Meeting interesting people

Yesterday (Sunday) I flew in a cigar tube from Denver to Winnipeg.  A fifty seat plane for an international flight.  Not something we Australians experience often.  It was a baby plane and I had to duck when standing, or bump my head on the cabin roof.  Thankfully I paid and extra US$19.95 to get a seat with more leg room, it was the second row from the back.  With two seats on each side of the plane, it was cosy and led to speaking with your traveling neighbour.

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My Cigar shaped baby plane

Stephen is 65, retired and lives about three hours south of Denver.  He has been an avid fisherman since a child and was heading to Lake of the Woods, about a ninety minute drive south-east of Winnipeg.  Three generations of his family have owned a small island in the lake complex and they fish there (for Bass) for up to six weeks a year.  He was astounded that I had never fished.  I’ve tried it but got sea-sick when in a boat and from the river bank I find having a beer, or wine and reading a book more enjoyable.

The previous day his son and wife had been walking one of the trails in the adjacent park to the lake, when they came across a bear and her two cubs.   “The bears and Stephen’s son and his wife froze,” according to Stephen.  Thankfully a larger group of people walked around the slight bend in the path at the appropriate time and the bears sauntered off.  The encounter made the local newspaper.

His first career was as a teacher.  Stephen said that it was the most satisfying and rewarding job he had, working with primary (grade) school kids.  However, he only lasted six years:  “the pay was terrible, I don’t know how the others survived and paid car payments, or a mortgage?”  He made the decision to leave teaching and worked in sales for ‘clip-on-tools’ for forty years.

He was fascinated with Australia and wanted to know about our wild life, the country and our outback.  The two-and-a-half hours went too fast.

 

Signs and Street Art

One of my quirks (not twerks) is noticing some of the advertising hoardings and signs. It is not for the advertised product, but more for the play on words, incorrect spelling or the just plain odd. Similarly I have come to enjoy the vibrancy, colours and artistic skills in some (painted) street art as well. I hate graffiti that is just mindless vandalism. The following images have been taken in Berkeley, California and Winnipeg, Manitoba during the past ten days. [double click on any image and you can scroll through them and read the captions]

 

 

Saturday Arvo in Berkeley

I’m sitting in a corner café called the Mudrakers Café, on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley. It has Turkish origins and the coffee whilst nice is not freshly made by the cup, but in bulk quantities, then stored in a vacuum flask where you help yourself. This seems to be the popular option here. Similarly in the cafes, berger joints, or other more casual restaurants, there is an expectation of serving yourself.  Even clearing up afterwards. The Californians are well-trained to take their rubbish and dirty plates to a collection point; they are not left on the table for the staff to clear away.  Apparently it is a local ‘thing’.

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The Berkeley Coffee House

I spent the morning drinking coffee–yes even more coffee then touring the Berkeley campus with a Canadian colleague from the week’s ‘Summer School’. I estimate I have now seen about half of this massive campus in two half-day walks.  The Sather Tower is known as the University of California’s most enduring landmark.  It was completed in 1915 and at 300 feet it is one of the world’s tallest free-standing bell-and-clock towers.  It has 61 carillon bells weighing from 19 to 10,500 pounds–you can work out the weights in kg.  Big and heavy.  Its local name is the Campanile.  Thankfully there is a lift to take visitors to the top.  After all the walking during the past week, my legs would not stand up to it.  However, I managed the last two flights.  Even with the haze the views were impressive.

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The Campanile, Berkeley Campus

The Summer School at Berkeley

This was five days of interesting and challenging exchanges of experiences, planned projects, academic debates and friendly chatter. Have I gained anything from this experience? Yes. Briefly, my observation is that oral history in the US–well certainly out of the Bancroft Library, Oral History Centre–is about conflict resolution, community empowerment and corporate/political/government positioning. Often it is the background, or story behind the official history to provide legitimacy, explanation and understanding for others to digest. Many of my fellow colleagues’ projects were along similar lines. There is an emphasis to develop oral histories based on community projects around race relations, community protest and aspects of assimilation.

While there was academic debate, by some, over oral history as a legitimate methodology, the inclusion of this means of research is strong across all levels of education here. Numerous colleges/universities have courses with strong oral history aspects and it is encouraged for post-graduate Masters and PhD research too. I was the only person undertaking an individual, family based, oral history. Others who were tackling similar projects were still focused on how the individual family member interacted with the wider community. Simply put: my research focuses on the individual where the consensus here is to use the individual as a means of interacting with a wider audience.

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My first taste of grits

My final night in Berkeley was spent with a colleague (Canadian) who has a strong interest in indigenous studies.  Shrimp and pasta, a glass of merlo and I tasted ‘grits’ for the first time.  I had read about them and understood it to be part of the staple diet of southern US.  Other than being salty, they had the texture and flavour of mashed potato, fried up.  However, I guess there are numerous means of cooking it.

