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March 05, 2007

Some Reflections on Bay Trip, Final Day

Steve Charles - Some notes from four days in San Francisco.

• Steve wrote the notes for the weekend, similar to what I did during my two week visit last June. I've attached a photo album here and written cutlines to share more on our great Saturday playing tourists.

• First night in San Francisco: we eat dinner at a restaurant Howard found last summer - Cafe Claude. They’ve paid attention to style in every inch of this place. Including the hostess. The waiter recommends something I can’t understand and Howard orders a Sancere wine from the Loire Valley of France and seared halibut. (Steve has a pasta with sausage dish!) Musicians in the other room played jazz on muted trumpet and thrumming bass. The trumpeters name is Marcus Shelby, and Howard makes a joke referencing the old tv series “Marcus Welby, M.D.” We’re the only ones in the place old enough to get it. And I’m wondering where San Francisco hides all its fat people.

• Howard is 2-2 for earthquakes. He wrote about one on his first visit, and we had one the first night we were here. I was resting on my bed in the hotel room when there was a tap at the door, the headboard on the bed knocked lightly up against the wall, and it felt like someone had bumped into the mattress. About five minutes later the TV news reported a 4.2 quake in nearby Lafayette.

I was about ready to blame this all on Howard, or note how cool it was that every time Howard comes to San Francisco, there’s an earthquake. That was before we read in the San Francisco Chronicle that they got about 80 tremors of some sort this past week, and more than 60 the week before!

• Walking across the Golden Gate bridge: bracing, invigorating. We’re higher above the water here than we were on the plane as we made our final approach to SF International. The tides coming in, water swirls and even forms a couple of whirlpools below us, sea lions hang out at the edges of the vortices—must be good fishing. On one of the metal braces there’s a sign describing the symptom of depression with a phone number for a suicide hotline. It’s 65 degrees, the beauty and energy around me is beyond description, the San Francisco Bay on one side and the boundless Pacific on the other. How could anyone surrounded by such beauty will himself to toss it away? I’m reminded of how insidious, how blinding, and how powerful in it own way depression can be. Then I almost get knocked over by a jogger.

• The redwood is the tallest tree in the world, and the sequoia is the most massive. They both thrive in California. We saw the redwoods Saturday at Muir Woods, just north-northwest of the Golden Gate. It was Howard’s first look at them, but I remember camping beneath redwoods when I was about 14, how it rained one night but we never got wet. The trees had collected all the rainwater in the canopy.

One stop on the trail through Muir Woods is Cathedral Grove. Stand there in silence, listen to the water flowing through Redwood Creek, breath in the slightly moist, warm air of this early spring day and try to come up with a better name.

• Napa Valley, Joseph Phelps Winery—Steve Pavy is showing us the room at Joseph Phelps where some of the wine is being aged. Each barrel is specially made and “toasted”, the oak in each chosen for the particular effect and taste it will bring to the wine. Labeled with the maker’s name, type of wood and the forest from which the wood was cut.

It reminds me of the way luthiers choose woods for a guitar: the deep bass, bright treble, brilliant overtones of brazilian rosewood; the mellower, woodier sound of mahogany; the crisp, well-defined notes from curly maple (my favorite): the bright, well-defined midrange of the Englemann spruce top on my Larrivee. Luthiers have hundreds of different ways to hear the wood, like the winemakers have hundreds of ways to describe the way the grapes, the earth, and even these barrels affect the taste of the wine. Ears and tongues more attuned to the world than my own. The words they use are approximations, but they enrich our way of describing the world.

To those less interested in wine or music, all these words can seem like an affectation. But these luthiers and winemakers are trying to come to terms with something wonderful they’ve heard or tasted in the instrument or wine they’ve created. It’s inspiring just to listen.

Wine barrel trivia — some of the barrels at the Phelps winery are made with hoops of willow. Steve tells us the tradition comes from the days when wood boring insects were a real threat to the wine barrels. The borers were attracted to the willow wood and would eat these willow hoops and leave the oak staves alone.

• We spent much of yesterday in a rented Chrysler Pacifica (Howard’s dime) driving through the wine country of Napa and Sonoma Valleys and stopping at tasting rooms. Howard is in nirvana, and the more time I spend here and taste this hobby of his, it’s easy to see why. I’ve got a whole page of new vocabulary to try out when I get home, but we’ve got a plane to catch and I only have time here for quick note.

The image that sticks with me is the pastoral beauty at Joseph Phelps, the premiere winery where Steve Pavy hosted us. Pastoral literally—Phelps uses sheep as lawn mower in their vineyards—no machines, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. All part of the trend of bio-dynamics in the wine world, where Phelps is on the cutting edge.

