My daughter Amy, who is herself half-Vietnamese, wonders why so many of her fellow musicians are Asian. Good question! The same proportions seem to hold true among Stanford University students in general. It is an interesting sociological question, to be sure, but not something to be obsessed over, and thankfully there are no signs of that happening.
Stanford University is one of California’s premier architectural jewels. Last night after dinner we headed over to the quad, the oldest part of the campus and by far the most impressive. The memorial church is the most prominent building, the center of gravity holding everything else together. A vast, colorful mosaic of the Sermon on the Mount rises from the arches to a large cross sitting high atop the church. Peeking inside, the church and sanctuary have a very Catholic look. There even appears to be a high altar against the sancturary wall. Wandering about the medieval-like courtyard Jonathan was absolutely beside himself with delight. I’m not a scholar or even a student of architecture, but here everything was “in its place” – the orderliness, symmetry, proportionality, and grandeur of the place delivering a little bit of heaven on earth.
The founders of Stanford were protestants, and very unorthodox protestants at that, influenced by east coast Transcendentalism and other strange theologies. But they had an immense respect for California’s Catholic heritage and did not shy away from overtly Catholic allusions. The images of the mosaic on the memorial church are clearly influenced by Catholic art. Streets are named for Junipero Serra, El Camino Real, and Saint Teresa. However, somewhere along the line, it seems the educators become embarrassed by this, and the newer parts of the campus with its modernist buildings and landscaping have avoided any taint of the old religion. For example, we are staying in a dorm called the Casa Italiana. The theme of the dorm is all things Italian. Italian art adorns the walls, etc. And yet – if you can imagine this – there is not a single hint of Catholicism in the entire building. A very large photograph of Michelagelo’s nude sculpture of David met with their approval, and this full-frontal greeting meets everyone coming through the front door at eye level. There is another photo of an Italian city skyline (I don’t know which city), but it must be the only skyline in all of Italy without a visible church. One has to work hard to imagine an Italy without steeples, or Italian art without the Madonna, but apparently it can be done if one is sufficiently motivated!
Anyway, I’m very happy to be here in what feels like the heart of old California. Today I plan to hear a violin recital, explore a few more corners of the campus, and spend some quality time in the university bookstore. There will be a two-hour concert on Thursday night with all the Suzuki students, and afterwards we will be going to dinner with my cousin, a brilliant and engaging lady who spent an illustrious career as an archivist with Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and her husband, who is Swedish but does have many good qualities. Expect light blogging this week.