“Tell me and I forget
teach me and I may remember,
involve me and I learn.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
I came to Berkeley from London for the doctoral program in Cultural Anthropology which after a semester, was doubled up with Film. And the man who brought me here, and the woman who has in many ways made me stay, are both anthropologists whose worlds I continually intersect with, even after taking a “sabbatical” from the field to make clothes. I came to the University of California in 1996 to work with Dr. Nelson Graburn, whose work focused on the representation of identity through visual art, which was what I was working on in London at the time. At the School of Oriental and African Studies I had written my masters thesis on “Hollywood in Britain: America as Other,” and now I wanted to explore identity within the context of art worlds in Jamaica and the Caribbean diaspora, and came to California to do so.
After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2001 however, I became close with Dr. Laura Nader who I had taken my first graduate seminar with in the department, but with whom I got to know more intimately through my clothes ~ making the wedding gown, bridesmaids dresses, and mother of the bride outfit for her daughter Rania’s wedding, after having my business for a little over a year. Since then, she has continued to be a mentor and close friend, has worn my clothes for the past decade, and has given my pieces to many of the women in her life ~ her sister, daughters, grandchildren and friends. I loved the fact that Laura’s interview, my very first for my book project and essentially a “practice interview,” was at the women’s faculty club at CAL over a tuna nicoise salad, which for years we would ritually get at La Note Cafe on Shattuck in Berkeley, for years… Below are a few of my favorite excerpts from each of the two interviews.
mini-bio: Dr. Laura Nader got her ph.d. at Radcliffe/Harvard in 1961 and has been at UC Berkeley since 1960. She was the first woman to receive a tenure-track position in the department. Her fieldwork topics include the anthropology of law, harmony ideology: Justice and Control in a Zapotec Mountain Village (1991); in 1969 she wrote the very controversial “Up The Anthropologist ~ Perspectives Gained from Studying Up” and taught a highly sought after course called Controlling Processes which is now taught by her students around the country. Also the older sister of Ralph Nader, one of my favorite gifts she has given our family, which i have read again and again, is Ralph’s The Seventeen Traditions from 2007, which are just that ~ 17 inspiring lessons and key traditions from their childhood in Winsted, CT. In 2012 the University honored her now more than fifty years teaching at CAL with a symposium “Anthropology in the World” which brought together, amongst others her brother Ralph, anthropologist and Financial Times journalist Gillian Tett, economic analyst Robert Reich, and governor Jerry Brown. Laura Nader / Interview #1, Women’s Faculty Club, UC Berkeley, February 7th 2014 (on the birthday of her mother Rose Nader ~ who would have been 106)
on the salon dinners ~ “You bring together people with different specialties, different generations and cross-specializations. There’s a hunger for conversation. As an anthropologist you participate in what you observe and examine yourself at the same time. You are always comparing with the past or different contexts. It’s how you view the world and it’s your curiosity about your environment. Asking questions is important for survival and i ask questions because i’m bored. It’s fun to loosen it up and be provocative. I’m a contrarian. Most people want Berkeley liberal conversation but it’s contrarians who make interesting conversations.”
on a history of wine in berkeley and around the university ~ “The Berkeley wine and food society was a collective of professionals including mostly doctors and professors that went from house to house with the focus on wine pairings with food. Every dinner there would be 6 glasses lined up, with a glass to go with each course. Norm was considered responsible for brining french wine to the bay area… He would go to conferences and ship cases of wine back. this was the 50s and 60s. In the 60s and 70s we were “sociable” but now we’re not and it has everything to do with class. We were raised to understand that sociability was how you got on in the world. professors wore suits when i came here but now such dressing up is looked down upon; and now i couldn’t even afford it. The social is political and it is how they hired back then. CAL would call Harvard and say do you have an anthropologist that we could hire? but now it is more democratic to advertise. To understand sociability through class you need to ask who they are by asking what their parents did and where they went to school.”
on the past ~ “We drank port at home, and when I was in the field with the Zapotec, if you didn’t drink, you weren’t sociable. When I was in Cambridge at Harvard in the mid 50s it was all about cocktails. It wasn’t until I came to the West Coast that I began to drink wine. The physicists here were really into wine. For Norm’s memorial, we did a wine tasting. He was a gentle man and liked refinement…Wives used to do parties but now both people are working so it’s difficult to do; and with women’s lib, women no longer wanted to be “entertaining” their husband’s male friends…Feminism failed because it was taken over by sexual preference.”