His family is from the southern Indiana hills around Vevay, Indiana, but my impression of Stephen is of a man who has come home, both in place and vocation. You listen to him talk about the science of winemaking, the mystery and art of it, and hear him speak about the earth these grapes are grown in. It’s a life of the liberal arts literally grounded in these beautiful hills, and you can hear the joy and passion in his voice when he talks about this work.

Howard can tell you all about the wines we tasted. All I know is that the Insignia I tried was something I’d never tasted in my life. And it was good. I sat at the edge of the parking lot after we said our goodbyes to Steve and just took in the valley — the lines of vines, the live oak leaning like they’re running up the hill. This is what land looks like when it is truly valued (certainly economically, but here, something more.) Sort of what land looked like in Indiana before we started ripping out windbreaks, not letting the land rejuvenate, and contenting ourselves with growing crops in chemicals in sterile soil. I couldn’t help but think of my friend Mike Bachner, who would revel in seeing land so loved.

I called my wife, who grew up in southern Indiana on land farmed the old way, and I described the scene to her the best I could.

†Then one of the employees drove up and I realized it was late and time to go. They needed to lock the gates. Eden was closing.

• One more thing: we returned to San Francisco across the Golden Gate at dusk, full moon rising over the city and the bay, and to the staccatoblasts of fire crackers and the Chinese New Year’s parade. Jammed with people, dragons bobbing up and down on the street, a pickup full of Chinese youth banging on cymbals and a huge drum. It’s the Year of the Pig —Happy New Year — and we're headed home to Indiana.

March 04, 2007

Magazine Roll Out "A Wonderful Evening"

Steve Charles — Just got back from our reception at the John Pence Gallery in downtown San Francisco, a wonderful evening in so many ways.

Surrounded by the art that John exhibits there—the American realism style I’ve admired for years — I couldn’t imagine a better place for a Wabash gathering.

(See previous blog entry below for photos from Friday's event. And for a bit of a humorous look at my travel companion's obsession with grape juice, click here to read about dinner after the reception. And be sure to check Monday for a look back at the trip, and an invigorating Saturday north of the city.)

Wine provided (and some made) by alums Stephen Pavy and Doug Sparks. A warm welcome from John Pence, who recommended President Pat White’s From Center Hall column in this issue of Wabash Magazine.

Howard clearly relished this reunion with the alumni he visited last summer and who are featured in this issue, enjoying even more the honor of introducing them to the gathering and telling a story or two about these men.

Bob Hobson, stalwart supporter of the College in so many ways, introduced Pat White.

Then Pat glanced around the gallery and recalled his days as a freelance art critic. This is his first visit with San Francisco area alumni since being named our 15th president, and he saw analogies between understanding art and learning to be a college president.

Both require “patience before the work,” he said. You must take time to contemplate and understand the College just as you would a fine painting. Meeting these Wabash men in San Francisco was part of that contemplation, a time of listening.

Understanding art and being a college president also require humility, he said, adding that while great college presidents were also once the chief educators and teachers at their institutions, with the fine faculty at Wabash, his role is that of "chief learner." As he conversed with alumni during the evening, he was that same eager student we’ve seen on campus ever since he arrived.

Chris White thanked the San Francisco group for their hospitality and spoke of the kindness and hospitality extended to her during this trip. In some ways, she said, "we haven’t been at Wabash long enough to feel so much a part of the College, to feel so at home. But thanks to your welcoming and openness, we do."

Pat then brought up his favorite topic—Wabash students. He said that Wabash is a place where young men can be better, can be more than they ever imagined.

And looking around the room at these alumni he saw living proof.

For me, the evening was chance to meet many alumni we’ve featured in the magazine but I’d never met face to face.

Guys like Steve Miller, now professor emeritus of archaeology at Berkeley. Steve now lives in Nemea, Greece, where his work as an archaeologist  helped revive the town and the ancient Nemean games. He’s finishing books on that work, and hoping to keep the games going in 2008. Like so many retired Wabash men I meet, his retirement seems to have little with slowing down and much with focusing his energy and time on those things that matter most to him. (We need to do a theme issue on these guys).

Seeing Ernie Vela again, I was reminded of the students he’s brought to Wabash, of his poignant talks to students during our admissions visit days. A highlight of the evening for me was hearing stories from Ernie and Anthony Avitia about the early days of the College’s Hispanic Society, about their decision to change the name to Unidos por Sangre and the roots of the group’s tutoring program. I wrote about that group’s work a couple years after Ernie and Anthony had graduated—it’s such a vital group in the Wabash and Crawfordsville communities now. Listening to Anthony speak so eloquently about it, how it had helped him deal with his own issues of identity, affirmed to me the value of such organizations in the education of Wabash men.

So much of what transforms our students into being “better than they’d ever imagined” happens outside the classroom—with help of faculty and staff, for sure. But our students also learn so much from each other as they work together.

