Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Virginia Tech post

Some might wonder about such an odd title for a post but this blogger got his M.Sc. at Virginia Tech many years ago. It has been long enough that even the alumni association has stopped trying to keep in touch with me. But I still remember quite well Virginia Tech, including Norris Hall where I took a class one quarter.

How could I not remember Virginia Tech? For a young man fresh out of Venezuela it was quite a cultural shock. Blacksburg was in the middle of nowhere and the only activities turned around the huge campus, spread there, in some mountain large hollow, and how so cold in winter from someone from the tropics. But in the two years I spent there I discovered that I loved cold weather and missed it later: only in Blacksburg could I ever enjoy the truly exotic pleasure of skating over a frozen pond, something that was even denied to me when I lived in Boston. One winter we even took the perilous journey through a mountain road to reach a frozen lake and skate in the middle of a white nowhere of woods, skipping the dangerous edge of an ice fishing hole in the middle.

But Blacksburg was more than the gorgeous Southern Fall, or the dazzling springs, springs never to be seen as such in the other places I lived in the States. It was also a cultural experience that taught me more about the US in 2 years than the rest I learned in the more than a decade that followed. Blacksburg was Red Neck country, and little of Deliverance too on the outside. It was still an area of wet and dry counties next to each other. Blacksburg had a state liquor store which looked from outside as a porn shop as I had seen in France. And leaving with my booze in a brown anonymous package I felt even more embarrassed than after leaving empty handed a porn shop. Foreign students of the time commented in wonderment about a referendum held in a neighboring county as to whether a restaurant could serve wine in a dry county.

And there was my discovery of the campus bookstore; they would become my favorite hang outs in any campus that I attended next, where eagerly I would await for the batch of incoming text books to find that rare university press gem that you could only find there before Amazon appeared.

There was nothing much to do in Blacksburg socially, so I went to the next two activities. I bought a TV to get used to accents. I was watching Archie bunker reruns and I confess that it did help me when I moved to the New York area for my PhD. I also learned to cook so I could entertain (and be entertained in return). I hosted my first cocktail party which included an assortment of Venezuelan beers that I had brought from some holiday, with a slide shows of beaches that today are polluted. Then they looked like paradise. This is what I remember the most, and miss the most from Blacksburg: the ability to entertain easily. We saved so much time in our lives, all was so close, so convenient that we could spend plenty of time in such social activities. Well, mostly foreign students from all around the world forced to speak an unifying English among us. Our US friends often preferred to hit the local McDonald or the famous VaTech football and basketball activities. The regular group included the following countries: France of course, but also Viet Nam, Thailand, Peru, India, Mexico, Germany, and other who I have forgotten. Not forgetting a little bit of US always, discovering more of the world than they would have ever expected before coming to Grad School at VaTech. But somehow I was the only one from Venezuela. There was also the bi weekly card playing sessions, French folks alone, lots of wine. Something that I was never able to do after Blacksburg.

For a Venezuelan it is difficult to imagine a safer place than Blacksburg. Maybe it was boring (there was only one watering hole worth mentioning). But for two years I rented a basement apartment without iron grids at the windows and many a day in summer I went for work forgetting to close the window. I never got robbed but I did get some rain through the window and soaked furniture. The only times that I got scared at night sleeping with my open window was when the neighborly skunk was visiting the garbage cans of the building across the field. For two years I could leave anything I wanted in my car: nobody would break in to steal it. When weather allowed I rode my bike, never afraid of cars cutting my way, running me over, never afraid of been robbed (you rarely see bikes in San Felipe). I did not even bother locking up my bike if I were to only spend a few minutes in a store.

Thus when my Mom called me this afternoon to tell me that she had recognized Burrus Hall my heart froze for a little instant. Oh, I do not know anyone anymore in Virginia. I bet my adviser is retired, or moved or forgot about me. Any friend I had is long gone, not only from Blacksburg but often from my life as is the case with all those friendships we create in our campus years; few of them unfortunately can resit the academic diaspora. No. My heart skipped a beat because in the misery of Venezuela today I was suddenly brought back to perhaps the two happiest years of my life, when I was happy and I did not know about it.

Inasmuch as the horror of today is a true terror, in a place where no one would have imagined such a thing, what I also grieve is the death of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech. Known before to the world through the Hokies and their sports exploits, known to the cognoscenti as a haven of peace and intellect, now Virginia Tech and Blacksburg will be known as the place where dozens where shot for no reason on a very cold spring morning, with flurries dusting the violence.

-The end-

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:29 PM

    Despite the sad nature of the posting (and I remember that tragic day well), it is good to know I'm not the only Hokie here in Venezuela. It's a beautiful country with a number of problems but a lot of wonderful people. - Gene


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