Monday, July 11, 2011

There and Back (or: what happened while I was gone)

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage...

You never know what‘s going to happen when you travel.

As the brilliantly imbecilic protagonist of Jaroslav Hašek’s great novel, The Good Soldier Švejk, observes upon learning of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo,
Well there you have it, Mrs. Müller, in a car. Yes, of course a gentleman like him can afford it, but he never imagines that a trip like that might finish up badly.
Nothing so awful happened to me during my travels in the Czech Republic and Poland. In fact, the only unpleasantness occurred right here at home at the start of the trip when my laptop was damaged going through airport security: a dented case, shattered screen, and broken disc drive. (though I hasten to add that the TSA staff were very responsive and friendly) After that, things could not fail to improve.

When representatives from the partnership between the Israeli regional council of Gilboa and the Palestinian governorate of Jenin spoke here this spring, the vision and reports of cooperation were inspiring. In addition, countering popular misconceptions that life in Israel and the Palestinian territories consists of unremitting chaos and violence, Council Head Dani Atar said, “We’re happy to tell you that our life is boring.”

It was reassuring to hear that local government is pretty much the same the world over. This is of course what I’ve always said about my life on the Amherst Select Board: boring, and we like it that way. No drama necessary: there’s enough work as it is, and we need to get it done.

Well, in this case, all the action was back home: turns out Amherst was pretty lively in my absence.

• Not only did Town Meeting wrap up (and I was sad to miss the spirited debate over urban farming and the raising of chickens and rabbits for food).

In addition:

• On May 31, a train derailed in Amherst, causing severe damage but no injuries (and there was another such incident shortly after my return)

• On June 1, a tornado struck Springfield, killing three people and causing widespread damage (1, 2, 3)

• Just over a week later, there was another tornado scare, and initial reports suggested a funnel cloud was sighted in the vicinity of my house.

• The Five Colleges found themselves in transition if not turmoil: UMass President and German scholar Robert Holub suddenly found himself being forced from office when word of a negative review leaked out. In the meantime, Amherst College hired University of Wisconsin Chancellor and German scholar Biddy Martin to replace Anthony Marx, inexplicably chosen by the New York Public Library to become its new head.

1) Lost one Germanist, gained another, so that’s a wash.
2) About time Amherst hired a woman, especially given its earlier shameful record on gender politics. (The experiences that Catherine Bateson described in her memoir have become legendary here.)
3) Hampshire College hired a new president just before my departure, so that’s three of five newcomers at the top.
• Oh, yes: and I—along with the rest of the Select Board and Town Manager—am being sued over the Town’s plan to install a solar array on the former landfill. . .

(to be continued)

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