From the Desk of John W. Tyler A Week in the Life of a Very Senior Groton Faculty Member

TylerYear 33, Winter Term Week 8

Friday, February 10: Yahoo! Winter Long Weekend has arrived: the country mouse goes to NYC for an annual injection of Kultur. Packing seems to involve putting everything black that I own into one bag: black tie, black dress shoes, black silk scarf, black cashmere overcoat, black sweater (well, charcoal-grey), black parka, and black baseball cap! I arrive in time for an elegant dinner at the Opera Club before seeing a performance of Ernani as the guest of Stuart Johnson, who taught classics at Groton from 1982 to 1985 and is now headmaster of St. Bernard’s School. Ernani is early, oom-pah Verdi, but an excellently balanced cast of young singers makes the ensemble singing superb.

Saturday, February 11: Stuart and I walk to the Metropolitan Museum to take in the exhibition of Duncan Phyfe’s exquisite Classical Revival furniture followed by a long lunch in the Trustee’s Dining Room with Cathy Michaelson, an old friend from graduate school at Princeton. After lunch, Cathy and I inspect the Met’s new hanging of their American paintings. (An occupational hazard of directing the de Menil Gallery is that whenever I visit a museum I’m almost as interested in how the exhibition is hung as I am in the art. I said, “Almost!”) The day concludes by watching Gary Altman play George Smiley as he tries to detect a highly placed mole at MI5.

Sunday, February 12: Bagels and coffee in the East Village so that I can hear about a friend’s plans for his new job researching the career of Jane Jacobs, architectural critic and gadfly of Robert Moses’s megalomaniacal plans to redevelop New York in the ’50s and ’60s. It sounds like it should make an excellent documentary film. After lunch, Stuart and I drive to the Mellon Art Center at Yale to see their exhibition of works by Johan Zoffany, the best second-rate painter in Georgian England. The meticulous detail of Zoffany’s pictures is a gold mine of information on aristocratic costume and interior furnishings during the Age of George III. Followed by tea and cookies, thanks to Stuart, at the Elizabethan Club, a genteel Yale institution.

Monday, February 13: Back to Groton in time for the weekly 4:30 conference call of the NFC (New Facilities Committee) about Groton’s Master Plan. I am as impressed as always with the efficiency and insight of our consultants at Shepley Bulfinch and the amount of time and attention the trustee members of the committee give to planning the physical arrangements that will support Groton’s future. NFC Chair Franz Colloredo-Mansfeld ’81, a former advisee and veteran of Tyler’s dorm, runs a very tight ship with zero tolerance for lengthy digressions! Our take-home assignment from the call: how would you define “the Circle? What do the words mean to you? [Oh, and by the way, please limit your response to a hundred words.]”

Tuesday, February 14: Back teaching again. It’s term paper time for the Fourth Form and time for me to check their progress in note-taking. In the old days, the process used to be done on 3×5 notecards, and inevitably at the ninth hour someone would lose his or her cards amidst great cries of woe. Now the note-taking is done on computer, and since they are stored in a “cloud,” there’s not even the danger of a computer crash. Best of all there is a magical sorting function in the program that makes it easy for students to “drag” notecards into their outline. O, brave new world! To amuse the students, I tell them what it was like to write a term paper in the olden days with a typewriter and Wite-Out, having to guess how much space to leave for footnotes at the bottom of the page!

After dinner, I have dorm duty at Hagerman’s (upper school girls.) It’s Valentine’s Day so representatives of the Student Activities Council have delivered red and white carnations from secret (and not-so-secret) admirers. The girls of Hagerman’s rejoice in receiving the top number of flowers. Nowadays check-in in a girl’s dorm can last for half an hour or more with the girls vying with one another to tell stories of the day or past anecdotes. Of course, no one waits until the previous anecdote is finished, so the decibel level rises steadily until exhausted they head off to bed. A noisy but an altogether warmer check-in experience than the perfunctory handshaking of yesteryear.

Wednesday, February 15: Today’s American history class is all about the Spanish-American War and American expansionism in the 1890s. As usual, good teaching involves devising the right series of questions that will leave the students believing that the insights you wanted them to see in the material are entirely their own devising: viz.imperialism doesn’t always bring the benefits its advocates promise and that there was a certain amount of hypocrisy involved in American insistence on an Open Door in China, given the way we behaved in our own Latin American backyard.

I spend the afternoon in the tedious but necessary business of filling out condition reports for all the objects in the current exhibition at the de Menil Gallery. Lenders do want to be assured that their objects arrived safely. Dinner this evening takes place at the Club of Odd Volumes on Beacon Hill with Craig Gemmell as my guest. Wine, good food, and cigars (yech!) followed by a talk by the Curator of Rare Books at Johns Hopkins on 500 years of scientific discoveries as recorded in rare books. The intricate illustrations of some of the earliest printed books on astronomy are stunning.

Thursday, February 16: Two quick American history classes followed by another trip to Beacon Hill, this time for the council (board) meeting for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, for whom I work part-time as Editor of Publications. I’m pleased to report that the second volume of The Papers of Francis Bernard, Governor of Colonial Massachusetts, 1760-1769 has just gone to press. This volume contains Bernard’s letters describing the tumultuous events of the Stamp Act Riots in Boston to his superiors in England. Very juicy reading! Progress is slower on New Views of New England: Studies in Material and Visual Culture, 1680-1830, the proceedings of a conference cosponsored by the Colonial Society and the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts in November 2007. Rounding up essays and illustrations from 11 different authors is like herding cats!

I fight the rush hour traffic to return to Groton in time to hear a reading by Daniyal Mueenuddin ’81 from his wonderful collection of short stories about his native Pakistan, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. Daniyal is yet another veteran of the early years of Tyler’s dorm.

So it’s an interesting and varied life and now you understand why I say that if I’m bored at the end of the day, I have only myself to blame. Anyone for changing professions?

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