When we were young scholars and parents of young children, my husband and I spent a productive semester in Cassis, on the southern coast of France, at a relatively new study center called the Camargo Foundation. This summer, after 34 years, we returned for a week.
A great deal, of course, has changed in three decades. What was once a fishing port is now a crowded tourist marina, and visitors are advised to reserve in advance if they plan to enjoy a bouillabaisse or moules frites (mussels cooked in broth and served with fries) in a harbor restaurant on a weekend night. But the fundamental pleasures are the same: the extraordinary luminosity of the sun, the azure water and the clear sky.
For me, those pleasures were heightened during this recent visit by recollections of our first stay. Philip and I reminisced as we climbed steps on which our 6-year-old had once made chalk drawings. I recalled whole passages from the book I had read cover-to-cover one Saturday morning on the rocky sloping beach near our apartment and which I analyzed all afternoon and evening. Those six months were defining: for our scholarship and teaching, for our love of France and its foods, for our children’s decisive exposure to the language. We raised a glass of the very nice local wine (virtually unknown on our first stay) to the benefactors who had made possible the foundation and our work there so long ago.
There are, of course, countless ports and villages on the Mediterranean where one can spend a pleasant week. We chose to rent in Cassis because, although we didn’t articulate it, we were attracted to the idea of revisiting a cherished past, assessing what it had meant and perhaps measuring the distance traveled. It was the quietest vacation we ever had, spent reading, remembering and watching the boats depart and return.
We left for France not long after Hamilton’s Reunion Weekend, an event that was in my thoughts throughout the time in Cassis. No two returns are the same. Yet as I reflected on what Cassis had meant to my professional and personal development, I could not help but think about what College Hill means to alumni who come back every five years (or more often) to Central New York — not principally for the weather, of course, but because it is a place that formed their minds and hearts and where they made lifelong friends.
The college they loved and that played a vital role in shaping their lives is not exactly the one they left years earlier, for institutions and places must evolve as the world does, continually reinventing themselves in order to stay relevant. And yet there is a permanency that allows our College’s returning sons and daughters to find again the things they remember and the nourishment they seek. As we build facilities needed to educate today’s generation of young people, we inevitably alter the face of the College, but her soul, as I have said, has genuine continuity.
I look forward to welcoming back alumni, parents and friends, not just at reunions but all through the year. My colleagues and I are determined that College Hill will remain a place to which you will forever want to return.