Teaching in Italy

Rome, Siena, and Florence, 1974-

I have been in Italy on a number of occasions from 1974 onward,usually to lecture on the mathematics of population. I remember the scene in the Department of Population of the University of Rome--I was backed up to the blackboard, facing the small group that included.Antonio Golini, Antonella Pinelli, Carla Bielli, Cucci, Eugenio Sonnino, Graziella Caselli,and the Grand Dame of European demography, Professoressa Nora Federici who had spent her long life in teaching and writing on population.. With Federici I had been in correspondence for some years, going back to my Ottawa days; the others were younger teachers of demography whom I got to know on my visits. And an alert group they are, themselves starting out in productive careers as teachers and researchers--any mistake I made at the blackboard was quickly pointed.out.

In the 1970s most Italians, however advanced professionally, knew little or no English, and so I was compelled to give my lectures in Italian. My doing so was a kind of psychological experiment. I trained myself to think in Italian during the period of my stay. This was hard on Beatrice, but she collaborated loyally, realizing that there was no way I could deliver myself with any fluency. (I had done the same at the University of Montreal--I plainly lacked the flexibility to go from one language to another the same day.).

The people to whom I lectured were colleagues rather than students. I enjoyed every minute of my stay in the Via Nomentana, and as it was coming to an end I wanted to show my appreciation, and the least I could do was to invite the group to dinner.

After consultation I settled on Fualde's. I don't think it was hiding from the police, but it certainly was not advertising its existence. It served great food at very low prices. After a dinner for some ten people--no menu, just a succession of the best Italian dishes prepared anywhere. After we had eaten our fill, I went to the back to ask for the bill. There was no bill, just the owner saying to me "50,000 lire". At the time the lire was trading at 1,000 to the dollar, so the price was absurdly low. I reached into my pocket, peeled off a 50, 000 lire note, shook hands, and we diners filed out. No paper trail to give the authorities evidence of how the place was managed.

In somewhat the same way Massimo Livi-Bacci, who headed up a similar group in the University of Florence, invited me to come and give a series of lectures. I already knew Massimo through his writings--that include an unrivaled history of world population. As to the place itself, if ever there was a city that was a work of art, Florence, whose designers have made the most of its location on the Arno River, is it.

I also went to Siena more than once. It started with a phone call from Luciano Petrioli inviting Beatrice and myself to come up to Siena, a "Jewel of a city" as one friend called it. Siena was a commercial rival of nearby Florence in the middle ages, and in the Renaissance Florence pulled ahead. The river of commerce flowed through Florence rather than Siena ever since, leaving Siena unchanged over the centuries.. From my point of view an enormous advantage; Siena still has its mediaeval walls, built before the age of gunpowder, and now a highly valued attraction.

Petrioli himself is very much a man of Siena and our relation has been close over the years.. He introduced the Sienese style of painting (with lots of "brown sauce") to Beatrice and myself, had me give lectures in the University, introduced me to colleagues in mathematics and other Departments and finally arranged that I be given an Honorary Doctorate.

Social life was intense. A group around Luciano Petrioli, including his student Andrea Menchiari, gathered in the evenings to drink wine and discuss Italian politics, Italian writing, Italian music. I remember a group gathering one evening and talking about Italy's perennial problem: national unity. A political party called itself the Lombard League wanted to split Italy somewhere between Rome and Naples, and then let the southern part fend for itself. .

Although Petrioli is most at home in Siena, he has gone abroad on government missions more than once. When he was in tropical Africa on one occasion he sent us a picture of the King of some small country, dressed in native royal costume--which means only half dressed. The picture includes the scholarly looking Petrioli, his wife Sylvana, very much a lady, wearing a hat and gloves even in the jungle. On one occasion I am told the King came to Siena to visit Petrioli, who took much pleasure in introducing him around the University.

.When the time came to leave we bought tickets to Vienna, and were driven to the railway station by the Menchiaris. But it was a holiday, and the train was crowded. I mean crowded--people were hanging on to the steps--there was not a chance of reaching the seats that we had reserved. So the Menchiaris said they would drive us to Vienna, a distance of nearly three hundred miles. They made a phone call or two to arrange their affairs and then set out at about 8:00 o'clock in the evening. They had a heavy car, and we drove comfortably through much of the night. When we got to our rented home in Baden, at something like 2:00 a.m.we all went to sleep, we in our beds, they in our living room. The Menchiari's had been trying to have a baby for some time without success, and they tell us that on that very night conception took place.

I made a numbr of visits to Rome, meeting the people in the Institute of Demography in the via Nomentana, later a Department of the University of Rome.

