Princeton is my Camelot. As I watch my contemporaries relocate to Florida, Arizona, and other sunny climes, I am sure that I’ll never leave. I can honestly say that I am never bored. There is no room to allow boredom into your life when you live here. Now that my nest is empty and I’m semi-retired, my life as a single of a certain age in Princeton is devoted to a romance with the mind and an expansion of my being through an astounding choice of pleasures available to me within a few minutes of my Plainsboro town home.
The day I bought my first home in the area more than 30 years ago, our real estate broker introduced me to the Princeton University Weekly Bulletin, which joined U.S. 1, the New York Times, and the New Yorker as publications that guide my activities.
While raising a family and working, I managed through the years to attend frequent lectures, plays, and other events on and around the university campus. A few of the highlights that stand out from those early years are visits to the campus by Golda Meier, Martin Scorsese, Harold Pinter, Arthur Miller, Justice Antonin Scalia, Doris Kearns Goodwin, attorney Louis Nizer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Lech Walensa, and Anna Quindlen, whose talk was moved to the chapel because her audience was so large. "Would someone please take my picture for the Cardinal," she said from the pulpit.
Luminaries from the worlds of politics, science, and the arts are frequent guests on campus. In fact, my son, who enjoyed attending many campus events during his years at Princeton High School, noted that when he attended Cornell University, there were fewer celebrity guests on campus. "It’s just harder to get to Ithaca," he says.
The fall season kicked off with the JazzFest at Palmer Square, an annual Saturday afternoon fete of terrific music and great food. This followed a summer of outdoor films on the Green at Palmer Square and Pettoranella Gardens and several free concerts by well-known chamber music groups at Richardson Auditorium.
For the past two years I have been auditing classes at the university, this semester enjoying two hours every Wednesday morning on rationality. I also signed up for a short course on Latin American politics given by professor Paul Sigmund, who just retired from the university and is the author of numerous books and articles on Latin America.
One of the main requirements for becoming an auditor is the stamina and willingness to appear at dawn on registration day for class; the number of auditors is limited, with priority enrollment given to alumni and residents of Princeton. After that, it’s first come first served. The classes that seem to fill up most quickly are in the art and history department. The fee is $100 per class. Readings are made available online with a password provided by the professor. The main ground rule is that auditors may not participate in class. However, I’ve found that if I have something crucial to say, many professors will welcome an E-mail and will often respond in kind. The good news is that we can avoid the homework and the writing assignments. The bad news is we’re not invited to the small group discussions that are part of every class.
Theater and film are two fields this English major enjoys, and I keep up with all the good dramas in New York – this past year, Doubt, Pillowman, and Orson’s Shadow – and get to many of the museum openings. Recent trips included the occult photography show at the Met and the survey of Russian art at the Guggenheim. I’d already visited the new MoMA, and while I appreciated the expansion and the spacious galleries, I mourned my old stamping grounds where at lunchtime in my first New York job, I’d stop in to see "my" Guernica and Miros. In fact, when I took my first child in a stroller through that museum
more than 35 years ago, he pointed to a Miro and said, "We have that at home," as he looked at the original of a print then hanging in the kitchen – now in my office.
I was among the large number of creative writing students and others who recently enjoyed the antics of Steve Martin who spoke on campus on October 5, as part of the Althea Ward Clark Reading Series. He kept the audience laughing even while telling us about the more serious aspects of life as a writer/actor/director. Nobel Prize winner Elie Weisel spoke on September 21, in a historic evening on campus.
A Saturday evening program by the dance department featured 26 dancers, many professionals, as well as faculty, students, and alumni performing "In the Horse’s Mouth," a "Chorus-Line" type program of personal experience illustrated by movement to music. This lovely free event on a pouring night packed the dance theater at 185 Nassau Street, the building adjacent to Thomas Sweet’s ice cream store, and featured a reception following the performance. And the cost – none.
It’s good to know that soon after reading reviews of new and interesting films in the national media that these movies will show up at the Montgomery Theater on Route 206 North and at the Garden Theater on Nassau Street. I’ve recently seen and enjoyed The Squid and the Whale, Good Night and Good Luck, and Everything is Illuminated.
Several Tuesday evenings this fall I’ve written into my datebook lectures by some of the university’s top economists. These experts are participating in a lecture series on campus sponsored by the Princeton Adult School. While I didn’t sign up for the entire series, I’ve already heard Alan Kreuger – professor of economics at Princeton and economics columnist for the New York Times – speak on public knowledge of economics and plan to attend sessions by Burton Malkiel on private investment accounts, Uwe Rhinehart on health care, and Paul Krugman on public policy. Here the fee for individual lectures is a well-worth-it $12.
Lectures in New York at the 92nd Street Y and other city institutions usually require hefty admission prices. At Princeton, where lectures are almost always free, the cost of theater and concert tickets seems more manageable than in the big city – especially when you factor in travel, parking, and the cost of a meal.
On a Sunday afternoon in early fall at Chestnut Tree Books in the Princeton Shopping Center an overflow crowd came out to hear Washington psychoanalyst Justin Franks speak about his book, "Bush on the Couch."
Other places to check out for interesting programs are the Princeton Public Library and Westminster Choir College of Rider University, which has several theaters on its Princeton campus. In late summer, renowned playwright Christopher Durang appeared for a talk at the library prior to the opening of his play, Miss Witherspoon, at McCarter Theater. Last Friday, November 18, renowned director Bryan Singer, a graduate of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, and the director of such films as The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil, came to speak at the library to kick off the newly-established Christopher Reeve Lecture Series and the dedication of the Christopher Reeve Theater and Dramatic Arts Collection.
The Plainsboro Preserve, only a few miles from Princeton on Scott’s Corner Road, is worth visiting for its nature programs, wonderful trails through woods and meadows, and organized classes.
For outdoor recreation, I recommend the towpath of the Delaware and Raritan Canal – there are many places to access this. I find the easiest access is at Alexander Road just west of Route 1, where you can park at Turning Basin Park. There is also easy access on Route 27 in Kingston, where the now closed Wine Press restaurant stands, and off Route 1 at Mapleton Road near Ruby Tuesdays. The Institute Woods is good for hiking and can be reached on Mercer Road south of town.
When I really want a quiet evening or a Saturday at home, the Plainsboro Public Library comes to my rescue by ordering or reserving books I select from the many reviews I read. I highly recommend John Berendt’s nonfiction bestseller, "City of Fallen Angels," which he wrote while living in Venice after the notorious fire at the Opera House.
The librarian recommended to me a slim volume of short stories by James Salter, which I found strange and exciting: "Life: A User’s Guide," written in French in the 1970s, is about an apartment complex in Paris where every possible story and scenario takes place and is described. (I read the English translation.)
Not to neglect the "whole person" – after all, we want to be around for a long time to enjoy and appreciate this rich, full life here. So, with the mind taken care of, I leave my body to Plainsboro Recreation, which offers yoga, Jazzercise, and weight and aerobics classes every week. The Princeton Senior Center has similar offerings as does the Princeton Y. I call this "the youth serum."