Life in Omaha (in Scottsdale)

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Thursday, February 03, 2005


It’s 5:30pm at the Greater Cincinnati Airport—”greater” in this case meaning Kentucky. Another red state checked off. I’ve been in Cincinnati for the last 27 hours, reliving the glory years when I was a graduate student at a research university where big ideas are discussed.

Beyond the incredible architectural change on UC’s campus, this attention to ideas and thinking struck me most in contrast to my job at Dana. For nearly the whole time I was here (two days which included very little sleeping, a fair amount of beer and wine, and lots of lots of talking), the subject of conversation was about scholarship. If it veered away, it was to talk about me and my current job.

But we always came back to the books. The ideas.

Hard not to with Richard Powers at the table, a man who would be a contender in any smartest guy in the room contest. The man himself was gracious, thanking me and complementing me on my review of The Time of Our Singing, genuinely interested in how I was doing as a professor, and always a perpetual idea man. His Tuesday night lecture may be out in Granta soon, so it’s worth looking for. He was brilliant and ingenious.

So I got to have dinner with one of my heroes and then introduce him and publicly ask questions of him earlier today. I asked mediocre questions, and his and Tom’s answers made them sound penetrating and insightful.

After the lecture, I had my little homecoming. The successful (reasonably) hometown boy comes back to some acclaim. Professors asked all about me, they cooed over pictures of Ciela, they told me they were very proud of my achievements. And they gave me free beer, wine and food.

Karl and I were finally kicked out of Tom’s house after midnight. We went to his house and drank tea until 2:00am. All very cozy.

I wandered all around UC’s campus. The place is unbelievably altered. New buildings so altered the terrain that often could not place my memories into any context. The setting had been completely erased. TUC, the student center, had its nametag placed on an entirely different person. The cupola was still there. The colonial style windows were still there. The columns still framed the doors. But a polished steel and glass crystal had exploded from within. The building had the disconcerting effect of a Rolex on the wrist of Michelangelo’s David. It’s nice, but a bit ostentatious and not really in the spirit.

And all over campus, the same effect played out. Straight through the heart of campus-Main Street, they call it now—buildings seem to tumble down the hill from McMicken to the far parking lot. The structures are like three dimensional doodles that obey no pattern or form but to fill in the spot allotted them. Buildings snake along the far curve of the stadium. Brushed steel, aluminum and graphite creep around and over the existing normalcy of brick. The back of Swift hall has grown slick tentacles that lance out to connect with the grey block glass of the new student offices. The old quad maintained little dignity as the flashy buildings south overshadowed the traditional style.

But the whole thing seems to work. Students flooded the student center, sprawled over tables and couches flooded with light even on this cloudy day. Its not inspiring in any classical sense of the word, but its gleeming, bright and new...holding the promise of a bright shiney penny of progress. Its a bit cloy, but there are worse things to instill in the students that come here.


At 7:19 AM, Blogger Dr.K said...

Scott, you were a relatively well behaved house-guest, and you can come back any time. You made your bed, folded your towels and flushed the toilet. As for UC, I miss the dark labrynth of the old Tangeman. Somebody up high hated it--probably it reminded him of his wasted childhood in the 40s or something--and had it bumped off. The cupola remains as a sardonic gesture to the maintaining some architectural tradition on a campus that has contempt for architectural tradition. I'm not saying that we would want the horribly ordered brick monotony of Miami, but more than ever UC is the embodiment of the phrase "hodge-podge." Some of the new buildings are impressive, but others are high-priced pyramids erected to the corporate fund-raising legacy of an administration that doesn't put academics quite as high on the list of priorities as it should, trusting that in a university this size, these things will take care of themselves. Some change ought to be resisted. It was good to see you too.


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