I went to Siena more than once. It started with a phone call from Luciano Petrioli inviting Beatrice and myself to come up to Siena, a "Jewel of a city" as one friend called it. Siena was a commercial rival of nearby Florence in the middle ages, and in the Renaissance Florence pulled ahead. The river of commerce flowed through Florence rather than Siena ever since, leaving Siena as a backwater. From my point of view an enormous advantage; Siena still has its mediaeval walls, built before the age of gunpowder, and now a highly valued attraction.

Petrioli himself is very much a man of Siena and our relation has been close over the years.. He introduced the Sienese style of painting (with lots of "brown sauce") to us, had me give lectures in the University, and finally arranged that I be given an Honorary Doctorate.

During my stay in Austria I was invited for five successive winters (1985-9) to return to Indonesia to consult on its educational system. I am not sure how useful that consultation was-the archipelago was divided into 27 provinces, and each insisted on having its own university. Consolidation could have equipped and manned 5 or 6 institutions that could have fulfilled the functions of universities, however modestly , but the suggestion to that effect didn't go. On one occasion there was a meeting with some three speakers on the platform, and a distinguished audience that included the Minister of Education. The others made some vaguely complimentary remarks, and I now realize that that is what I should have done..Instead I presented 10 questions, each revolving about some function of a university, particularly raising the question of the faculty qualification. I did not dare to answer the questions, just to ask them, as a person might who was seeking information. The sorts of questions American students ask when trying to decide where to go for their undergraduate studies.

The Minister said angrily that I had no business asking such questions. Evidently I had been recruited, and paid in order that I might say how good was the Indonesian system of higher education. Nothing more. . .

So I turned from education to the study of village life, in particular the changes in the village of Balearjo over the 40 years that had passed since my first visit. A short account is given in a later section..

Our hideaway in New Hampshire

North Hampton, 1978-2000

A month in China

Beijing, Chendu, Guangdong, 1981

Twenty-one years ago and just about the end of my tenure at Harvard, I was invited to lecture on population in China. There had been a switch from the Marxist dogma of Mao-tse-tung to just plain common sense. The subject of population growth was becoming a concern of the regime, after years in which people were urged to go the limit in childbearing. While I never pretended to help with lowering the birth rate, I could show that that a phenomenon of inertia existed, in which after a periof of very high births there will be a further period of high births. This even though individual women limit themselves to as little as one child. The reason for the inertia, that is the persistence, of the high births, is that the proportion of women of childbearing age is exceptionally large, a reflection of the high births of the previous generation. .

When I landed in Beijing I was introduced to a slim, athletic young lady that I will call Chang, who was to be my guide and interpreter for the month. An ex-swimming champion, speaking impeccable English, she bought the plane tickets, ordered meals, arranged hotel rooms.

Peking University in Beijing comes as close as any to be the national center of learning. I met the head of the Sociology Department (Yuan Fang???) and gave a lecture. In China scholarship and research go on in the universities AND the Academy of Sciences, in our case the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). It was the CASS, Chang's employer, that provided the interpreter service for my trip.

One feature of our travels was different from what I would have expected. That was the arrangement at each of the hotels where we stayed. There was a room for me, and a room for the intepreter, and beyond that for two men, to whom I was never introduced, but whose shadowy presence I observed at each stop. I can't believe that they were there to be sure there was no sex between me and Chang, but only to be sure that there was no conspiracy, no contact with dissidents, contact such as I had had without trouble in Moscow. When Chang came into my room at ten o'clock in the evening saying "Now Dr. Keyfitz, let us discuss your program for tomorrow," it was plain that she meant no more than just that. No use hoping for anything more.

One phenomenon shows the backwardness of parts of China. When I got up early one morning, and walked into a semi-rural area, I saw many of the characteristically long barrows pulled along by men, exuding a mild smell of night soil. In a way more environmentally favorable than our practice of washing it down the drains and ultimately into the streams and the ocean. What I saw was one phase of a cycle of food--offal--fertilizer--more food...But it is not necessarily a sign of poverty but of simple environmentalism. We have a little of the same--as an amateur gardener I have used Torganic in Toronto.

Early in my trip I asked Chang to arrange an interview with a peasant in his own cottage. I was surprised and disappointed by what I got. When the time came about ten of us filed into the tiny living room, myself and Chang, the village head and the local Party representative, another interpreter from my English to Chinese, just in case Chang had been corrupted so that through her I might preach treason to the Communist system, and several others whose purpose was not explained. (In a Communist system everybody is watching every one else for signs of sedition, some professionally, most just as citizens.) With all that watching I gave up any hope of useful information, and had to be satisfied with asking when he planted, how much he planted, how much he used himself, and how much sold for cash.