Enough of academia for the moment–my next post will be about– I’m not sure what, but hopefully interesting.

By the time you get to read this I have arrived in Winnipeg, Canada, on the next leg of my study tour.  My first impression is that this city is flat.  Beautiful blue sky and comfortably warm.  None of the fog/pollution that San Francisco was suffering.  A new adventure awaits.

Telegraph Avenue

While I am not a big one on street markets, they can be interesting. My experiences have been that they start early to catch the breakfast crowd and wrap up mid afternoon. Here they were setting up around 11.30am and not trading until around lunchtime.

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Both sides of the avenue had tables set up; mainly selling jewelry, pipes, mystical charms and other dust collectors. 

Bert was an interesting character. I’ll call him Bert as he was somewhat secretive about his details, but I still managed to glean a modicum of his story. He sells marijuana–well he makes the pipes to smoke the weed, but he has been a partaker of the product for some time. There were a couple of street stands where homemade pipes were being sold. Smoking of marijuana in California is legal, if done for recreational purposes, at home. Although by the aroma that rule didn’t seem to bother Bert all that much.

This bushy bearded character is of indeterminable age. However, after seeing my Nikon camera Bert stated: ‘I had one of the early F 1 models, got it when I was in my 20s, brand new it was. Wish I still had it, but can’t get film now-a-days.’ Given the F1s came out in the late 50s or early 60s that would make Bert somewhere north of 70.

He has been a street vendor for 47 years and came to San Francisco in ’74. ‘I was down south of here before then.’ He claimed he ‘got out’ before drifting to California. He didn’t elaborate on that, so whether he had military service, wanted to escape his past, or was serving time, is pure speculation.

Like many in the art of street selling, Bert loved to chat and went to great pains to tell me about his knowledge of Australia and New Zealand. He claimed to get the Paua seashells sent to him from a contact in Auckland and he makes the bowl of the ‘pipe’ by setting the Paua shell in a wooden stem. One special creation was a contraption with a brass framed magnifying glass built-in to it and using the sun Bert lit up a: ‘bit of special baccy just to demonstrate that it works,’ said with a wry smile as he sniffed the offending smoke.

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Line for popular restaurants is common

Being in walking distance from the university campus there is a profusion of eating places.  I’ll be wandering out shortly (again) to try a different cuisine tonight–possibly Korean.  Some of the eateries are so popular that people, (mainly students) queue for ages.  The staff hand out menus to those inline so that their selections are made by the time they hit the counter.

 

Settling in: Berkeley

Friday August 4

It is a pleasant change to enjoy some warm weather, here in Berkeley, California, after some rather cold weeks in Adelaide. The flights to Sydney and then across the Pacific were comfortable, but jet lag is a challenge. The Qantas flight was an hour late in departing Sydney, but we landed in SFO only fifteen minutes later than the scheduled time. Passport control, or Customs clearance was inordinately slow, certainly when compared to Singapore, Dubai, or even India, which is a bureaucratic nightmare. Over an hour to get through that process, including some probing questions as to why I was visiting the US.

I had pre-arranged my transfer from SFO to the hotel, the Rose Garden Inn. It has been over two decades since I visited San Francisco last, so my recall is limited. The first visit I flew in and the second visit I drove from LA. The Rose Garden Inn is different and quaint accommodation. It is made up of a main building with about a dozen separate two-story ‘houses’ with forty or so rooms. It is only fifteen to twenty minutes walk from the Berkeley campus where I will be spending the next week. With a bit of negotiation I was able to gain access to a room before the normal check-in time of 3pm thankfully, as I was bushed and needed a sleep.

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The Rose Garden Inn, quaint with rustic charm

Late afternoon, showered and refreshed, I did my normal orientation walk around the area. My practice when travelling is to get a lay of the locality, discover the food outlets, and transport options, where I can and shouldn’t walk alone and generally get a feel of the place.

By 6pm I was peckish and found an Italian restaurant that seemed reasonable. The entree size pasta dish was bigger than a normal meal back in Adelaide. Tipping: the bane of my life. I don’t like it. Okay, I understand why it is done, you tip after good service. To me the key factor is after. However, now the practice seems to be you tip when you pay, not after the meal or service and it is expected.

Saturday August 5

A wonderful night’s sleep. Breakfast at the Inn was plentiful and filling, but certainly salty and sweet.

