May 2016 Articles

The Emeriti

Lafarge with former students

Travelogue: Emeritus Professor Catherine Lafarge on a Bryn Mawr trip to La Belle France.

The season was ideal. October throughout France is usually mild, not too rainy and, above all, most tourists have gone home. The itinerary was dreamy. We started in Toulouse, the European center of the aerospace industry; headed north to Sarlat in the heart of the Dordogne, the region where prehistoric men decorated caves more than 15,000 years ago; then Saumur, the city on the Loire ideally located for visiting the châteaux of the kings of France; Mont-Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the beaches of Normandy which, since 1944, are known as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword; Giverny, Claude Monet’s home and garden; and finally Paris. For everyone it was the opportunity to first experience some new provinces and sites or revisit familiar ones. Our bus often left the main roads, meandered through towns and small villages, enabling us to enjoy the countryside in a leisurely fashion. The palette was extraordinarily varied: mountains, valleys, fields, winding rivers unrolled before our eyes in their fall colors and encouraged some of us to hone our photographic talents.

The travel agency in charge of the logistics of the tour hired an exceptional guide, Laurent Pesneaud. I think I speak for everyone when I say that all tourists should be so lucky as to journey through France with him. He was knowledgeable, informative, funny, generous, and more. He wanted everyone to have a good time while learning of the history, culture, customs, and offerings of the various provinces we visited. He bought a never-ending supply of eatable and delicious gifts that he would distribute on the bus. In addition, he had us believe that he had a wide network of brothers-in-law who had taken over the food supply of provincial France and whom we were encouraged to patronize at every stop! But he was broadminded and, in Crepon (Normandy), pointed us to an exceptional maker—not a relative for once—of fashionable umbrellas (H2O) that some of us found simply irresistible.

Here are a few highlights of the trip for me. After leaving Toulouse we stopped in Albi, famous for its fortress-like red-brick cathedral and as the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec. However, we might better remember the town for a special event that brought us together with the Fédou family who, during the occupation of France in World War II, saved a future BMC alum, Ruth Kapp Hartz (Avignon ’81), and her parents from being sent to the Nazi death camps. At a luncheon we met several generations of Fédous and two local mayors. It gave us the chance to talk to descendants of French people who had risked their lives to protect the victims of Vichy and Hitler, and never forgot. What was most remarkable was their firm denial that they had behaved heroically. At our next stop, the Dordogne, we visited Lascaux II, a faithful replica of the original Lascaux, which, for its survival, had to be closed more than 50 years ago. For anyone who had never seen the paintings in a prehistoric cave, a walk through Lascaux II is an unforgettable experience. In the Loire Valley, two visits stood out for me. First, Chenonceau, the château that was the gift of a king, Henry II, to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, and one architectural detail in particular, the arches spanning the River Cher. Then, at Villandry, BMC alums were in store for a pleasant surprise. Its owner, Henri Carvallo, warmly welcomed us and told us of his ancestor Ann Coleman Carvallo (Class of 1895). We loved hearing of Ann’s meeting in Paris with a young impoverished Spanish doctor in the laboratory of Charles Richet, a future recipient of the Nobel Prize in medicine, their romance, subsequent marriage, and the purchase of the château in 1906 with Coleman money. We read their story prominently displayed on one of the walls of a room of the château.

Normandy, our next stop, was first, for some of us, the challenge of climbing to the top of Mont-Saint-Michel and then mingling with the swarm of tourists who, all year round, flock to the site. From our heights, we also admired the view of the bay that hundreds of barefoot local French high school students were crossing.

The remainder of our time was spent imagining the Allied landing in June 1944. We relived the landing by visiting various museums, especially the one in Caen, and the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. We were constantly reminded of the price paid by a whole generation of brave men and women to free Europe. Nothing could have more vividly driven home the horrors of those times than the presentation of Linda Matrunich ’74. Her father landed on Omaha on D-Day plus one and was seriously wounded a few days later. The moment was made even more heart-wrenching by the fact that Linda spoke in front of a war memorial sculpture on the now-peaceful beach where children were playing with colorful kites.

Our stay in Normandy ended with a walk through Bayeux, one of the few towns spared in the battle, and a visit to see its famous medieval tapestry, which tells the story of the Norman conquest of England in exquisite and graphic details. The latter was a welcome counterpoint to the poignancy of the previous days as we immersed ourselves in the pleasure of admiring the talent of the 11th-century artists who embroidered it.

I think that what made the trip a success was not only the time of year, the itinerary, our guide Laurent, but the accommodations—some of them were exceptionally elegant, the excellent meals during which we could compare our experiences while savoring the local specialties and wines, and also a comfortable bus and an exceptionally skillful driver for whom the back roads of France had no secrets. In addition, the trip brought together alums from the classes of 1956 to 1984 with varied interests. As Laurent pointed out—and in that he felt that our group stood out from others he has led—we were all Francophiles and many of us either understood or spoke French. I have to confess that it made me feel good and proud.

I would like to end on a personal note. I greatly enjoyed the company of four traveling companions from previous BMC Alumnae trips: Kristine ’63 and Stephen Wallace, Daisy Willard ’62 and Joanne Darden, the mother of a BMC alum. In addition, the trip was the occasion of a reunion with seven of my former students, three of them French majors. They were Suzanne Fedunok ‘67 from the first class I taught, Dorry McCorkle, Linda Matrunich, Ann Williams ’74, Mary Burns, and Melissa Young ’80 and Juanita Wilson ’84. Although their lives and careers had taken them down a variety of paths and, for some, their interest for French culture and literature had receded in the background, their enthusiasm for taking this French journey was proof of their eagerness to test what they had learned in the classroom. Together, we reminisced about our past readings and enjoyed visiting towns and regions made famous by French authors, artists, and historical figures.     

The above narrative makes it clear, I hope, that in addition to the discovery or better knowledge of a part of France rich in history and culture, the trip was an occasion for BMC alums to reconnect and share a memorable traveling experience.


Professor Emeritus Catherine Lafarge with seven of her former students at the Château of Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. From left: Linda Matrunich ‘74, Dorry McCorkle ‘74, Suzanne Fedunok ‘67, Professor Lafarge, Juanita Wilson ’84, Ann Williams ’74, Mary Ward Burns ’80, and Melissa Young ’80.


From her frequent traveling and teaching you would never know that Toba Kerson, the Mary Hale Chase Professor Emeritus of Social Sciences and Research, is a self-described introvert. As a Fulbright specialist, she is currently engaged in projects with international institutions.

What’s your philosophy on teaching?

Do pretty much anything I can to get the students to value the material that I am teaching and to take it so to heart that they adopt everything as their very own ideas and opinions.    

What would surprise former students about you? 

That I am basically an introvert.

What activity takes up most of your time? 

I’m spending a lot of time on various sorts of physical activity—yoga, strength-training, walking, hiking, and biking. But I’ve spent the majority of my time in the last six months preparing for two Fulbright Specialist visits—one to the Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where I taught and lectured about disability, and the second to L’Institut du Travail Social—Provence, Alpes, Côte d’Azur, and Corsica, where I will talk about social services and particularly health policy in the U.S.

Houses for a New World

HousesWith Houses for a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs 1945-1965, Barbara Miller Lane, Mellon Professor Emeritus of Growth and Structure of Cities, tells the story of the 20th-century’s most successful experiment in mass housing: the more than 13 million suburban tract houses built between 1945 and 1965. Often dismissed as “little boxes, made of ticky-tacky,” these houses were not built by mid-century starchitects like Frank Lloyd Wright or Richard Neutra but rather by little-known builder-developers. From Princeton University Press, 2015.