Friday, August 10, 2012

Skull&Bones 10

The second, adventure-packed week in the life of this Yale cohort chaperon.

From July 29th to August 3rd I was alone (see Skull&Bones 9). On August 3rd I drove to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn--Little Odessa--to collect my wife and kids, who had flown to NY three days before and were staying with my aunt and uncle, right on the boardwalk, a five minute stroll from Coney Island’s Luna Park.

Breakfast and lunch with the meshpuhe was full of soul, full of belly, and, as always, full of volume. Leaving that ghetto is, invariably, a sadness and a relief, both. We decided to take the ferry from Port Jefferson on Long Island to Bridgeport, Connecticut, just a few minutes from New Haven. The drive to the ferry across half of Long Island is full of culturally revealing road-signs: “Now leaving Brooklyn. Fuggedaboudit.”, Hicksville, Levittown… Port Jefferson is an idyllic little harbor village next to the town of Stonybrook, site of the respected university. The ferry takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to cross Long Island Sound.
Sunset over Long Island Sound

Early evening Saturday the fourth, while the family continued touring the campus and its immediate environs, I sat in on a class from the Grand Strategies curriculum called Everyday Machiavellianism, and taught by our district’s very own alumna and now Yale’s rising junior, Yohanna Pepa. The class lasted an hour and a half, seminar style around a long table. Yohanna was very creative at applying the concepts from The Prince to the kinds of things the kids might experience in their everyday present and future lives. Yohanna was also very gentle and kind, enriching the understanding of those students who obviously had studied the master, while making sure not to forget those—a sizable chunk of the small class—who had obviously never cracked the book open, by introducing and explaining Machiavelli’s motives, method, and concepts. Watching this group of students from all over the country and the world made me realize how the Yale cohort must be kicking some serious behind in these two weeks of Grand Strategies. It made me realize how important our district’s various Advanced Placement programs are, how good they are, and how they need to be treasured and supported by the higher-ups, who often are, understandably, scrambling to deal with the other end of the academic continuum.

A saint's celebration in
Boston's Little Italy;
those are bills
plastered to the statue

Next day, Sunday, was Boston: Beacon Hill, Little Italy, The Freedom Trail; also Cambridge over the bridge: MIT and Harvard. Ten hours of walking and one metro ride yield a lot of photos, a ton of history, some clam chowder, lobster bisque and rolls, and finally, Boston Cream Pie.

MIT, Gates Building

Monday it was Rhode Island’s turn: Narragansett Bay and kayaks, Providence and College Hill and Brown University. Of all the schools I’d seen on this trip, Brown is the most beautiful, the most elegant, the most architecturally consistent, the most perfectly placed in relationship to its adjacent big little city.
Brown bears

Tuesday was spent showing off to my family my New Haven chops, gotten from all that running and walking in the first five days. We went to the port and the waterfront, to the West River Memorial Park with Yale’s stadia and athletic grounds at its north end, to Lighthouse Park and its beach, and to East Rock Park and its summit views.

Wednesday evening my people had to fly home out of Westchester County Airport near White Plains, NY. So we took the opportunity to tour Hyde Park, with FDR’s family home, and Frederick Vanderbilt’s mansion nearby. 
Servants' stairs,
Vanderbilt Mansion

Washington Irving's
grave, Sleepy Hollow
We drove south along the Hudson through Poughkeepsie and Vassar College, through Sleepy Hollow and its cemetery and Manors, and east through White Plains and Westchester County, home of some New York City’s wealthier bedroom communities.

It was a very sad Yale cohort chaperon who saw his wife and kids off and had to drive back to New Haven all alone, again.

Skull&Bones 9

The first and lonely week in the life of the Yale cohort chaperon, after his charges abandoned him.

The best way to get to know a city is to walk it. So, every morning, I ran: through the colleges, past the cemetery and the engineering buildings, up Science Hill, around the sustainable farm, and up Prospect all the way to East Rock Road, where Yale’s  Hogwarts impression is reinforced by the gates and campus of another university, Albertus Magnus College.

view of New Haven and harbor

East Rock Road leads—down a leafy, opulent lane—to East Rock Park, with its river, its marshes, and the rock itself, crowned by New Haven’s old War(s) Memorial (Revolutionary, 1812, Mexican, and Civil), with 360 degrees of city vistas. Up the rock, down the rock, and back to Whitney Ave. via Willow St. through slightly less imposing, but nevertheless charming neighborhoods adjacent to campus on its eastern side. South on Whitney, past the Peabody Natural History Museum, through campus and back to New Haven Green—about an hour and a half, two hours.
War Memorial, East Rock Park summit

Bordering the west side of town is West Rock Park. Running College St. all the way to Edgewood Park, and then running north through it will take one to West Rock Park. No river, but plenty of trails and woods, which empty out onto Common Ground High School, with its organic gardens, then the Jewish cemetery, then SCSU, Southern Connecticut State University. Down Crescent St. along Beaver Creek Park, onto Goffe, and all the way back to campus. Two hours.

So these were two of my favorite, most tiring runs. There were others, just as interesting. Here’s a thing worth mentioning: New Haven, especially downtown and its environs, are often put down as dangerous, ghetto-like areas, to be feared and avoided. (As Americans, we despise the poor when they are white; we despise and fear them when they are brown.) And while it is true that there are many poor, and/or homeless, and/or inebriated people the area (the latter two mostly concentrated around the Green), I never felt in the least bit uncomfortable. On the other hand, there are many more areas of town that are stereotypically charming; one just has to ambulate more than a couple of blocks from the hotel. (But, as Americans, fat chance of that…)

So, every mid-morning, I’d get back to the hotel drenched and tired; and running water, air conditioning, and some midday Olympic action would restore me. That first week in New Haven was hot, so I avoided the outside in the hours around noon, instead spending them reading, or doing some online research.

There are many summer programs that East Coast Schools offer. Most of them, however, aren’t really “programs.” Boston College (, for example, has an incredibly wide range of classes that it offers to high school students, as well as residency options; further phone calls confirmed that they actually prefer out-of-state kids. So does Amherst ( The most interesting summer program is the Tufts Adventures in Veterinary Medicine program (, run by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. This program also prefers students from out-of-state, and is not averse to taking multiple kids from the same district, although they say it’s never happened before. To get into this AVM program, one has to not only have the highest academic credentials, but also the animal credentials. I imagine that for those WCCUSD students who volunteer at animal shelters, or raise dogs for the blind, or for hospitals/hospices—who’ve worked with animals in some capacity and have a real passion for the work—the Tufts AVM summer courses would be a dream-come-true.

In the afternoons, once the worst of the heat was past, I’d go on campus and read, and wander some more. One of the days I actually took the Yale Tour, something the cohort missed because we got in late that Friday and only had time for the info session and the engineering tour. One of the highlights of the tour is the introductory video, (For the actual—paraphrased—tour, see Skull&Bones 11.)
Our Lady of Circulation, Yale Library

Evenings that week were dedicated to developing my taste as a connoisseur of New Haven’s pizzas and beers, which are varied and absolutely heavenly. Just as Yale is the cat’s meow of colleges, so must New Haven be the same for the college cuisine. The Yale student, I imagine, is no glutton, but rather a refined palate; and once of age, the Yale student is no swiller, but rather a discriminating sipper.

Class all around, then.