This is a fraternity house on Russell Boulevard in Davis, on the edge of the UC Davis campus. Kappa Kappa Gamma. Good job they have that Gamma. (If I created a fraternity I’d call it Gamma Gamma Gamma Gamma Gamma Chameleon). I sketched on a late Saturday afternoon, shortly before the sun started dropping low. After the rainy week there was a day of sun (followed by more rain next day). I stood on the grassy field opposite, and mosquitoes, out for a dinnertime feast, swarmed about me, not put off by my occasional clapping of the sketchbook (was I hoping for a dead mosquito squashed all over my sketch, well yes I probably was but in hindsight maybe not, they were very big mosquitoes). I must have done a very good job in stopping them biting me because I had no itchy spots afterwards, but they did fly around me a lot, like drones trying to close an airport. Anyway this is a building, seen from across a street, with a tree in the foreground to one side. If I have three chords those are my three chords. I do like those trees that run alongside Russell though. Not so much the leaves, while are a bit annoying to sketch, but the bark on the trunk, I should spend a whole sketchbook just studying that. Hey there’s a good idea. It’ll be a bit dull but at my time of life I am allowed to be a bit dull. What my excuse was in the earlier part of my life was I don’t know.
Continuing the intermission from Italy posting, here is one from the edge of UC Davis, a sorernity house on Russell Blvd. One of many; this area is called “Frat Row”. This one is “Pi Beta Phi” which is you all know is short for “Pirates Be-taking Philosophy” which yes I know makes no sense, but I know nothing about the origins of the phrase and don’t want to assume. I assume it is some sort of in-joke, like “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”, the famous slogan of the Knights of the Garter, which I’m sure they never intended to be their permanent slogan, just a bit of a laugh, like their name, Knights of the Garter. The origins of names and phrases are often lost in the swirling sands of history. Ok before I turn this post into another inevitable meaningless collection of weak jokes and untrue etymologies (“sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography”), let’s just get back to the subject matter. There are lots of these houses just off campus, but as someone who didn’t go to college here this whole ‘Greek Life’ is alien to me. When I was at uni I went to the New Globe pub in Mile End with my fellow drama students and got drunk on halves, and that was about it really. Fratorities and Sorernities are not really a thing there at all. The first time I ever met ‘Frat Boys’ was when I spent a year in France teaching after I graduated. There were lots of American students in the city where I lived and I remember going to a party and some lads being described as ‘Frat Boys’. “Frat?” I would ask. “Is that an acronym, like ‘Fourteen Recipes About Thunderbirds’, or ‘Flying Rabbits Are Terrifying’ or something?” (I was not as good at coming up with funny acronyms back then) “No,” they would say. “It doesn’t mean anything. It just means they drink loads, are usually white, and drink loads.” I think that was the description I was given, it was a long time ago and I didn’t really understand it. They might have said more but they definitely said that. I didn’t think they drank more than British binge-students. I have snippets of very odd conversations with young Americans while living in France, like the person who asked me, upon hearing that I was from London, if I liked “London Broil”. Again I didn’t know what that was (I still don’t by the way). What I got was that “Frat Boy” just means a certain recognizable type. They might not even be in a “Frat” (and I didn’t learn what that was until I after actually moved to America) (and then spent years deliberately saying “Fratority” and “Sorernity” just to see if anyone would correct me, then I would laugh). It’s an expression I hear very often, “They’re just a bunch of Frat Boys,” “This place is full of Frat Boys”, “Get off of my lawn, Frat Boys”. I’m focusing very much on the Frat Boys here but not on the Sorority Girls. You don’t shorten that by the way, you say the whole thing. The rule of thumb is if you can pronounce the whole word ‘sorority’, then you are sober enough to drive home. I don’t know much about these societies other than what I’ve been told, about how they do ‘Rushes’ where you have to wear a different dress every day for a month, and say “ew” a lot. Like I say, it’s all alien to me. My wife did make me watch “Legally Blonde” years ago, but it was because I lost a bet (if I had won she would have had to watch “Young Einstein”, to this day she still hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing that amazing and not ridiculous at all movie). In “Legally Blonde” they make references to some sorority or other and that is pretty much all I know. So, I decided to do a little research on this particular sorority. When I say ‘a little research’ I mean I googled it and looked at the Davis Wiki page. Apparently (and this is cool) Pi Beta Phi was the first “national secret college society of women”, founded in 1867 in Monmouth Illinois (as “I.C. Sorosis”, and we can all agree the Greek letter name sounds a lot better). This means they are 150 years old! Notable Pi Beta Phi people are Jennifer Garner and Faye Dunaway. Not from the Davis chapter of course, but it’s a national organization. So there you have it. It also definitely has nothing to do with Pirates Be-taking Philosophy.
