Isn’t it amazing how serendipity can make one aware of
things at just the right time. Of course, one never knows about those
things of which one is unaware, does one? Before getting hopelessly
confused in a metaphysical Mobius strip, let us recount an incident from
our class yesterday.
We were using the Boston Globe Calendar section to practice a language
function – making suggestions, and a cultural skill – finding stuff to
do during the weekend in this marvelous cultural cornucopia of a metropolitan
area. One student would say, for example, that she felt like seeing a
movie. Her partner would politely inquire as to what sort of movies
she enjoyed. According to the answer, they would look for a movie in
the Calendar that fits the bill.
Well, one of the “categories” of cultural activities was “Lectures”.
We heard some of the students snickering at that one. One whispered,
“Let’s skip that one”.
Now, all of these students are in the process of entering American universities
to get degrees of one sort or another. One of the things they need is
the ability to understand high-level discourse in
setting. We wanted them to understand that on any given day in the Greater
Boston area one could go to several dozen nondescript rooms and anonymous
lecture halls and listen to some of the top minds in as many fields hold
forth on the subject of their research, their area of expertise, their
passions. For free.
So we seized the teaching moment, as we say, and had them all open their
calendars to the “Lectures” section. And discovered,
in our attempt to impress them with the variety and intellectual interest
of what was available this week, and found two of my oldest friends and
running mates, one from East High School and one from the Harvard Cultural
On Tuesday, Ken Rogoff is speaking at the JFK Jr. Forums (we assume
at the JFK School of Government) on “The International Debt Crisis: The
Next Generation”. In our 3,000 student public high school, Ken was the
smartest kid in the gang, and a charter member of our “counter-culture
clique”. At the time he was the US Junior Chess Champion, and the youngest
IM in American chess history.
The Dowbrigade will never forget being the 7th Man on the US Student
Chess Team at the World Championships in Haifa, Israel in 1970. We were
actually working on Kibbutz Ha’mapil at the time, but Ken, who was playing
first board on the American Team, invited us to the tourney and somehow
got us on the roster as “last board” so that we had a complete set of
credentials and passes.
Actually, the Dowbrigade doesn’t know a pawn from a peon, and was not
much help to the group during the all-night skull sessions working through
the suspended games while the player who would actually finish the game
got a good night’s sleep, to be informed in the morning of the best line
However, we have always believed that our energy and spirit contributed
to the American victory. Yes, somehow, despite a hazy two-day period
in which team performance was affected by a batch of windowpane acid
(emphatically NOT touched by Ken, who would never so much as try a toke
of pot for fear it would alter his photographic memory), the Dowbrigade
can lay claim to being a member of the 1970 World Student Chess Championship
The truth is the main reason the US won is that the entire Soviet Bloc
and the Cubans had boycotted the event due to its taking place in Israel.
Ken went on to Yale and MIT and is now Professor of Economics at Harvard
as well as Director of Harvard’s Center for International Development.
But we haven’t seen him in years as he spends most of his time at his
“other” job as Chief Economist and Director of Research of the International
Monetary Fund. Since we last saw him Ken has truly ascended to become
one of the Masters of the Universe, and we intend to ask him for a job.
Catch him Tuesday at 6 for The International Debt Crisis: The
Next Generation – he was always into Star Trek…..
No sooner had we digested that than we saw, as we read down the list
with our students, that the very next night Wade Davis was giving a lecture
on “The Realm of Vanishing Cultures” at the Cambridge Forum at the First
Parish Church in Harvard Square Wednesday (no time given, call 617-495-2727).
was in my class at Harvard, one of a small group in the Cultural Anthropology program,
and we shared an interest in Ethnobotany and organic intoxicants
both in and out of the classroom. The Dowbrigade was sidetracked for
10 years during a research trip to the Peruvian Amazon and ended up
a language teacher. Wade went on to become the leading Ethnobotanist
of our generation, as well as something of a pop icon as author of “The
Serpent and the Rainbow”, a sensational dramatization of his doctoral research
searching for the true “Zombie Powder” among the vodun priests and witch doctors
of Haiti. This popular audience bestseller was made into a major motion
picture, with if memory serves, Clarence Williams III of Mod Squad fame
as the chief Zombie. A smashing success.
His latest book is called One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest, and is the story of the Dean of Ethobotany, Prof Richard Schultes,
who at one point disappeared into the Rain Forest for 14 years. Wade
and the Dowbrigade both took his course; Wade went on to be his
The last time we saw Wade was in a dugout canoe on some forgotten Amazonian
tributary in the Peruvian jungle. He was heading out, we were coming
back. It will be good to touch base again on Wednesday.
Amazing the stuff that goes on in this burg. We are going to miss
it, as usual, and inevitably return, as always.