of the largest musical events in the country– The Big Day Out. That seems to be the reason they are repairing the road. Lucky us. Rumor has it that ticket prices are somewhere around $100 Australian. I have no doubt that we are going to be able to hear if for free. Unless we make a break for it.

So far, our excursions have been limited. Stephanie and I went to the zoo, which is walking distance from where we are staying. Stephanie has been to St. Kilda beach (twice), and we have been out to an animal preserve about an hour from here called Healesville Sanctuary. It was not much different from the zoo, really, but all the animals there are from Australia and the setting is pretty. It is located in a hilly region to the Southwest of Melbourne called the Dandenongs. The area was formed by volcanic activity, originally, but it looks very tame and mellow now. There are some excellent vineyards in the area that we are planning to explore later.

Flickr Photos

Categories

Blog Stats

  • 40,513 hits
August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 141 other followers

Top Rated

August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  
August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Categories