frat’s all folks
That’s a lot of cars. There are like, eight cars at least.This is the corner of 1st and D Streets (or the corner of “Free Speech” and “Design”) which is where you will find the fraternity/sorority houses of Theta Xi. Which probably explains all the cars, you know, “the taxi”. Look I’m 40 ok, I can make these jokes all day long. I was just getting away with it at 39 but at 40 I literally have a license for them. So Theta Xi is not the trainee-cab-drivers fraternity, though to be honest they have really missed out on a trick there. Like Kappa Chi Nu, the fraternity for future baristas at Starbucks, or Rho Rho Rho for the future professional canoeing instructors. That last one was a version of a similar joke told by Terry Pratchett, who is on my mind today because this day, March 12, is one year since he passed away. Damn, I loved Terry Pratchett. I grew up reading his books, absorbing his sideways worldview, I even used to draw characters from his books over all of my school notes, well Death mostly, ‘Mort’ being one of my favourite of his books. I even read the book in French (it is called ‘Mortimer’, and the title character ‘Morty’, since the name ‘Mort’ was taken by Death himself). I did have the German version too somewhere, ‘Gevatter Tod’, and I still have the graphic novel. At one point I tried making a comic adaptation in French myself but only got so far before shrugging my shoulders and giving up. I enjoyed the small-screen adaptations, the animated ones were a bit poorly made but the Sky TV shows were well chosen (Color of Magic maybe less so). I went to see one stage adaptation of Carpe Jugulum, which was actually staged before the book came out so that the um-actually crowd could not point out all minor deviations from the original (there were none anyway). It was at the beloved Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and Mr. Pratchett himself was there with his big black hat, along with a crowd of Granny Weatherwaxes, Deaths, Rincewinds and Cut-me-own-throat-Dibblers. I didn’t dress up, I didn’t do that sort of thing (though if I had, I’d have definitely been Vetinari). I remember one other thing from that night, I stood next to Stephen Fry in the toilets. He actually makes the Lord Melchett noise (“meeeeehhhhh”) while doing his business. Well no he doesn’t, but I imagined that he did. I definitely didn’t make it myself, at least thinking back I really hope I didn’t.
So, one year on, you are still much missed Mr Pratchett. I wish I hadn’t left all of my old Discworld books in England, because I don’t actually know where they are now.
The last time I sketched this Frat House it was a different Frat that was in there. I’m not a massive fan of the whole Frat thing, but then I’m a pushing-40 British sketcher so I don’t know, I’m not the demographic. This is that time of year though isn’t it, when the Fraternities do all their Frat Boy stuff, and the Sororities do all their Sor Girl stuff (it isn’t actually called that, is it. See? I’m clueless). I’m actually surprised that the helicopter parents of these students haven’t set up special societies of their own, to keep an eye on them, Mat Houses or Pat Houses, as it were. That is a terrible idea of course, which makes it surprising that they don’t exist (and they probably do). You see all the boards over campus each year for ‘Rush’, why they are in such a hurry I don’t know. Young people, eh. Actually I was in a hurry when I sketched this, as the lunchtime ticked away and I needed to go and eat something unhealthy. Anyway, this is at the very start of campus, the intersection of Old Davis Road, 1st Street and A Street.
