There’s a house upon a distant hill
Where you can hear the laughter of children ring
Guardian angels, they watch from above
Watching over the love that they bring
But at night I feel the darkness near, I awake and I find you near
I’m happy with you in my arms
I’m happy with you in my heart
Happy when I taste your kiss
I’m happy in love like this
I remember I was actually surprised to hear that Princeton was situated in New Jersey. Somehow I just hadn’t considered the Garden State to be a likely location for an Ivy League school. It’s amazing the way our learned prejudices feed us biased opinions.
We outsiders, are led to believe that New Jersey is home only to mobsters, some big-haired rockers* and little else.
Einstein had been associated with the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton from 1933 until his death in 1955 and therefore was a resident of New Jersey. Walt Whitman lived out his final days in Camden New Jersey and Edison devised many of his innovations in West Orange NJ where he had his workshop. New Jersey is not the stereotype, far from it.
A trip to Princeton was therefore definitely in order. I’d spent time living near Oxford many years ago and have a bit of a thing for classic university architecture. Plus, Princeton has a renowned art museum that we thought the kids would enjoy exploring.
We piled said kids into the car one bright day and headed out for an adventure. I’m glad to say Jersey girl’s children are always up for a bit of culture (or, as we pronounce it in my country, kultcha). This is an encouraging turn of events from my perspective; it’s an obvious sign of intelligence to hunger after new experience. This is something they get pretty exclusively from their mother (trust me on this, I’ve met the father).
The drive from Hunterdon County to Princeton is not long, but if you eschew the freeways and take the back roads, you will be rewarded with some very pretty country. If you are Jersey girl, you will probably also end up taking several roads, not on the route and discover bits of Jersey you’ve never seen before.
All part of the adventure kids.
We rolled into Princeton town only a little later than we’d intended and found a park right off University Place. We’d decided to walk through the grounds to get a feel for the place and take in some of the views on our way to Nassau Street, and a spot of lunch. Food always needs to be a priority whenever you have more than one child in tow.
We entered the campus via a rather evocative stone archway. It immediately put me in- mind of Oxford and I began to feel strangely at home. I didn’t actually go to Oxford you understand, I just visited the place, but the familiar architecture suddenly lent New Jersey a new quality, hitherto missing from my experiences of the place.
I was reminded that this state was one of the original thirteen colonies and that a great deal of America’s treasured history has played out in and around New Jersey. As we walked through the dappled quads, I imagined a rumpled Einstein strolling along these very paths with his good friend Gödel, deep in conversation about his unified field theory. I’m like that I’m afraid; hopeless romantic.
And speaking of romance, Princeton has it in spades. There was clearly an effort made to mimic Oxford’s dreaming spires, a bit of Cambridge too for good measure. Princeton’s architecture follows very similar lines to her spiritual cousins across the Atlantic. There are distinctly American twists to the template, but overall there are far more similarities than differences. That’s what I found so comfortingly familiar about it.
We were walking through one of the great academic centers of the world. I wondered how such a place appeared to the kids; authoritative certainly, impressive undeniably. Could they feel its stillness? There were people all over the grounds, students, and tourists alike, but something about the set of the buildings, like the disapproving gaze of a stern teacher, imposed a silence upon it all. I gave a figurative tip of my nonexistent hat to the architects who had encoded such authority into the lines, curves and weight of these grand old buildings.
We traversed the grounds and came out on Nassau Street, on the town side. After perusing several restaurants up and down the street, we settled on our place, PJs Pancake and Pasta House. This restaurant was obviously popular with the students which struck me as amusing, most Princeton attendees come from money, but twenty-year-olds are all pretty similar when it comes to how they choose to spend their time.
I’ve noticed the kids are always upbeat whenever we’re all out for a meal together. I think it’s one of those activities that just feels so normal and gives them that sense of being a part of a family unit that they’ve been missing. I’m not their father, they have one of those, but I am a pretty standard model male with some serious parenting tendencies. I think they all appreciate that.
People often bring new partners into their children’s lives that have had no experience of parenting. Sometimes that works out, but often it just doesn’t. Both Jersey girl and I were very aware of how important it was to both of us that the other was a parent too.
A little anecdote from the day by way of illustration; we were strolling through the grounds and I was, as usual, taking a crazy amount of pictures. The youngest had brought her ipad and was also trying to take pics with it (its size and shape makes it a somewhat cumbersome thing to attempt this with). I had my own camera to my eye when, suddenly, there came a crash tinkle sound like some tiny car had just had a nasty collision.
We looked over to see a look of utter terror on the child’s face and the ruin of the dropped ipad on the ground. She wasn’t thinking, “oh no my beloved Ipad”, she was thinking, “oh no I’m gonna get it.”
Now I don’t want you to think for one moment that this was ever even a remote possibility while the children were in Jersey girl’s charge. That is not the sort of parent she is. However, the child’s father has one of those tempers that only extremely immature people can muster towards children.
It was from that, the child’s fears sprang. Immediately Jersey and I went into full parenting mode. The child was calmed and reassured that there would, of course, be no punishment for an accident that could have happened to anyone.
After a few tears, tranquility was quickly restored, largely because there were two adults exuding calm and exactly zero red faced adults yelling about the cost of ipads.
An agreement was later worked out with the child that she could earn back her ipad with simple chores. If the kid could raise a portion of the money, the rest would be covered by mom. The child is, needless to say, now back in possession of an ipad and a lesson has hopefully been learned.
After lunch, we went in search of the museum. I was particularly keen to check it out, this was Princeton after all, they had to have a veritable treasure trove tucked away in there.
Along the way, we stumbled across one of the reading rooms in a very fine old building called East Pyne Hall. The room was quite stunning with a stained glass dome and a circular gallery looking down upon the center of the space; exquisite. How the other one percent do live.
At last, we found the McCormack Hall art museum. It was a fairly unimpressive edifice from outside compared to the East Pyne building, but once we were inside that ceased to matter. The collection, as I’d suspected, was incredible.
It was so good in fact that it deserves its own dedicated post.
*And Springsteen of course.
All images used in this post are mine.