Thursday, November 24, 2005

Merry Old Crappy Weather

Jay and I are in Merrie Aulde Englande right now. While we are about to enjoy an American Thanksgiving dinner in Oxford, I did get in to London the other day. Nice Rousseau show at the Tate Modern, but highlight for me was going to Harrod's. All of Piccadilly was lit up beautifully... Fortnum and Mason's windows also a delight, with vignettes from A Christmas Carol. So disappointing that all of the Plum Puddings use hydrogenated oils... I have tried to give them up since I saw Ariel's documentary on the subject! Anyway, I broke down and bought a pudd' at Fortnum and Mason's, but at Harrod's I got almost a kilo of all the Syrian desserts that we had with Christoph and Diane when we visited them in Damascus. Such a treat to eat after dinner last night!

Big fun the other night when Jay and I went to Christchurch College (known to the Harry Potter movie going world as Hogwart's Academy) for Evensong. Just lovely cathedral and the choir's singing was bright and clear in between the old walls.

Afterwards, we showed up for dinner at Pembroke. If Christoph wanted to, he could eat dinner there every night, but spouses are not allowed (how do you like that... any other guest is welcome).

The whole event was amazing. Talk about tradition! We gather in the Faculty Common Room (looks like a gussied up version of Pat's ballroom) for either orange juice or dry sherry. Chit chat or read the paper, tut-tut; all very cordial and British.

Then a senior faculty makes the first move and we all shuffle in pecking order into the college dining hall, lit like a Rembrandt painting. The students are already inside, seated in long refectory tables, sans food, conversing away like kids in any college dining hall. We find seats on our own raised table at the far end, and Christoph made sure that I was in a position to face the entire hall of students. Crack! goes a gavel hit by the senior prof at the head of the table and everyone falls silent for the prayer. Then it's chow time. I don't recall it, but I imagine that the students received their meals family style at the tables. But elegrantly tassled pink menus on our dais showed the three courses we were in for... white fish with tapenade (served with a lovely German white) followed by venison with cranberry sauce, glace potatoes, and three vegetables (served with a nice Cabernet), and then strawberries & pineapple Romanoff. Well, that was divine!

God knows what glop the students had to ingest, and I did indeed feel amongst the privileged. Say what he will about the needy coffers of noble little Pembroke, Christoph gets a nice perk on the meals. We cracked the gavel again to begin our parade past the students, who all had had to wait for us to finish before they could leave... but off we went to a private hall where lunch is usually served to the faculty. By night, more baroque candlelight, and four decanters of after dinner drinkies. I tried the port this time, and there was fruit and little packaged Pembroke Chocolates, too. Every night these guys can eat this way; it was astonishing. They finished by passing around the snuff box, which I could not resist. It does clear out the sinuses, but it's a tobacco product and you definitely feel the nicotine jolt. Well, that's not the end of dinner, because we finished up at the common room with coffee (or choice of brandy) or sparkling water. Hoo-boy!

It rained hard for 15 minutes as I wrote this email, but now it's brightening outside. A wonderfully fragrant turkey is roasting away in the oven and we will be eating in an hour. So nice to be in from the cold.

Friday, November 18, 2005

In Memorium: Mary Ann Melchert

Mary Ann Melchert, my mother and the wife of my dad, Bay Area artist James “Jim” Melchert, passed away November 13 after a long illness. Her life is distinguished by extensive travels and her energetic commitment to a loving and secure domestic life for her husband and children.

She was born May 10, 1927, in Pontiac, Illinois, to Reverend S. Jay Hostetler and Ida Miller.

At an early age, Mary Ann moved with her family to Madhya Pradesh, India. Her parents served as Mennonite missionaries in a large network which included schools and a leper hospital. Living in the rural mission station during the winter, Mary Ann and her brother and sister boarded at the Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling. She visited the U.S. for one year, at age nine, and returned to India, her parents then starting a mission near Bihar. She graduated from school in 1944, with Mount Hermon’s top academic award for girl students. Her parents’ work interrupted by the war, the family sailed from Bombay aboard a troop transport ship, zigzagging to avoid being torpedoed, down to Melbourne, across to the Panama Canal, and landing in Boston.

Enthusiastically delving into German, Greek, and Theology at Goshen College in Indiana, Mary Ann received a BA in Sociology in 1948. I know she did some post grad work at Eastern Mennonite College, probably in Theology, but she did not get another degree. Three years later, after teaching first grade in Gary, Indiana, she went to Japan to do mission work, starting with language school. In the summer of 1953 she met Jim, who shared her love of singing. Their first date was an ill-prepared climb up Mt. Fuji, in which they had to spend a cold, foggy night before summiting. They were married in 1954 in Tokyo and had their first two children (Christoph 1955 and Davy 1956) while Jim was teaching at the Tohoku Gakuin Schools in Sendai. They returned by ship to the U.S. in 1956, where Jim worked to receive his Master of Fine Arts Degree at the University of Chicago.

Shortly after I was born, Mary Ann and Jim moved to the Bay Area in 1959, following Peter Voulkos, who was shaping a revolution in ceramic sculpture. Jim continued graduate work at UC Berkeley and eventually made his mark there as a popular professor of Art. Life at the Melchert home in Oakland was lively, regularly enhanced by visits from artists and students, with Mary Ann as their energetic and caring hostess. At Berkeley, she studied French and Japanese and received a California Teaching Certificate. She taught remedial reading at Roosevelt Junior High in Oakland in 1972 through 1973. She had a passion for quilting, sewing, and collage, and many of the latter were shown at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1981. She trained in the IRS to become a taxpayer service representative, answering taxpayer's questions phoned in to an 800 number. She stayed in that job for only a few years due to my dad's next move.

Jim’s postings as Visual Arts Director at the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington, D.C. (1976-1980) and Director of the American Academy in Rome (1982-1986) increased Mary Ann’s role as an official hostess. While learning Italian and exploring the region, she also organized the frequent dinners and public events at the Academy’s Villa Aurelia, for a time employing San Francisco chef Deborah Madison. She began keeping travel diaries of trips to other Italian cities, to Tunis, to France, and elsewhere in the Mediterranean. This practice would influence me when I went with her to India in about 1992 and I started my own collaged travel diaries.

Amidst her love of literature and biographies, Mary Ann regularly read several newspapers, and, a resolute pacifist, was outraged by injustices of all kinds. She touched the lives of many: not the least amongst them Jim’s students and colleagues, political leaders and activists, visiting luminaries, and her large extended family. She was capable of great kindnesses, sometimes caring for abandoned animals and injured birds. She is survived by her husband Jim, her brother John Jay Hostetler of Green Valley, Arizona, her sister Lois Young-Bjerkestrand of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, children Christoph Melchert of Oxford, England, David Seth Melchert of Oakland, and RenĂ©e Melchert Thorpe of Bali, Indonesia, and five grandchildren.