curly cue

Height Studies Raise New Questions

In "Tall Tales: New Approaches to the Standard of Living" (May 1999), the idea that standard of living can be measured by height seems a little far-fetched. While no one would doubt that height in slave children was indeed correlated to their lack of well being, how can this theory explain the height of Africans today? Peoples such as the Masai in Kenya and the Senegalese are exceptionally tall, though impoverished. And the Japanese, the shortest of any industrial people, were already among the longest-living group before they gained an average of 8 centimeters.

If taller is better, one wonders why it is that young Americans thronging to Europe are so tired all the time? They can be seen collapsed on the Spanish steps in Rome or on the Paris Opera steps and elsewhere looking ever so weary. The crowds of young German, British, and Italian tourists (tall and short alike) seem, on the other hand, to have plenty of stamina.
Doesn't this all sound familiar? In America too often bigger is better. What's next, fatter is better? I guess no one will dispute the American lead in that category, though Europeans may catch up. They are increasingly replacing native fare with hamburgers and ice cream. Dessert in France, for instance, used to be a piece of fruit. Now it's more likely a creamy pastry. Quel dommage, n'est-ce pas?

Le Vesinet, France

Paying Tribute

I am especially saddened to learn of Professor Andrew Bongiorno's death because, of all the fine teachers I had at Oberlin, he was my favorite. During my senior year I was fortunate enough to take two of his courses, the first in The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, the second in creative writing. He taught them as seminars in a room high up in Peters Hall. Using Dorothy Sayer's translation of La Divina Comedia and drawing upon his remarkable scholarship, Professor Bongiorno brought Dante and his vision of the world to life. He even looked like Dante. In the second course, he gave us weekly writing assignments, one in particular in which he sketched out a simple plot for a short story, and we students had to create characters and context for the plot.

He was always patient, always kind. After spending more time on a term paper for the Dante course than required, I turned it in several weeks late. He did not dock me for lateness, but instead wrote "Superogatory" next to the A he gave me. I had to look up the word in the dictionary. Another time I offered an implausible but truthful excuse for not turning in a short writing assignment on time: I'd been preoccupied all week by the sound of a Bach oboe concerto playing in my head. He merely smiled and told me to complete the assignment when Bach stopped performing.

That spring of 1960, two classmates, Caroline Cowman and Deborah Gayle, and I took Professor Bongiorno a gift expressing our appreciation. We gathered lilac blossoms, daffodils, and other spring flowers growing around our dorm, arranged them in a basket, and took them to his home early that morning. Feeling awkward, we left the flowers on his doorstep and retreated behind some shrubbery next to his house. When he came to the door, he stood gazing at the flowers for a few minutes, obviously puzzled but very pleased, then began looking for the person who delivered them. We finally stepped forward and told him that we wanted to thank him for, well, everything. I still want to do that.


Guanajuato, Mexico

Taking Tea with John Service

John Service '31 has to be one of the more important alumni of this century. One afternoon, unable to concentrate in the art library, I looked up and saw John touring the stacks. I immediately said out loud to myself, "That is an important person in American history," but I couldn't for the life of me remember who he was. I packed my books and followed him for an hour or so from a distance trying in vain to ask, but didn't know how to say, "You are an important person. Who are you?" The next issue of the newspaper reported that he had been in town, and I remembered instantly who he was.

The following year he came back and I introduced myself. He invited me to join him and talked to me for hours about Mao, his most recent visits with Chou En'Lai, General Stillwell, writer Theodore White, Chiang Kai-Shek, Nixon, and Henry Kissinger. That afternoon's tea was a tremendous gift and among my fondest memories of Oberlin.

John Service stands tall in American diplomatic history. More importantly, he was simply a great American for his unswerving loyalty to the truth during the persecution of the McCarthy period.

Portland, OR


On to more letters...