When on a later occasion I again asked if I could see a peasant, Chang said "But Dr. Keyfitz you have already seen a peasant." Did I detect a twinkle in the eye? Was she pulling my leg? I will never know. In any case I gave up the idea of doing field work. In Indonesia disinterested observation was tolerated--though certainly not encouraged--but in China it was at that time impossible.

I should say that in my time, 1982, some small corners capitalism were beginning to be tolerated. At least farmers markets contained the seeds--free entry for buyers and sellers, price and quality competition, All the elements were there, especially individual plots of land, unlike the collective farms of the USSR. Since that time much larger chunks of the economy have been privatized, liberated from the straightjacket of Communism.

And there has been a dizzying expansion of the economy. About 8 per cent per year has been reported by calculations made abroad, a doubling every 9 years.

The Chinese seem to recognize that escape from Communism must be gradual; the Russians tried a shock therapy that threw the country into economic and political confusion. Yeltsin, in a coup d'etat supplanted the far more business-like Gorbachev, gave away Russian resources to his cronies, and nearly 15 years after the end of of the USSR prosperity is not yet in sight.

Teaching in Ohio

Columbus, 1979-82

Harvard had ruled that faculty arrving at age 66 could choose between two further years full-time or four years half-time. I chose the latter, and for at least three of the blank half years accepted an appointment at Ohio State University (OSU). The title I held was Robert F. Lazarus Professor--the funding having been provided by the owner of a major department store in downtown Columbus.

We bought a flat in Chatham Village. Why buy rather than rent for so short a period? Because of my prejudice against renting, a corollary of my prejudice against borrowing. Chatham Village was a pleasant spread-out condo of several hundred families, who shared a swimming pool and other facilities, an attractive place to live and own property in.

I had fine colleagues at OSU, but none that I admired more than Professor Saad Nagi, Chair of the Department of Sociology. An Egyptian who had established himself in the United States, made himself thoroughly American. He was my closest colleague in the Department and closest friend socially.

We were living in Cambridge at the time, and each fall for three years we loaded our belongings, including some substantial furniture, into a trailer, and set out on the several hundred miles to Columbus.

It was too long to cover in one day, and on at least two of the three trips, trailer and all, were invited to put up for a night with Paul and Lynn Demeny. They had a daughter, Lylla, about 10 years of age, and a divine creature if there ever was one. "Don't you fear she will lose that fairy-like quality over the course of time?" I asked. "Well yes, but she has been losing ever since she was two years old."

And each time I managed to maneuver the car, trailer attached, out of the Demeny back yard, say good-bye to our hosts and continue on the way towards Columbus.

My hernia operation

Columbus, OH, 1983

When we were preparing to leave Columbus in the spring of 1983 to take up a year's appointment at the University of Toronto I woke up one morning with a terrible pain in my groin. We looked up the yellow pages and found the name of a surgeon, and after phoning went to his office. He felt my groin, and then sat down in his chair and said sadly, "I hate to tell you this (the hell he did), but you have a hernia, what used to be called a rupture, not on one side but on both--a double hernia."

I recalled that my father, at a younger age than I then was, had a similar problem, and not wanting to be operated, wore a truss all the time I knew him. The doctor quickly talked me out of that solution, and he set a date for the operation. He said it would be best to do the side that hurt worse first, and then have another operation for the other side on another day.

I came for the operation, and just as I was about to go under the anesthetic, mentioned that I would be leaving for Toronto two days later, and would have to have the other part done there. He said nothing, but when I came out of the anesthetic he informed me that both sides were now repaired. He wasn't going to let a perfectly good hernia escape to Toronto.

The outcome of all this was excellent-- 20 years have gone by and I have traveled all over the world and there has not been a whisper of trouble from my abdominal wall as restored that day in Columbus. And given the constraints he faced the doctor optimized his intake. That was one hernia that gave pleasure to all concerned.

Ten years with IIASA in Austria

Vienna 1983-93

I retired from Harvard and was open for other employment in late 1983. I started with three months at OSU as Lazarus Professor, and then by plan went to the Medical School of the University of Toronto. I was to take up a post of Rosenstadt Visiting Professor on a one-year appointment But in the middle of the academic year I asked if I could be excused. They were quick to let me go, since the mathematics of population that I had been teaching turned out not to fit well with the Medical School's interests, and they had in mind another appointee who would serve them better.

The reason I wanted to be excused was because I had received a phone call inviting me to Austria to a research post with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). The Director, Professor Hollings specified a two-year stint. In the event that two-year appointment was renewed four times, so Austria was my base until 1993.

