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Homecoming

Charles Fineman

Charles Fineman

LFC was not just where I earned my B.A.; it was where I lived – with interruptions for study in France and Spain – uninterruptedly for 4 years, including a summer job in the admissions office and then three summers as the training camp secretary for the St. Louis Football Cardinals (as the team was then named).  The day after the end of our freshman year, I moved into 16 College Campus, the home of Esther DeMerritt, the associate director of admissions (of whom others have written admiringly in their essays here), and there I stayed until the day before I enrolled in the Ph.D. program in French at Yale.  The faculty on the circle were my neighbors and friends; I babysat for many of their children.  One of the photographs Ron Pownall is showing is in fact of Esther and me standing behind Rachel Krantz (daughter of psychology professor David Krantz; the family lived in the other half of the duplex) on the occasion of her first birthday (summer 1967), with me holding Dietrich (von Merritt), Esther’s dachshund.  It was an experience that few others had (though I was not the only student living in a faculty home).  Among other things, I got caught with the cooking and baking ‘bug’ at #16 College Campus; and will always thank David Seaman for his brilliant idea, in Dijon, of enrolling us in a basic cooking course at the Institut Hippolyte Taine.

Like Craig Marion (whose essay has been uploaded), I was part of the first contingent of Program II students.  Unlike Craig, I transferred to Program I after just two trimesters, having discovered that the required non-requirements would make it difficult for me to acquire the skills and background I knew were required to pursue a doctorate in French.  In the end, LFC allowed me to take courses in a total of five different languages (French, German, Greek, Latin, and Spanish).  I was still taking one last basic distribution requirement course (Intro Econ with Murray Herlihy) in the winter trimester of 1969, just months before our graduation.

I can say in retrospect that my life has unfolded in a clear line: it has always been about languages and literatures, books, and libraries.  Special mention needs to be made of translation: in the fall of 1965, freshly arrived on campus, I connected with Jean-Luc Garneau who for a brief time became my translation coach.  The Dijon program brought me into the classroom of Monsieur Cherchi, our translation and stylistics teacher – a stickler for perfection and precision.

I went on to do my Ph.D. course work at Yale in French (second Romance literature: Spanish), then caught a lucky break only months after the grueling orals: I became one of the humanities bibliographers ( = book selector) in Sterling Memorial Library; picked up a library degree at Southern Connecticut State College, and then moved (briefly) to an administrative position (I was an international civil servant) with the International Federation of Libraries and Associations (IFLA) in The Hague.

Subsequent jobs brought me back to the US and work in the African Collection (Yale) and the libraries of the University of California-Santa Cruz; Northwestern; and finally Harvard, where my last job title before retiring in 2008 was Librarian for France, Italy, and Scandinavia.

My second career as a free-lance translator began with a grad student assignment for Yale French Studies (the article was a musicological one, playing to my strength and background in music) and finally led to a decades-long career as a translator of Danish, French, Norwegian, and Swedish into English.  I retired as a translator in 2013.

LFC made possible several unforgettable experiences.  The College called out of retirement Madeline Ashton, who had been the chair of the Foreign Language Department before our class arrived, as she was the only faculty member willing to read all of Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past, since that was the topic I had selected for my senior honors thesis.  Because of her own life experiences, Miss Ashton acted as a living cultural encyclopedia of the era not that far removed from Proust’s own.

During the fall term in Dijon, a chance knock on my dormitory door led to my giving weekly informal English lessons to a man who became the leading exponent of his generation of the classical saxophone.  I did this in exchange for a home cooked meal.  After dinner, Jean-Marie Londeix and I played saxophone and piano duets in his living room  He and I are still intermittently in contact.

In Madrid in the fall of 1968 I was present for the dedication of the first Jewish synagogue to open in the Spanish capital since the expulsion of 1492.  Upon leaving the synagogue and striking up a conversation with the man who had been sitting next to me, I discovered that he had grown up in Lima, Peru with my cousin Boris.

Then there was Lillian Rung (LFC ’68), the first Finn I ever encountered.  Years later, in adult ed in Mountain View, California, I finally tackled Finnish, acquiring enough to be able to handle the job of selecting the humanities and social science books (and assisting the Harvard Music Library) for Harvard’s central library.  It also helped that Harvard sent me, all expenses paid, to Helsinki for 10 weeks for additional language training and to better familiarize me with the country.

Like so many others in the class, I look forward to early October and the chance to to see the campus again and get caught up on the lives of some of the members of the class of 1969 now (remarkably) 50 years on.