boards don’t hit back
(Click on the image to see a close-up). This time of year sees a noticeable increase in the number of these wooden sandwich boards that you find all over the UC Davis campus. Most of them advertise fraternities, sororities, clubs, groups, chapters, paragraphs, commas, and other things I do not understand. There’s a sign that simply says ‘Join Alpha Sig’, so I thought, ok board, you told me to so I will. It is probably some kind of Canadian mutant super hero team. And then I thought, actually I had better not, Alpha Sig might be the name of some alien robot (it certainly sounds like it) whose mission is to enslave the earth, and I can’t be getting involved in that sort of nonsense. And then I thought, why would Alpha Sig, with his (I am just assuming he’s a he, thought it’s probably not a question I would ask an alien robot, “oh by the way oh evil one, oh actually nothing it’s none of my business, get back to destroying that city”) advanced alien technology, why use such an antiquarian painted-wooden form of communication, in this age of social media and facebooks and hashtags. By the way, young people of Davis, please don’t say the word “hashtag” in front of other actual words at the end of your sentences, seriously, just don’t. Not out loud. Speaking of which, all the while I sketched this I was forced to listen to a group of young people talking in that way they talk, those ‘conversations’ they insist on having, where one person says something and then another person and so on. I had no headphones to listen to football podcasts because they were broken (where was Alpha Sig and his/her advanced alien technology when I needed it? Painting wooden boards probably). There they were talking about young people things like going to class, partying, and how absolutely awful their one other room-mate who-isn’t-there-right-now is. Almost an hour of whiny nonsense. I know people have this idea that overheard conversations are great catalysts for all sorts of creativity but they’re wrong, because they aren’t, they’re just boring and you should avoid them always. And so there’s all these boards, colourful and inviting, wanting you to JOIN IN and be PART of them, and evidently they work because those frat houses dotted around the outskirts of campus don’t just trash themselves you know.
These boards are up on the north side of the Quad, next to the Memorial Union (and the CoHo, where I get my lovely Thai curry pho). I couldn’t be bothered to draw the rest of it.
what’s it all about, alpha?
It’s the time of year when the Frat Boards are out in force. Not just for Fraternities, but Sororities and other organizations too. I have lived in Davis for seven years and they are all still a mystery to me. Obviously not all these societies are ‘Greek’ (or maybe they are), or rather they don’t all have mystical Greek acronyms, but many of them have big frat houses and spend a lot of October pursuing recruitment activities and initiations (such as ‘hazing’). Fraternities are national, with chapters at many big American schools, and some societies are very old indeed. Some are specialist organizations, such as the ones for Pre-Med students or Latino students, or that fraternity for those really into boating (Rho Rho Rho) and another one for dairy farmers (Mu Mu). (There is probably one for really crap old jokes too, Tee Hee Hee).
Speaking of the Greek alphabet, I was listening to an excellent podcast today, the History of English Podcast by Kevin Stroud. As an avid and excitable enthusiast of language history I was giddy to discover this recently, and listened to all the podcasts so far almost every day on iTunes. It is a history of the English language alright, but is starting from the very beginning, in a super comprehensive way that you do not get in standard English language histories. It does not start from the usual “Angles, Saxons and Jutes crossing the North Sea” angle (excuse the pun, just this once), but from the roots of Proto-Indo-European. As the series has progressed, Kevin Stroud has neither skipped a connection nor simply narrowed the focus into proto-Germanic, but includes anything that is relevant to the development English and shows us why. There was one episode devoted solely to the letter ‘c’. Now I understand that this may not excite you in quite the same way it excites me, but I have listened to that one quite a few times and have already started doing some reading again. I studied Germanic philology as part of my MA in Medieval English and so the episodes on sound shifts and Grimm’s Law made my heart race, as all those hours spent pondering dusty books and dictionaries in Senate House and the Maughan Library came flooding back to me. This was my passion, more so even than drawing, and one I have not had time for these past few years (though I was interviewed on ABC radio in Australia about the topic of my MA thesis last year). Today’s eagerly anticipated episode was about the alphabet, and its origins in Phoenician and subsequently Greek. The move from a syllabic-based script to an alphabetic script was huge, as it made learning to read and write a lot easier, there being far fewer phonemes or letters in a language than syllables. Imagine if we’d stayed with Cuneiform or hieroglyphs, and that show Countdown would have been very different (“a scarab please Carol, and a bird, and a river…”). As I say, Stroud always ties it to English, as that is the podcast’s name, and since we use that alphabet every single day the origins of it are of immense importance to the history of English. If you have an interest in such stuff, I strongly recommend this podcast. More than anything, it is good to listen to while out and about sketching, especially when you sketch Greek letters and can say, ‘Alpha’, ah yes, that used to be a consonant, not a vowel.