final thoughts ~ I’ve known Laura for 17 years, and have spent hours with her in my studio, and conversing with her at Cafe Rouge in Berkeley, one of our favorite spots on 4th street, especially for a hamburger. Her mother’s book IT HAPPENED IN THE KITCHEN (1991) somehow never came up though. Containing Rose’s philosophy of child-rearing, the intimate connection between good food and family conversations around the kitchen table, as well as 100 recipes with her favorite quotes at the end, she was even featured on the Phil Donahue Show, with her hummus recipe, which i’m excited to try soon. I left inspired and invigorated and with this sweet last thought by Laura in my mind ~ “on child-rearing formulas, Mom observed that ‘there is no recipe’.. and on supporting each other, it was ‘operation cooperation.’”
where: at home
wear: cari borja
favorite swear word: hell…
* mini-bio: Dr Graburn was educated at Cambridge University, McGill and received his Ph.D. in anthropology from University of Chicago and has taught at Berkeley since 1964. He is currently Professor Emeritus, though still teaches and travels widely to give talks. His research has been focused on the Inuit of Canada and urban Inuit arts, tourist and Fourth World arts, museums, and contemporary tourism in Japan and China.
on bringing me to CAL from London, and me accepting, after a quick trip to see the campus and meet the faculty ~ “You had an interesting background and interesting experiences. It was a cross-cultural background … and a lot of decisions in life are spur of the moment and based on things you can’t predict ~ more on a hunch than on a rational calculation. So I’m very lucky that I never particularly plan anything. Everything’s a “happy accident”…”
on remembering “home” ~ ”I always try to tie it to the person. Individual memories that make up me. My family always talked about malaya but when i got to school, others have other traditions of somewhere else, and this is memory. The twist is the identification of children with the colonized people; but mine is at a distance because i had never been to Malaya ~ it is a borrowed tradition.”
I like taking the concept literally, through the soil.. where do we really feel at home? It’s in the village I grew up called Shamley Green, South of Gilford, in the most beautiful area of England. Richard Branson grew up in my village ~ he was the annoying little boy with the red hair; and also W O Bentley, the designer of the Bentley. We lived on an ex-farm, but during the war my father lost all of his money because it was invested in Malaya, so we needed to fire all of the servants and take in boarders from London which was being bombed from 1941-45.. my mother made clothes for the villagers and my dad sold vegetables and fruits…so for me I always knew “you live off the food you grow”.. potatoes, beet root, white asparagus, rhubarb…anyhow, that was the war… I was adopted because my mother couldn’t have kids. I was in an orphanage, about a year old and I paid a lot more attention to my dad than my mother so he said “we’ll take this one.”… I was going to be baptized “Marmaduke” but I ripped my Aunt’s necklace and her pearls fell to the ground and that was a bad omen and they thought “he doesn’t like it so we’ll call him after his second uncle”.. and all the Marmaduke’s in Canada had died early at the ages of 17, 22… in the Graburn area of Southern Alberta… I went to Canada at the age of 21.. but i was not a Marmaduke, so i made it to the Inuits.. “ i was very lucky that i was called Nelson or I wouldn’t have survived english boarding school.”
on his AC Cobra ~ “1964. I rented a car and drove to berkeley; got a motel room on University and found out where I could test drive a Cobra. AC Ace. Went to Hayward. I test drove a Jag too. My mom had died and left me $5,000 and I could blow it all on a sportscar. It was Oct. 1, 1964 and I thought I’ll take the risk, and said to Kathy after marrying her: remember, I had the Cobra first.”