IIASA was and remains a research center of distinction. Founded in the late 1960s, in a lull in the Cold War, when Presidents Nikita Kruschev and Lyndon Johnson discussed ways in which American and Russian scientists could work together. and they agreed on such issues as population and environment. Academicians Jermen Gvishiani and Philip Handler worked on the details; Gvishiani (who died recently) became the first Chairman of the Council, and Howard Raiffa of Harvard was appointed founding Director (1972-5) . The Austrian government offered the former palace of Maria Theresia, in Laxenburg, a suburb of Vienna, as the home of the new Institute.

In 1983 an eminent scholar in the field of population, Andrei Rogers, was leaving IIASA, and a successor to his post of leader of the population group was required. Offered the post, I accepted with alacrity. Toronto was hardly able to compete with Vienna as far as I was concerned.

I was thrilled by the thought of walking the pavements where Beethoven and Mozart had walked, and in the 20th century Mahler, the city of Strauss and Lehar, where psychoanalysis was brought into existence by Freud, and the scholars of the Vienna Circle led by Wittgenstein did their heavy thinking. I had learned German along with French years before,

Austrian culture is not to be confused with German--the latter is solemn and thorough, Austrian light-hearted and a little slap-happy. Germany produced the grim forecast of Oswald Spangler's Untergang des Abendlandes (Decline of the West), Austria the breezy history of art and social custom of Egon Friedell's Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit (Cultural History of the Modern Age). Germans are highly disciplined, Austrians too smart and individualistic for discipline, a contrast that appears in industry and in the military. In short Germans are thorough, Austrians at their best are imaginative.

The Summer Palace of Maria Theresia, a building of marble and gold made exceptional offices. The population group had two of the best among these, two commodious rooms, with a wall of glass at the back from where one could step into a large park with well tended trees and flowers, and close to IIASA's center of action, the Director's office.

What was my surprise, then, when having seen all this I was told that it had been decided by Chester Cooper, a former CIA agent, one of two Assistant Directors, that on the change of leaders the population group would be moved to somewhat distant wooden quarters, no marble, no paintings. nothing to remind one of the building's royal past and important present.

I told Chester that if that was an indication of the low value now set on population it was the wrong place for me, and I phoned Beatrice to stop packing. Chester quickly surrendered, and the quarters Andrei had occupied continued to house the population group for the next ten years and to this day.

For living quarters I camped down at Broschek's, an inexpensive inn about half a mile west of the Institute. I liked it. Herr and Frau Broschek, who ran it were a cheerful couple. Herr Broschek was a leading member of the Volunteer Fire Brigade, whose function was mostly ceremonial, the entertainment of its members. I remember only one fire, and that a minor one during our ten years at IIASA.

Between Broschek's and the Institute lived Herr Peter Schreibock, his wife Frau Stefanie, their little son Stefan and their two chows, large dogs of Chinese origin. Charming animals these,. When you entered their house they came and sniffed you, as though to satisfy themselves that you were OK. I found it hard not to think of them as people.

Peter is an engineer, and Stefanie a high school teacher of biology. Their complete lack of English stimulated us to improve our German. Peter and Stefanie were entertaining in all senses--we were often invited to dinner by them, and they were more than passable conversationalists. Not only did they invite us but when we had a visitor, for instance Hertha Georg, mentioned in another connection, they included her in the party.

Since we left there has been a problem keeping in touch,. My German was good enough (i.e. understandable, if only barely, at least to a sympathetic listener) for daily spoken use, but writing it was a) too embarrassing, knowing the mistakes I was surely making, and b) too much dull work with a dictionary. So despite my great desire to communicate with the parent Schreibocks, I have not in fact been in touch over the nearly ten years since we returned to the U.S.

But help has now arrived--their son Stefan, too young to be noticed socially when I left, has now grown up, completed a curriculum in which he specialized in English, and writes beautiful letters, entirely without error. So much so that I have to watch my own expression, lest I make grammatical errors that he would pick up. At least in one respect the younger generation has taken the torch from the older so that I can now communicate with the parents through their son..

One final reason why we found our stay in Austria so pleasant. That is the absence of the class differences that seem to me so prominent in the United States. Consider taxi drivers in the two countries. The Austrian taxi driver dresses neatly in much the same garb as the business executive he drives, often owns his own house; one case I knew in Vienna took contracts to develop software in his time off duty.The income distribution is much more compressed in Austria; the State provides general access to medicine, to hospitals, with only nominal charges; education is furnished with very little or no payment; the sting of unemployment is lessened by a generous insurance arrangement; homelessness, common in the United States, is rarely found in Austria; children's allowances, unheard of in the United States, are taken for granted in Austria,.(It is wrong to think that Austria is unique in these respects--they apply to most of the countries of Europe.)