I spent the morning wandering around the University of California Berkeley campus. It is huge and a beautiful setting. I located where I have to go on Monday, so I shouldn’t get lost. There were loads of people about, family groups and people on guided tours. Then I realised that this is the Australian equivalent of the summer break and the start of the new teaching year. Families tour the facilities with their son or daughter who will be commencing their undergraduate degree in a few weeks. The system is quite different as the majority of students come from far and wide to study at a university and live away from home for their three or four years of study. I spoke with one family and their son, not quite 18, is moving here from Cleveland on a botany scholarship.

My iPhone has been in the wars. I have dropped it so many times the screen is a little challenging to read at times. It works well, but in some lighting conditions the distortion is frustrating. In Australia the cost to repair it is over A$300 and could take up to a week to fix. Here US$101 and done in two hours. I dropped it in at a corner store at 11am and I’ll pick it up (hopefully) in 15 minutes. The gentleman I left it with is a former physics professor. His library in the workshop/office is impressive. He let me browse, but I didn’t understand the titles let alone the contents. One book on trivia caught my eye. I opened it and yes it was trivia, but the trivia of physics. However, I did know that Albert Einstein was considered retarded by his school teacher and was told not to return to the classroom and was then home schooled by his mother. iPhone update. All fixed for $100 US–no receipt, not tax, no worries.

Study Tour

It has been a while since I last posted to this Blog.  However, over the coming month my updates will be more regular.  On Friday I head off to Sydney and then onto San Francisco for nine days–given that crossing the international dateline gives me an extra day on the flight out.  Four of these days I will be immersing myself in the history and culture of this vibrant city.  My previous visits here were a couple of decades ago, so I expect much has changed.

For the other five days of my stay I will be at the Berkeley Campus of the University of California as part of an advanced Oral History Summer Institute.  This intensive course will take the participants through twenty-six session of lectures, workshops, presentations plus networking and special events during the week.

My next stop-over will in Winnipeg, in Canada.  Here my time will be at the University, of Winnipeg the Canadian Oral History Association and with the German-Canadian Studies, also at the University of Winnipeg.  By then my brain will be swamped with information, ideas and even more plans.  So for a few days of relaxation I will enjoy a train-ride from Winnepeg to Toronto and on to Montréal.

My week in this French-Candian city will be spent with the Concordia University and immersing myself in the local culture and history.  A significant part of this tour will be meeting with the enthusiastic and keen historians at The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.

Hopefully my posts will be regular (wifi connections) and of interest, even if you are not an oral hiistorian.  Maybe after some thoughs and ideas you may look to your own interests and record an interesting history.

Flourishing Life – Story Launch

Today (April 11, 2017) I was invited to attend the launch of the latest ‘Life Story’ at the St John Centre in Unley (Adelaide).  More than thirty people packed into the board room to hear some of the highlights of The Adventures of Wojciech Czuchra.  Wojeciech (and with true Aussie acceptance, he is known to many as Chook) was born in Krosno, Poland in 1948.  His father, Jan, was a Catholic resistance fighter in the Polish underground during WW II.  His mother was Jewish and survived the Holocaust.  Their marriage did not have any of the political or religious conflict that was still rife for many years after the end of the war.

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The cover of Wojciech’s story showing him enjoying his great love of sailing.

The beauty and power of research came to light during the many hours of discussion with ‘Chook’ that led to the publication of his 35 page story.  A 1932 black and white movie of the Krosno Town Square had been put online by the grandson of the photographer.  The grandson lives in the US.  Such is the richness and historic value of this vision that you will be moved in realising that most of the people shown as happy smiling, men women and children were, seven years later, dead.  Murdered by the Nazis – either herded in to the nearby forest and shot, or transported to the death camps.  This discovery led to another contact with Alexander Bialywlos-White, a 93 year-old Jewish gentleman who was also born in Krosno and was a survivor of the Nazi atrocities through the now well documented Schindler’s List.

With another twist to Wojciech’s story he met a woman, Helen, at a dinner party in Adelaide, in the early 1990s.  As they chatted about their past, they discovered that Jan, Wojciech’s father, was instrumental in the rescue of Helen’s parents.   Jan hid them and Helen, who was a baby at the time, in the forest away from the German and Communist armies.  Since that chance meeting, Helen and Wojciech have remained close friends and share many interests.

I have not attempted to condense ‘Chook’s’ story here, but offered a tantilising glimpse in to the life that is rich in adventure, love, danger, triumph and tragedy.  Flourishing Life is a program offered through St John Community Care.  It captures the stories of older people to help them record and transform their memories, stories and experiences in to an anthology of oral histories, recorded, shared and held for the future.  The various stories collected are not in a digitally accessible form as yet, but this is an evolving project with UniSA.  If you wish to know more of the St John Community Care program visit the website at: Community Care co-ordinators, to email the project officer.  The researcher for this story is volunteer Marion Burns and I acknowledge her dedicated and detailed research on which my Blog is based.