Monday, August 13, 2012

UVA - The West Lawn - The Rotunda

   I wrote this 20 years ago. It's from from Why I Love Brunettes, an unpublished novel that is the exact opposite of 50 Shades of Grey -- not only is it reasonably well-written, but also -- it makes repulsive behavior seem repulsive in a way that alters the behavior.  I hope you love this bit about The Lawn at the University of Virginia.
   And my fondest hope is that you get to visit The Lawn  as often as I have done. I saw Queen Elizabeth there from about 10 feet away.  I saw the Dalai Lama there3.  I once catered a party for Edgar Shannon and his wife Eleanor at Carr's Hill, long ago.  Please go to the Messiah Sing at Old Cabell Hall as often as you can -- this year it will be on Tuesday, December 8,.2012.  And afterwards, walk up The Lawn for me.  In 1988, we found a miniature model of the Rotunda modeled in packed snow, with fresh snow just drifting over it one year.  My friend Patrick Tompkins and two other graduate students witnessed this.  No one at the C&O believed our tale.  It was before cell phone cameras or I'd have a picture. 

   Read this now?

    But you and I, mon capitaine, wild tchopitoulas that we are, we're going to stand here just outside the door of Number 8, The West Lawn, watching how the clean white dome of old Tom Jefferson's Rotunda gleams above the shadows deepening like smoke across the green cove of The Lawn. We’ll see the dome of the Rotunda change as dusk begins to purple into evening; we’ll watch how the catalog of column styles and types of portico changes with the shadows as the east side of the dome reflects the clear blue skies above the Grounds, and we’ll see the dome reflecting, orange gold and purple, the 'candescent sun’s red ball of glory settling behind the Blue Ridge Mountains at the western edge of Albemarle.

      The shadows and the columns amplify the peaceful stillness of what you and I – remembering the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge – might call:
“A holy and enchanted place.”
      Or else, remembering a few lines of the poet Baudelaire, we might conclude that:
La, il n'y a qu'ordre et beauté
Luxe, calme et volupté ....
      Because no one who wanders in that place can ever quite believe its timeless promise of unchanging grace and beauty can be false.

      On the steamy hot days Doc liked best, the timeless promise of the columns and the dome – a cool, serene lucidity connected to the world and yet apart from it – inspires a belief in what, for lack of any better term, we may as well call:
Man's immortal soul.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Helen Dragas Must Go

   Clearly, Governor Bob and Helen Dragas see some opportunity for corporate profit in lowering the quality of education at UVA so he can then award privatizing contracts for computerized online "education" to private companies. Perhaps Ms. Dragas will start one of those companies -- soon after she retires from her position on the Board of Visitors!
   I have not yet heard of any move to ask all members of the Board of Visitors to require themselves to adhere to the University's Honor Code. And that seems to me the key element.
   Extending the term limit for Helen Dragas, who has shown herself to be not only a truly dishonest but also a dishonorable human being, not just in her business dealings but also in her work (no, her devious machinations) as Rector of the Board of Visitors, where her dastardly actions brought discredit on the University and made its Honor Code a laughingstock  ... is a travesty.
    I find some amusing parallels to the John Hawkes novel Travesty, in which three occupants of a car are speeding toward a rendezvous with a tree in Southern France ... that will kill them all. At the end of these ridiculous shenanigans, Governor Bob will be out of office permanently, the not-Rector Helen Dragas after having puked on her own shoes a few more times, will go back to building shoddy houses in some of Virginia's more densely populated districts, and the power of Terry Sullivan to do good on The Lawn will have been circumscribed.
The Sun Is Beer! 
   With regard to computerized online "education," it seems worth nothing that people staring at computer screens often adopt robotic, trance-like facial expressions, and though they may perform well on some low-level multiple choice tests, they rarely learn anything important. They don't, for example, learn or absorb any of the transfer of personality and attitudes that takes place by way of interactions between two human beings within the mirror neuron system. That's what real education is about; and that is why it civilizes the barbarians.
   Helen Dragas made plenty of money building houses. Let her go back to that -- it is a business she understands.  And she did the right thing for her customers when some of those houses, were outfitted with defective Chinese-made drywall.  But I am willing to believe that none of that drywall was as defective as her paltry notion of how to "transform" the University of Virginia. Ms. Dragas didn't bother to write or "craft" her own oracular pronouncements or official "statements," rather, she hid behind and concealed the involvement of a non-Virginia PR agency like Hill & Knowlton. So She's Gotta Go! Will Someone please make up a batch of buttons .... with a flattering picture of Helen Dragas on them?  


If Ms. Dragas doesn't yet understand how dishonest and dishonorable she was by claiming Hill & Knowlton's work as her own, I'll be happy to explain it to her over a beer.