Sideways

Helelyn left back for Europe last night and so I am alone once again. On Saturday we rented a card and had a fun day in scorching heat in Sonoma and Napa valleys. As I am in general not a big fan of Californian wines it was mostly a scenic drive with the final tally of alcohol consumed working out precisely two glasses of white wine. We did visit a number of vineyards, each of which had a separate building with a big “TASTING” sign on front and usually filled to the point of bursting by jovial white middle-aged men in shorts and their tipsy wives, swallowing rather than spitting their samples while listening attentively to red-nosed proprietor’s explanations on how to find this little hint of apple in the aftertaste of chardonnay or fully appreciate the velvety smoothness of the house reserve cabernet sauvignon.

stanford arcadeYesterday I moved to Palo Alto myself, closer to Stanford where I expect to spend the next two weeks. The town itself is very nice, reminiscent of downtown Berkeley with plenty of small eateries and cafes along tree-lined streets. I worked out the practicalities of gym/library/wifi access today and will get busy tomorrow after I’ve had my second meeting at noon. Walking around at Stanford’s faux medieval style campus this morning it occurred to me how similar the US universities are to medieval monasteries – which in itself is not such a surprising observation given that the genealogical roots of our institutions of higher education are precisely there. Like in monasteries in the medieval Europe, the US university campuses are self-contained centers of learning, homes to libraries and filled with people who view the outside world with certain disdain and compassion. All that being said, it can be a very pleasant and enjoyable environment.

I checked out the bookstore here which, while not nearly as impressive as the one at Harvard, is still pretty decent. I decided to leaf through recently published Susan Sontag’s diaries and was struck how different they are from the stuff that got published under her name during her lifetime. In that regard I’ve found it interesting to compare two big female American essayists of the 20th century – Susan Sontag and Joan Didion. Sontag’s essays are very much NY-like: passionate but impersonal, hard-nosed and often cynical. Didion, born and having lived most of her life in California, in many ways shares Sontag’s intellect as well as an apparent sombre outlook and elegiac concern for the world, but writes very differently. Most of her essays are narrated in first person and involve a lot of personal details, feelings and memories. So in that sense it was very revelatory to also see the personal side of Sontag. Her diaries have this feeling of immediacy and privacy that is not present in her essays but can be found everywhere in Didion’s writings.

But tomorrow I will start another spell at the library – now that my eyes have recovered I’m already looking forward to it.

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