A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

International Wow Factor

Smith College Reunion bartending again today, this time for the class of 1967 at Cutter-Ziskind. The weather was fine, so we set up in the courtyard. 1967 is one of those gin-and-tonic classes....if I'd let my partner make everything else, and I had just handled the g-&-ts, the labor would've been about equally divided.

Cutter and Ziskind, built in the late 1950s in the international style, are the most modern residential houses on campus. Together they form a U shape, with a shared dining area in the middle section. Each house has its own living room and "beau parlor" on the first floor, and individual rooms on the second and third floors. (A beau parlor was a quiet room in which you could entertain your date, back in the days of parietals. Nowadays they're just study rooms. If you don't know what parietals are, well, never mind.)

The complex may be architecturally significant--the buildings are the only residence houses to be studied in Smith's art survey course--but they are the least popular houses to live in. One reason is that the rooms are so small, not to mention boxy and characterless. My own room in Gardiner House was a large and lovely corner room, with two windows and a window seat, a wood floor and a walk-in closet...pretty kneehole desk, Windsor chair, tall dresser...and plenty of room for a vintage rocking chair, handmade bookcase, coffee table, steamer trunk, and so on.

I never thought much about Cutter or Ziskind while I lived on campus. A few years ago, however, I was wowed by a visit to the complex. As cramped as the upstairs rooms are, that's how spacious the public space is. Suspended from the ceiling at various heights, fluttering in a slight breeze from the open doors, were a thousand origami cranes in beautiful bright colors. I never forgot the sight. That was the inspiration for the cranes I have fluttering from my own high-ceilinged kitchen today.

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