And, of course, there were other stories. The last half hour was pure joy for me, listening to Ernie, Anthony, and Hector Mariscal recall some of their Wabash adventures. I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time. These are the stories we rarely get to publish—misadventures of looking for dates at other schools, that experience with the professor or staff member out of the classroom that was so unexpected, fun, or just funny. Even Hector’s experiences as Wally Wabash, back when the only costume was a pair of Sphinx Club overalls and that awful papier mache head.

I’ve got to figure out a way to gather these.

Not surprisingly, Howard shared what may be the best story of the night.The guys on the cover of this issue of the magazine had all been at the John Pence Gallery just one time before—more than a decade ago when they were being recruited as students. An amazing convergence that underscores both John Pence’s commitment to Wabash and Pat White’s point about Wabash students becoming “better than they’d ever imagined.” You see that in the lives of men like Hector and Hugo Mariscal, Ernie Vela, Anthony Avitia, and in the work that you can read about in this issue of the magazine.

Meeting men like these, you realize Wabash is so much more than a campus in Crawfordsville, so much more than four years in our students’ lives; and we have so much to learn from them.

“Where ever you go, Wabash goes with you” Pat White wrote in this issue of Wabash Magazine. That’s certainly been true for us on this trip. In this diverse and dynamic city 2,000 miles from Crawfordsville, in the not altogether unlikely confines of an art gallery celebrating American realism, those of us traveling from Wabash felt very much home, very much at Wabash.

But we didn’t bring Wabash with us — we met it here in these men.

In photos: Top right, Pence makes opening remarks. Center, Chris White talks about the warm reception she and the President have received on their visits. Lower left, Avitia, Mariscal, Vega, and Hewitt re-unite.

March 03, 2007

50 Turn Out For San Francisco Reception

Howard W. Hewitt - San Francisco - An even bigger-than-expected 50 guests arrived at the John  Pence Gallery in downtown San Francisco Friday night for the roll out of a California issue of Wabash Magazine. The big crowd came to hear President Patrick White and see the special issue.

The evening was designed to honor all Bay Area alums and give them a chance to meet the new president. See a photo album from  Friday's event here.

The 2007 Winter Issue of Wabash Magazine was on display featuring nine Wabash graduates. Seven of the nine featured in the magazine were on hand for a fun evening.

I introduced the Wabash alums who I visited in June 2006 for the magazine and online features and also the Wabash staff present for the event. It was a great thrill to see them all there and their reactions to the magazine features.

President White spoke about his first months in office and his hopes and dreams for Wabash College. He talked about his early days writing art reviews in homage to John Pence's involvement in the art world. Pence praised White's Center Hall column in the new issue.

The President took particular note of the three Salinas graduates - Anthony Avitia '96, Hugo Mariscal '98, and Ernie Vela '95- and shared some insight on a current student from the same Central California city. White talked about the involvement, dedication, and enthusiasm he's seen in Julio Enriquez '08.

As any Wabash event, the event was social as well. The group had the chance to taste wines made by Doug Sparks '69 - his award winning Barbera was a big hit. Stephen Pavy brought some of his own wines as well as a generous contribution of wine from his employer, Joseph Phelps Vineyard.

Many stayed late to share stories and meet the Whites. We'll have more on our San Francisco visit posted this weekend.

In  photos: Above, Stephen Pavy '81 listens to Pence tell a story.

March 01, 2007

Back in San Francisco for Friday Event

Howard W. Hewitt - San Francisco - We made it to San Francisco Thursday afternoon with a minimum of excitement. Steven Charles and I are in the city for Friday night's roll out of 'Road Trip California,' the Winter 2007 issue of Wabash Magazine.

Much of the content can be found online already. The magazine is being mailed Friday.

The biggest surprise of the trip was during a layover in St. Louis - threatening weather moved through the area and all passengers waiting at the gates were asked to move to the interior of the building. A tornado had been spotted in the area! The weather passed and we proceeded to San Francisco on schedule. I assured Steve that was nothing compared to the mild earthquake I felt on my previous  visit.

Steve and I visited John Pence '58 briefly this afternoon to make sure everything was set for tomorrow night's reception. And when we arrived at our downtown hotel  we were doubly pleased to see a box of the magazines waiting on us. A large portion of the California-related stories came from my 10-day visit here last June.

We enjoyed a brief gallery tour with John, went over Friday night details, and will probably check out one of the great S.F. restaurants tonight. We will be posting photos and news about the reception late tomorrow night or early Saturday morning.

This is a quick trip, we head back Sunday. But for those who followed the blog last summer, we ARE going out to Napa Valley on Saturday. So to stay with the previous entries, we just might post a few pictures and write about that as well.

Friday night promises to be a great Wabash evening. We're  really looking forward to it!

In photo: Pence and Charles talk about a painting John recently acquired.