on food in the bay area, and its connection to the anthropology department and Hearst Museum ~ “At the end of every year in the 60s we had a pot luck party in Tilden. We always had a whole animal on spit ~ sheep or goat… The Museum was even more involved, with a pot luck held downstairs at the end of every term. I was a curator since 1971. Dr. Frank Morick, asst director and my first student (ph.d. on arts and material culture of the Trobriand Islands, which we share with the British Museum) often cooked something special like a roast but a main inspiration was Dr Berta Bascom from Havana (wife of director Bill Bascom) who brought a huge pot of black beans and everyone took part and made lasting links ~ where Niloufer met Frank Norick and many others. After Kathy and I went to Peru in 1969 we became particularly friendly with Catherine Brandel who took my art and culture class and hung around the Museum. Later she became a food gatherer (like/with Niloufer) and became head upstairs chef at Chez Panisse (when our daughter Eva worked there) and later head downstairs chef; and in the mid90s she became head chef at Greystone getting the CIA started in St Helena, but died young. Mari Lyn Salvador became a grad student in 1972 and worked a lot in the Museum. She and Mark Miller (who founded 4th Street Grill and Santa Fe Grill and Coyote Cafe) were readers in my Art & Culture class and “discovered” Lee Draper. Meanwhile Niloufer arrived and was recommended to get in touch with me… there was also an annual event started 40+ years ago (we joined in 1975) called the Pumpkin Picnic on Martins Beach every Halloween weekend, and Niloufer became famous for her Parsi omelettes. Another occasion was the celebration of Niloufer’s birthday which was also on the beach but a moveable feast.”
on chez panisse ~ “I was at Chez Panisse the other night and it was my 40th anniversary of going there.. late 1973 or early 74. We went with a Japanese man and his daughter who was living with us (and then when we were in Tokyo he took us to an eel restaurant). It was PARSI new year.. we had reservations last year but Chez Panisse had burned. Every course was small but not simple; very gaited with just the right amount of everything.. and we were constantly surprised by each course as it came along, right up to dessert. .. each one was just the best of its kind. It was absolutely marvelous and we had a Cotes du Rhone but because of the list, we knew that no matter what it was, it’s not going to be a bad wine. Niloufer Ichaporia King (the chef for Parsi New Year) came to study with me in 1978 because she was interested in art and the contemporary world. She focused on Costplus which was full of Asian arts and crafts. How did that stuff get into the US. She got to know the people who started it and went backwards from the US through Asia and India to see where the stuff comes from. She was employed by the museum to collect contemporary Indian folk arts but she is also an urban hunter and gatherer so she started buying salmon and preparing salmon for restaurants. Marilyn, Gobi Stromberg and her all became friends and they discovered she was a fantastic cook and had a friday night cooking evening at her home. We all said it was the smallest kitchen in the world but it came out with the best food.”
on anthropology ~ “You have to have the kind of mind to make it useful. It gives us a way of looking at the world that is much more curious. It makes the world much more fun; but you have to be the kind of person whose mind doesn’t mind stretching because you have faith ~ you will run with it and see what happens. As an anthropologist, as things unfold, you reflect on the way things belong. They’re somehow all connected. It also makes you likely to think that when something comes along, how it relates to previous actions. Everybody in the world is looking for connection.. Anthropology is in its most exciting time.”
EAT: Niloufer’s meal for Parsi new year at Chez Panisse last friday.
It was the best meal I’ve ever had.
DRINK: everyday wines
WEAR: garden clothes
LISTEN: to people talk.. to foreign languages and figuring out what they’re saying.
HEAR: concert on tuesday, Hertz Hall, 33 beethoven variations, Michoko Uchida.. a Japanese who lives in England and was born in 1948, and is one of the most concentrated dynamic piano players.
DO: all the things i have to do, the things i haven’t done.
LOVE: mainly my family, things that last over time, but there’s different forms of love.
BE: it’s a little bit static… it’s constantly transforming .
i’m on the move but i’m still very static.
i’ve been in the same house for 50 years!
REMEMBER: personal memory, collective memory…
of society, but i much prefer individual memory and how this is meaningful in one’s life..
SEE: visual seeing and being able to see long distance; it doesn’t bore me and i’m still fascinated by seeing distance; and what you see IN something. when you say “i understand” you’re uncovering things.
LIVE: it goes on. It’s a surprise. You can’t always plan things and thank goodness! You can live passively, so you allow circumstances and events to shape your life, and you don’t control things.. You let things go by and maybe you’re missing something. VERSUS taking risks and sometimes it works out very well.
FINAL THOUGHTS: “We make the world in layers”… i left with this in mind, and an understanding that what i have been doing all this time with my salon dinners, and with my collections of clothes over the past decade ~ in concentrating on the local, and the woven connections, and the way things are inter-related and layered, is at its core anthropological. It’s a way of seeing the world around you, and connecting all the layers.