Monday, September 12, 2005

A little about the Jerusalem trip

I divided my work-time in Jerusalem between the Jewish National and University Library on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University and the Humanities and Social Sciences campus of Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. In 93-94, I was a student taking classes at Mount Scopus and formed a great antipathy to the physical environment. Since 1996, when most of my time in Jerusalem has been devoted to library research rather than taking classes, I’ve spent my time on Givat Ram. While the campus plan on Mount Scopus seems to be based on the blueprints for something out of Star Wars, Givat Ram is an adaptation of Thomas Jefferson’s plan for the University of Virginia adapted to a desert.

As much as I prefer Givat Ram to Mount Scopus, it does seem a bit quiet and lonely sometimes. The science departments are on the Givat Ram campus but the larger number of students in humanities, social science, law, and education as well as the many overseas students makes Mount Scopus a more bustling place. Reading Batya Gur’s Literary Murder on the plane on the way to Israel, I came across these passages describing the thoughts of her protagonist, Michael Ohayon, police detective and M.A. in History from the Hebrew University, as he visits Givat Ram:

“He walked slowly through the gate and stared at the well-tended lawns where no one sat anymore, and the old pictures rose before his eyes--the dozens of liberal arts students who used to be sprawled on the grass between lectures or who were on their way from the library to the cafeteria, the green grass dotted with their bright clothing, the paths where everyone would stroll, as if there was all the time in the world then. Then, before they moved the humanities to Mount Scopus. Only five years ago, thought Michael, you never saw science students here on the lawn, they were all in the back wing of the university, poring over their experiments in the laboratories. And now that all the buildings had been turned into laboratories, the science students walked on the paths with a brisk, purposeful efficiency that made Michael wonder what purpose people could have in a world that no longer seemed to have purpose. He stopped to look at the new name on what had once been the Lauterman Building: it was now the Berman Building. There were piles of broken chairs in the entrance lobby, but he didn’t go inside, remembering that on a previous visit he had seen that the rooms had been converted into offices. What had been wrong with this campus that they found it necessary to build the monster on Mount Scopus and turn Lauterman into a ghost building? What kind of generation was growing up inside that stone fortress? he asked himself again, and then he shook himself and hurried toward the National Library building.” (Batya Gur, Literary Murder: A Critical Case; A Michael Ohayon Mystery, trans. Dalya Bilu, HarperCollins, 1993, p.219).

The book is set in 1985. In 2005 science students do sit on the lawn sometimes. The broken chairs have been removed (although I seem to recall a lot of junk in the lobby of one of the buildings as recently as 1998). Otherwise, Gur could have put these thoughts in her character’s mind just last week.

Earlier comes this description of Mount Scopus:
“The lab crew were still busy with the fingerprints, and then, in flagrant violation of the unwritten rule that demanded his presence at the scene of a crime as long as the forensics people were still there, Michael went out to the corridor. where he leaned against the wall and waited them to finish their job. Actually he hoped that outside the wall room with the corpse in it, he would be able to breathe. But the long, angular hallway was airless. He walked along it until he came to a juncture of three corridors, which, like a traffic island, constituted a kind of little square surrounded by purple walls, and he sat down on a wooden bench, on the other end of which set Ariyeh Klein, his head buried in his hands.
“Klein raised his head and looked at the policeman..... It was surprisingly quiet. There were no doors in the purple walls, only mailboxes, bulletin boards, and two benches...” (pp.72-73).

On the other hand, my visit to Mt. Scopus last month was relatively pleasant. The organizers of the World Congress of Jewish Studies cleverly set up a tent in the outdoor courtyard of the Humanities building with a refreshment stand and vouchers that could be redeemed only at this refreshment stand. Aside from the damage to my body of eating 10 burekas (burekasim if you wish) washed down by 10 iced coffees in the space of 4 days, it was quite pleasant and provided a nice place for socializing during the conference. I avoided all angular hallways and had a nice time.

I also heard some interesting lectures but you can read the proceedings of the conference in a few years. Meaningless thoughts on the physical environment of Hebrew University campuses have to go on the web now, however.

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