Friday, August 24, 2007

Changes and memories

Last weekend, as part of my research on creationist quote mining, I visited parts of the UCSD campus I haven't seen in years. I planned a trip first to the Undergraduate Library on Revelle campus (they should have Science and Smithsonian) and then a jaunt to the Science and Engineering Library in Urey Hall. While I've paid several visits over the years to old haunts on Muir campus, it has been many years since I've been to Revelle.

I parked behind the Revelle dorms near the Undergraduate Library building, on a summer day where even the La Jolla coast was 95 degrees. Not a day for hiking. I headed up the ramp to UgLi...which was now some sort of computer lab. No books in sight. I guess the undergrads at UCSD don't need their own library any more...

Ah well, on to Urey. I knew they had remodeled the building a while back when earthquake-retrofitting it. There were new buildings behind and in front of it, all that stood out as glaring inaccuracies in my old visions (that shouldn't be there!) On my way, I passed the Revelle Commuter Lounge- a place that holds more memories for me that any other save the stairwells of Muir Campus. The endless impromptu bridge games, political punditries on the blackboard, birthday parties, first meetings... I was relieved to see it still existed- larger now, the couches looked comfier, and the walls were covered with murals.

So I got to Urey, walked in the glass doors (same whoosh, same distant elevator sounds, same smells of old paper and cement) and found that where the library once stood were now offices for the Bio department. I knew the library still existed... I had looked up the hours to make sure it was open on a Sunday. But where did it go? I poked around, wilting in the heat, and finally spied a grad student with a red Mohawk, who gestured in the distance and stated "They moved it to Geisel."

Geisel? Perhaps that was one of the new buildings? No, wait...I had seen a story in the paper a while back- that was the new name for Central Library, the architectural symbol for the whole campus. Of course, Central was also a fair walk from Revelle! So off into the heat...and into more disruptions of my mental maps! Gone were the wood-paneled buildings of the Student Center between Muir and Revelle; they were in the process of being replaced by a gigantic glass edifice from which wafted smells of curry and cinnamon buns. Mandeville was refreshingly unchanged; even the art galleries looked the same. As I descended into the Rectilinear Forest behind Mandeville, I could see that the Ugly Bird remained on his perch, but the bare stone arch was now completely covered with ivy.

Very little of the Rectilinear Forest remained. The then-new Staff Center was encroaching on one edge when I left UCSD, now a scramble of buildings had invaded from the Warren side as well. If anything, the remaining eucalyptus trees seemed scrawnier than I remembered. The Purple Volleyball Net still meandered through the forest- but now it was blue. The Talking Trees still murmured; one seemed to be giving a recitation of bird calls from a field guide.

I finally made it to Central- oops, Geisel- and into air-conditioned bliss. The card catalogs had changed; the black and green terminals of Melvyl had matured into the full-color Internet-enabled Roger- but the hunt remained the same. The atavistic joy of lifting down a musty old volume of bound journals, turning the yellowed pages until I found what I sought- that, at least has not changed in the past 20 years, no matter how the surroundings have changed in the interim.

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