Monday, October 26, 2009

Unseen University

I grew up in Berkeley, where the university was omnipresent. It wove in and out of the city, an integral part of the landscape, the social environment, and our lives. I rode around its edges on my daily bus trips to town, and walked through campus on my way to other places. It was part of our daily lives, our conversations, our awareness. It was always there, like the campanile, a constant presence.

When I entered the university as a student, it felt like going to the school across the street. My life didn't change in any appreciable way; my landscape didn't alter; I didn't enter a world that had been barred from me. I simply went to class in the bigger buildings on campus.

When I transferred to UCSC, however, the town/gown split was noticeable. I lived in Ben Lomond and then Santa Cruz. Any trip to UCSC was deliberate, a steep climb to our local City on a Hill. The town did not take the proprietary interest in campus that Berkeley did; the university was not casually called by the same name as the town; UCSC was called out separately, not “Santa Cruz” or “campus,” but always “UCSC,” that place up there, that-a-way, the redwood tower up the hill surrounded by the old Cowell cow pasture.

Going back to Berkeley, I go back to both town and gown, to the city of Berkeley and the university that calls itself both “Berkeley” and “California,” a place steeped in history and geography, a place where the boundaries all blur together, a place at once personal and commercial and intellectual.

My brother took a quiz on Berkeley slang and came out with the result “You live in Berkeley, don't you?” I took the same quiz and got the same results, even though it has been 30 years since I lived in Berkeley. It has, however, remained my hometown, and a strong sense of my identity. I am a Berkeley girl, and the local dialect has apparently not changed that much in those 30 years. I have asked other people, people who are Californians but not from Berkeley or Oakland, whether they know, for example, the meaning of the slang term “shorty,” but no one does.

The Santa Cruz mountains have been my home for most of the 30 years since I left Berkeley, and I have a strong connection with the San Lorenzo Valley, and with Santa Cruz, and also with its university. My degree is from UCSC, and my marriage was made there, and it also calls to my heart.

I don't get up to UCSC that often, though. Not every year, and then only for cultural events. The university seems closed to me in a way that Berkeley (my twin Berkeley!) never has. It has never been mine, nor I its, in the same way that Berkeley has been. My children have been to Berkeley's campus more often than they have been to UCSC even though they spend far more time in Santa Cruz than they do in Berkeley; every time we go to Berkeley, our path runs through the campus. In our daily lives, our paths almost never run to UCSC; it takes an effort and a purpose to get us to our local campus.

UCSC is hidden, tucked away, keeping its secrets shrouded in its redwood heart.

Malcolm and I went up there yesterday for the opening of an art exhibit. I had thrills of memory, winding up the long road to the art gallery. We viewed the exhibit, and chatted with various people we knew, and walked back slowly to our car.

I knew the university was all there, places that I knew, places I might visit with Malcolm, along the various paths that wind through the campus. All I could see were the redwoods and a few buildings, and the occasional banana slug.

1 comment:

suzee said...

The sense of wanting to be a "real" East Bay Arean was part of what made me apply to Berkeley, even though there were other, easier, ways I could have achieved this degree.

It's a special place.