During our ten years the government was what we would call liberal. It represented Vienna, rather than the more conservative countryside. Since we left there has been a shift to the right.

It was somewhat troublesome to get downtown to the Vienna Opera from where we lived, but Beatrice and I attended great performances of Mozart's Magic Flute, his Marriage of Figaro and Idomineo, Puccini's Turandot, La Boheme, Countess Maritza Tosca and, Madame Butterfly,and the younger Strauss's Fledermaus,Verdi's La Forza del Destino, Rigoletto, La Traviata (twice) and Aida, Donnizetti's Cenerentola and Lucia di Lammermoor, and Wagner's Die Meistersinger. And Lehar, of whom we were especially fond-- Das Land des Lachelns (The land of Smiles) and The Merry Widow.

While the Vienna State Opera was for us the most solid of Vienna's many cultural institutions, one could not but be interested in the Musikverein for its varied musical presentations, the Knstlerhaus, the Volkstheater, the Kunsthistorisches (Art) Museum, and the Naturhistorisches (Science) Museum.

When Vienna was quiet during the summer, the suburb of Baden where we lived much of our time in Austria, took advantage of the artists who were free in the off season to perform in lighter pieces like The Circus Princess and Wienerblut.

Beside these great musical performances on stage, we could listen to and tape a free broadcast of an opera every week-end during the season.

My brush with Austrian law

Baden, 1987

I have had only one automobile accident in my half century of driving, and it occurred in Baden, a suburb of Vienna. I was coming out of a side-street into a main thoroughfare, after having duly stopped as the sign instructed. It was raining and the streets were slippery. Proceeding very cautiously with the green light, I crossed in front of the halted line of traffic, that included trucks and busses through which one could not see. As I passed these I was struck, lightly but enough to break a light and bend a fender on the right hand side on my car and on the left hand of that of the young lady driving the car that had struck. She had been going too fast to stop when the light turned.

With that very slight collision Austrian law was engaged. All traffic was halted while the police made chalk-marks on the road and measured distances. Then we (Beatrice and myself and the young lady) went to the police station and were separately interviewed. Everything was recorded and all this data was available to decide who was in the wrong.

The young lady found a lawyer who advised her to sue, and I found one to defend me. The two sets of lawyers conferred on the voluminous data by then available and declared that I was at fault. That puzzled me, but rather than argue I paid for repairs to my car and to those of the young lady, and went about my business thinking that was the end of the matter. The few hundred dollars in schillings did not seem worth worrying about for very long.

If you also wonder about the decision against me when I had the green light bear in mind that the lady was a charming young Viennese with the rich local speech, while I was a foreigner--speaking halting German with a heavy accent, just an ugly American.

Like the mills of God, the Austrian legal system grinds slowly but it grinds exceeding small. Some months later I had a phone call from my lawyer, and was told the two sets of lawyers agreed that the initial decision was wrong, that the lady was responsible. At last, I thought, the movement of funds will be reversed, and I will be covered for the cost of the accident.

Not so, it was explained over the phone, the whole amount was expended on costs, and I even owed something, which they were generous enough to overlook. I would not be billed.

It is wonderful to live in a country where there is so little crime, so little serious work for lawyers that they have time for issues like this.

I experienced another example of the innocence and crimelessness of Austria in a second clash with the traffic laws. One night I was cycling down a semi-rural lane marked one-way, when I was stopped by an officer. After he had pronounced a charge of violating the traffic law to which I pleaded guilty, he pronounced the sentence. "The punishment for this offense is 100 schillings (about $5)." Then the execution of the sentence: "Hand it over," and I took my money out and peeled off a 100 schilling note.

The American might suspect corruption here. However the Austrian may be simple-minded or bureaucratic, dishonest he is not. I accepted the punishment by handing over a 100 schilling note, was given a receipt, was released from custody, and went my way.

Having the whole legal process of apprehension, charge, sentencing and execution of the penalty taking place on that dimly lighted lane where the crime took place cannot be beaten for efficiency..

Beatrice had a similar experience with the law while driving. She came to a corner where there was a policeman directing traffic and she wanted to turn right. She lit up her right signal light and dutifully waited for the officer of the law to give her the sign to turn. He paid no attention. So after a considerable period of waiting, with no traffic coming from any direction she slowly turned right. To that he did pay attention, and was down on her like a flash. The same legal process in situ as with me on my bicycle, except that the fine was larger.